Let’s call it a neat trick, if you can pull it off!  What’s important here is that those of us who have worked to promote and develop traditional online learning have spent much of the past 20 years promoting the less audacious goal of having our work show “no significant difference.”

Not a magical sound bite, even if – in 1980 – it was considered audacious by many. How do you talk about success? Is it “our courses are no better than …”  or “our courses are no worse than.”? To accomplish the goal of demonstrating “no significant difference” we generally hewed to (and the performance data supported us) the belief that low (online) student-faculty ratios were an unmistakable marker of online course quality.

In doing this, we also established that traditional online learning had no significant difference in cost to the taxpayer or tuition payer. In fact, if one fully loaded the costs of infrastructure, design, and so forth, there likely is a difference and we don’t want to talk about it.

Second, “openness” in the context of MOOCs is really code for nearly free to the consumer not the institution as David correctly reveals. The premium business model of the MOOCs promises to shift the cost burden of learning to someone or somewhere else. While sustainability may be elusive, some very smart people are chasing it.

And we have all become accustomed to free things on the internet that we used to pay dearly for. Between openness and massification, MOOCs are promising to deliver “Ivy caliber” lectures over a state-of-the-art (and improving) infrastructure, through private capital, and free to the student.

Again, audacious goals. And newsworthy. Surely we must all agree that to the casual reader the prospect of a free Ivy League education must have the sex appeal of Cold Fusion-in-a-Box.

Audacity is defined as bold or insolent heedlessness of restraints, as of those imposed by prudence, propriety, or convention.  Audacity, in my experience, is not a common part of the gene set that comprises a lifelong higher education faculty or staff member.

Maybe it needs to be. I shook my first to the heavens when Google announced that it would scan the collections of our great research libraries. And monetize them! For years I had argued that this is exactly what should be done – and that we should do it. Somehow we do not have the audacity, the discipline, the courage, or some other quality that we need. And maybe that’s okay.

Stanford’s leadership has demonstrated again and again the benefits of turning our ideas over to others who understand better than we, how to commercialize them.

Will MOOCs usher in a revolution? I don’t know.


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