Don't get me wrong, I'm enthusiastic about the new opportunities for learning that the net and social media offer. However there is a danger that in our enthusiasm to embrace the new educational landscape we enjoy hearing what we want to believe and choose not to take conflicting opinions too seriously. Those who can express our hopes an beliefs in an inspiring manner can win a massive wave of support and attain guru status and this is of course fairly typical human behaviour. So when people like Sugata Mitra, Salman Khan or Daphne Koller so convincingly challenge the traditional educational system and offer the hope of new solutions it is easy to get swept away in a wave of enthusiasm without stopping to challenge our beliefs.
Now I too am inspired by these and many other leading figures in the educational debate and am really looking forward to hearing two of them (Robinson and Mitra) at the EDEN conference in Oslo in June. However it's worth digging around to see if there is another side to the argument. Maybe children don't really learn so effectively completely on their own, maybe flipping the classroom is not really the solution to motivating kids and maybe the growth of MOOCs is not as open and free as we would like to imagine.
Two articles in the past couple of months provide necessary wake-up calls for us all. Firstly Donald Clark's article, Sugata Mitra: Slum chic? 7 reasons for doubt, casts doubt over some of Mitra's claims about self-learning children. It's not quite as simple as it sounds and Clark presents evidence that there were commercial interests behind the famous hole-in-the-wall project and that it does not prove that schools are irrelevant. Read the article and consider.
There's also a timely article by Irene Ogrizek, Daphne Koller and the Problem with Coursera, which questions the motives behind Coursera and other commercial MOOC providers. She's not the first to question the commercial motives behind the MOOC-explosion but notes that Coursera and other MOOC consortia present a convincing case for democratising and opening up education but we forget that they are for-profit commercial operations with a duty to provide ROI to their investors.
"Coursera is a for-profit company that has joined with top universities to deliver free online courses. The “free” part sounds great until we realize that the real intent of companies like Coursera is to transition into producing monetized, for-credit university courses. To many academics this represents a conflict of interest that compromises the independence and integrity of higher education institutions."
Read these tow articles. It's worth remembering there any many sides to every story.