Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Education - the disruption has only just started

massive change by 416style, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  416style

A new post by media guru Clay Shirky entitled Napster, Udacity, and the Academy traces disruption in the music industry and then draws parallels with education. When digital disruption first hit the music industry in the shape of Napster the industry reacted strongly by shutting it down. However despite winning that one battle the disruption had already occurred and before long mp3s were everywhere, sold legally at low prices via iTunes, LastFM and now Spotify. The industry changed radically and is still trying to work out what happened.

The same disruption has been happening in education for several years but this year the explosion of free university courses under the working name MOOCs has pointed the way forward and has provoked reactions of denial and dismissal similar to those of the music industry several years ago. The fact that the education sector is full of extremely clever people has not made much difference, as Shirky notes:

"We have several advantages over the recording industry, of course. We are decentralized and mostly non-profit. We employ lots of smart people. We have previous examples to learn from, and our core competence is learning from the past. And armed with these advantages, we’re probably going to screw this up as badly as the music people did."

Many academics make defensive statements that things like MOOCs can never replace the quality of traditional face-to-face education but they miss the real point. Of course they're not going to replace the elite universities simply because attending them is a passport to success and provides a network for life. However, the teaching that goes on there is not always top class. Universities' reputations are based on the quality of their research - very few invest as heavily in fostering top class teaching. Even at the elite universities most of the actual teaching is conducted by postgraduates and adjuncts who are often provided with very little pedagogical training. Most contact time at universities is taken up by lecturing, something that is supremely suited for the net.

The opening for MOOCs and other disruptive phenomena in education is that they can provide good enough education for free or at low cost to a mass market, the vast majority of whom could never dream of attending a top university. This concept of  "good enough" means that we are perfectly happy to accept lower quality if it does the job to a reasonable standard. Take mp3 music files that are poor quality when compared to a good old vinyl record on a top level stereo system but who cares since it's so much more portable and convenient. Same thing goes for text communication with the seriously retro SMS format. Even if you can today send video messages and use all sorts of other instant messaging services the old SMS is still king simply because it works everywhere and reaches virtually every mobile ever invented.

MOOCs and their offspring will provide mass education whenever you need it and we're seeing a new educational ecology taking shape to challenge, seriously disrupt and in part replace the traditional system. Some will provide the courses, others will provide validation and certification and others will offer meeting places, tuition, study groups and mentoring. The one-stop shop of the traditional university is being dismantled. These new services may well have plenty faults at first but since they are open these faults are dealt with in public and are often remedied immediately, in stark contrast to shortcomings in traditional universities which can take years to be dealt with, if ever.

Shirky argues that MOOCs etc are not replacing the traditional system but are creating a whole new game, as the mp3s did for music. The problem for the education system is realizing what's happened in time to do anything about it.

"In the academy, we lecture other people every day about learning from history. Now its our turn, and the risk is that we’ll be the last to know that the world has changed, because we can’t imagine—really cannot imagine—that story we tell ourselves about ourselves could start to fail. Even when it’s true. Especially when it’s true."

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Alastair
    There are many unkonowns and wrong knowns about MOOCs. First today
    Coursera Udacity edx are known as MOOCs .
    Coursera and Udacity say they are MOOCs and they are for profits , they do not say " they provide the same courses as the ones on campus ." That is really bad . They also say they do not have a business plan yet .
    They also do not say about a certificate , how it will be delivered by whom etc .

    But they are genius in marketing .
    They have convinced that ANTIOCH University will take DUKE and UPenn online courses and ANTIOCH will give credits toward its degree programs . It is really great accomplishment.
    That is the first to be applied in the USA.

    I got the hint :
    If all schools in the USA take 5 online courses from MOOCs then their tuition will be halved . Plus there would be room for another 4,000 students ( I assume it has already 4,000 students ) Now total enrollment is 8,000 .
    But I say these online courses must be the same as oncampus courses . Plus Coursera should not charge more than $ 10 per course per student.
    Let me tell you
    if an online class is taken by 100,000 students per semester then cost is $ 1
    if taken by 10,000 students per semester then cost is $ 100 .
    So secret here is enrollment .
    How you can increase enrollment
    Just let all colleges in the USA take 5 online courses from MOOCs . Then millions enrollment and tuitions go down .

    Other wise it is cheating of people .

    We need many articles to be written about MOOCs and MITx + Harvardx + Berkeleyx Model too .
    in order to inform people