Sunday, February 17, 2013

Putting MOOCs into perspective

CC BY Some rights reserved by NJ..
MOOCs are still at the crest of the hype cycle and some of the headlines are getting rather tiresome. There's also a growing polarisation in the discussion between the overblown claims that MOOCs will replace the traditional university system and the counterclaims that they are irrelevant gimmicks with no academic quality. An article by Cathy N. Davidson in University World News, Stop polarising the MOOCs debate, tries to put the hype into perspective. 

Open courses provide new opportunities for study to people who are not able to enroll on a traditional university course. University education is still only for an elite few in a global perspective and the spread of MOOCs gives millions access to at least a taste of higher education. Even if there are now avenues for converting MOOC experience into credits, that path is hardly a threat to the established university system. Regular students are not dropping out of their full-time studies to go MOOC:

"There is no evidence that students are dropping out of brick-and-mortar universities in droves in order to enrol in online courses. On the contrary, the typical online course student is someone who would not otherwise have access to higher education."

The article sees no evidence that MOOCs are likely to drive down tuition fees either. It may be that the traditional system will continue unaffected by MOOCs and open education (remember that MOOCs are not as open as they may claim). Those who need the status and credentials of a recognised university degree will continue to pay for it but the difference is that all those who cannot afford that have now got access to an alternative. It may not have the same status but it may well develop into something that is good enough, especially if some kind of credentials are available such as Open Badges.

As Cathy Davidson concludes:

"Indeed, in many cases MOOCs will not solve the problem of the high cost of tuition fees at face-to-face institutions; but, in the end, they may help more people who have never conceived of attending a ‘real’ college participate in the higher education that, the numbers show, is coveted, prized, valued, sought after.And thus – for MOOC lovers and MOOCs haters alike – an important rhetorical point we should all be emphasising, in every conversation: in the complex, changing world in which we live, advanced learning is necessary. Not a luxury. It deserves the public support of other necessities. Advanced education is far too important to price out of the market for all but the global 1%."

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