Will MOOCs Mean An End To College?
One thing to come out of the massive open online course (MOOC) revolution is that many believe the educational constructs will end college as we know it. You know, paying $70,000 or more per year to attend a school that loads you up with debt and gives you no guarantee of a decent paying job after graduation?
I definitely wish that part of it was true, but the reality is that College isn’t going anywhere so we might as well stop saying it.
This thought is supported by a recent op-ed for Inside Higher Education in which author John Warner responds to a new book named The End of College in which writer Kevin Carey speculates that the quality of the courses is almost indistinguishable to the quality of traditional education.
Warner takes issue with that and makes a lot of good points in doing so.
“I’m having a hard time taking Carey’s argument seriously because if any part of his case rests on this sort of unsupported – and I would argue, almost entirely unsupportable as of this time – claim, I can only believe that the foundation of a case that says we can end college is built on B.S. … In Carey’s op-ed, and the book itself, he discusses how he successfully completed an edX course on genetics and even has the badges to show for it. In Carey’s formulation, because an already highly educated professional can pass an online Biology course, we are on the cusp of a revolution. … This kind of badging, according to Carey, is the future because it will uncouple us from the expensive proposition of attending colleges and universities and open up credentialing to other entities. The problem, as Carey sees it, is not that the type or quality of education available via these digital platforms lacks something essential, it’s just that we don’t recognize how awesome it is because of the stranglehold traditional colleges and universities have on the credentialing function.”
Warner is right to call out Carey on this matter because there are certain things that college as we know it does that MOOCs have yet to find an answer for. Essentially, “the route to our learning, how we learned, and what we learned about learning is often more important than what we learned,” Warner writes.
Let’s break this down further.
The Route to Our Learning
MOOCs are generally trumpeted as the answer by individuals, who feel like modern education is failing students because it tries to “teach to the test” and create “cookie-cutter students.” However, you can’t get much more cookie-cutter than a MOOC. That’s not a knock either, because to be open to a vast array of students a MOOC must be systemized and move at a pace students are capable of maintaining. But if you’ve ever sat in a high school classroom, you know that not all students learn in the same way, nor are they capable of learning in the same way. If the MOOC was to supplant college and get rid of it entirely, then what would happen with these individuals? How would they learn and find a place as productive members of society?
How We Learned
Piggybacking on the first point above, how you learn is a very important part of the puzzle. Not only do some need a more direct route to learning that isn’t so heavily contingent on the autodidact, they need to be able to find their own ways of learning, and often that can only come by way of individual attention. The kind that a teacher can give right there in the classroom, in the moment. Without this element, many students who are unable to learn in a set, cookie-cutter fashion will grow frustrated with their education, and frustration leads to giving up.
What We Learned About Learning
Yes, what you learn about learning is usually more important than what you learned in the first place. That’s because not every piece of knowledge or data will be relevant to what you want to do in life, and when it comes to data points and, yes sometimes knowledge, things change. So it’s not the what was learned that is the most important thing but the takeaway that the learner has from learning it. Every time I hear something along these lines, I think of the old saying about feeding a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day, but teach him to fish, and you’ll feed him for a lifetime. Similarly, if students can learn ABOUT learning, then they will be capable of eventually taking charge of their own education and adding more knowledge. This is what creates a lifelong learner. MOOCs are all about teaching a specific skill set. They come up well short of actually teaching students how to learn because that’s not what they’re designed to do.
So Does This Mean MOOCs Are Doomed?
Not in the slightest. The MOOC is here to stay, and it’s a wonderful addition that could very well help educate more students and drive prices of a college education downward. But just like eBooks will never mean an end to print books, a MOOC will never mean an end to college. It will prove to be a valuable tool in preparing future generations for the world of the 21st Century and beyond, but it will never be able to replace the drive and determination of a good teacher working one-on-one with a student. And I hope that’s something we can all find pleasing.