Much aMOOC about nothing?

I am fascinated by predictions on the way that technology, lately in the form of massive open online courses (MOOCs), will change higher education, The Huffington Post reports.

Many observers, investors, and critical thinkers — including McKinsey and Company — have suggested a dramatic shift in the delivery of higher education as a result of technology. With many universities trying MOOCs, there seems to be evidence supporting the prediction. In part, the theory suggests that as more students take high-quality coursework in online venues for free, universities will be forced to change their educational and pricing approaches.

There also is an expectation that some schools will be put out of business. The discussion advanced when some state systems (e.g., California) indicated a readiness to allow students to receive credit for certain MOOCs. Some observers see this as the start of a domino effect in which most states will move in this direction.

McKinsey goes one step further in noting that employers will likely embrace this kind of approach because of dissatisfaction with the skills being taught in traditional universities. Such discussion fuels the description of this revolution as a tsunami aimed at higher education.

So, what’s the reality going to look like? Although I believe that technology will affect universities and the ways that courses are taught, students learn, and academic progress is measured, much of the talk about MOOCs is hype.

There are several reasons why this is the case. First, the value of free high-quality education to students is in contradiction with the system that generates the advances in knowledge that are shared in MOOCs. The knowledge is produced typically by faculty or others who have traditional appointments in universities or teaching hospitals. The knowledge is created through the thinking, experimentation, reflection, and learning of such scholars.

While some traditional scholars teach MOOCs, the underlying work presented in any MOOC does not occur in a vacuum and is supported by appropriate market compensation for the faculty creating the knowledge.

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