A MOOC thought experiment

A number of years ago, I wrote occasional pieces for a now-defunct online publication that focused on the intersection of economics, politics and culture. And while my writing centered on the culture and politics bits, my favorite economist at the journal was Arnold Kling (whose work can still be found here).

A couple of days ago, I tried digging up a piece he wrote which gave an economics-based explanation as to why there was so much high and low quality stuff on the web.

Regarding high quality, he made the point that because we no longer live in an era when trained journalists or PhDs can count on landing high-paying jobs (either working for a newspaper or winning a tenured position at a university), that means a surplus of trained and skilled writers and researchers are finding other ways to express their creativity, through blogging, citizen journalism and other Internet-enabled publishing opportunities.

And, with regard to all the dreck on the web, that’s due to a low (non-existent, actually) barrier to entry, which means that any nut with a grudge can publish any crap they like, regardless of whether it’s intelligent, coherent or true.

But while searching out that piece, I stumbled on another article he wrote during the early era of blogging, which included an interesting thought experiment relevant for this year’s exploration of MOOCs.

Most of the article will be of primary interest to the economically-minded, but right towards the beginning he proposes a method for determining whether a new technological innovation is a game changer versus a fad by reversing the historic order of innovation.

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