Will MOOCs Make Everyone Think the Same Way?

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Millions of people signed up to take a free class from the top research universities and Ivy League schools in 2012, but some higher education leaders remain skeptical of these massive open online courses, writes Tyler Kingkade on Huffington Post:

“With so many people signing up—as many as 50,000 or more to a class—some college leaders worry MOOCs could lead to the devaluing of American higher education. Lester Lefton, president of Kent State University, said as much at a recent dinner with other university presidents at the Penn Club in New York City.

‘The great thing about our higher education system, which was just shown in our election, is our politicians have all have totally different views on economics and probably because they came from a variety of different kinds of schools with a variety of different kinds of viewpoints,’ Lefton said. ‘If everybody were all to take economics 101 through a MOOC, there would be one view of economics. And I think that’s potentially dangerous, and it devalues what we have been so good at in terms of creating a real diversity of thought.’

Michael Crow, head of Arizona State University, also worries MOOCs could spread too much of the same thinking, but he believes the online courses could be a great tool when used in conjunction with other teaching methods.

‘Our objective is to create an environment in which we can create a person capable of learning anything,’ Crow said at the dinner. ‘If you’re working with that as your objective, then you need every tool, every mechanism, every means to be able to achieve that.’” (Read more here.)

Lefton’s concern seems misplaced to me. First of all, we should only hope that “everyone” in the country takes Economics 101, through a MOOC or some other means. Unless the course is overtly biased in some way, that’s basic information that everyone should have (and way too few people now do).

And second, it’s in the nature of education that people do all kinds of different things with the same information. Some students will embrace the professor’s viewpoint; some will push back against it; and some will head off in a completely different direction. I’m with Michael Crow: we need every means we can muster to effectively educate our population.

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8 Responses to “Will MOOCs Make Everyone Think the Same Way?”

  1. Just like mega churches reach millions why not mega colleges reaching millions of students? But then again why go spend $45000 + a year and live on campus. But again great mega still draw real live people to services. Great teaches will still teach live students in somoe way.

    • anniempaul says:

      That’s right, Stephen–even though we can all hear any singer we like on our iPods, we still spend money to see our favorites perform in person. There is something special about the presence of a live person, and that emphatically goes for teaching as well.

  2. Sue Frantz says:

    I was at a technology conference recently where one person said their concern with MOOCs was that we could end up with a two-tiered educational system. The masses get the MOOCs and the upper crust get more individualized education. For example, it’s easy to envision the local community college pushing instruction through MOOCs (cheaper than having all of those pesky full-time faculty). But can you really see this model at a university like Yale or Stanford?

    Having said that, I’m not anticipating MOOCs lasting. (Words that may come back to bite me.) Anyone remember when you could watch faculty at a nearby university broadcasting courses on PBS? Heck, you could even record it on your VCR! And we’ve been able to learn anything we want for quite a while thanks to libraries.

    How many times have I picked up something new only to drop it a few months later? We can’t even get Americans to keep going to the gym. January 1 will be upon us soon. The regular gym-goers will have to wade through the influx of resolutioners… but only for a few weeks. By the end of the month, things will be back to normal.

    I’m curious to know, of those who start a MOOC, how many finish it.

    • anniempaul says:

      That’s a very good point, Sue. One of the important functions that universities serve is to create a community of learners, in which social influences act on members to get them to do things (like, for example, go to class). These social influences are lacking when it comes to MOOCs, or at least much weaker.

  3. 2012′s on-going questioning into the topic and value of MOOCs in higher ed and corporate learning is fascinating. We are doing a short survey on the potential impact of MOOCs on corporate learning — including the development of internal MOOCs, as well as using external/public MOOCs internally. Please take a few moments to complete the survey yourself (and share it with others, if you would, please!): http://bit.ly/RUfnpr

  4. Jay says:

    This argument reminds me of the time when reading was being looked down upon by Socrates and Sanskrit scholars who taught through discourse. They felt that was the most effective way to learn.

    Reading made it and opened up education to masses, so I see MOOC going the same way.

  5. Sean says:

    The larger problem is that these online resources are often a watered down version of what is being taught on campus. As more people take these classes a few questions must be considered: what are we teaching? Who are we teaching? And are we devaluing the academic experience of the on campus classes?
    I am not against digital learning, but having gone to a prestigious university and now working for one, I wonder how the education my students receive differs from that of these online community, if it does then why are they eligible to receive the same degree?

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