When MOOCs profit, who pays?

MOOCs – massive open online courses – have been heralded as inaugurating an inevitable transformation in higher education, Aljazeera reports. They have been called a revolution, a boom, and, in the favoured jargon of techspeak, a “disruption” – a term that at first invokes a welcome alternative to the stagnation and elitism of the American university. But the best word to describe MOOCs – at least in terms of their capacity to replace traditional education – is “failure”. Most MOOCs have completion rates of under 10 percent. At San Jose State University, a programme to offer course credit for MOOCS from Udacity, a Silicon Valley-based company, was halted when over 50 percent of students failed. MOOCs have been criticised by education experts who see their impersonal nature as a detriment to student learning. In MOOCs, students usually cannot ask their professors questions and sometimes cannot even receive answers, since MOOCs deliver the same recorded lessons to numerous groups of students. There is little way to prevent cheating or provide individual feedback. Some MOOCs have no assignments or required readings, and nearly all evaluation is done by machines – including the grading of essays. Critics of MOOCs are often lambasted as Luddites.

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