The champions of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and other digitally mediated mass-produced education often speak of the “necessity” of transitioning to this model because of all of the increasingly onerous expense of traditional higher ed and unmet demand for education.

Clay Shirky believes the need is dire: “The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.” (It’s worth noting that Shirky said close to the opposite of this in 2012, before the limitations of MOOCs became so readily apparent).

I don’t mean to pick on Shirky specifically—I’ve done that already. His post is just the freshest example of an attitude that’s widely shared by important people like Bill Gates, Coursera founder Daphne Koller, and Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, not to mention the venture capitalist community that fuels this industry with their investment dollars.

However, the more I think about MOOCs and consider the nature of this demand, the more I come to believe that there is no inherent demand for education, and definitely not for the education they’re peddling as a possible substitute for the traditional system of higher education.

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