Two months back I made the non-joke that MOOC’s—massive off-line open courses—were not new, not “revolutionary”, and were therefore not going to “change the face of education as we know it.”
Note off-line and not on-line.
Libraries (in most places in the West) have been free and open to anybody for centuries. Any person, regardless of circumstance, could walk in, pick up a book on Introductory Latin or The Philosophy of Physics, read it, assimilate its material, and then walk away educated.
Not only that, but they could have done it repeatedly for as long as they had the patience or capacity. There were books on any subject, therefore any subject could have been learned.
Since the libraries were free and ubiquitous, their patronage encouraged almost from the cradle, and their benefits nearly infinite, you would guess, if your thoughts tended towards Utopianism, that we should be surrounded with a highly educated, erudite citizenry.
But if you were a realist, you would have realized that most people don’t want to know much beyond what’s needed for their daily existence. Learning is difficult, is brutal hard work, and the payoff is in most cases not obvious. What makes it worse is that reading, the fastest and most secure way to assimilate knowledge, can be painful and time consuming. It is a solitary, quiet avocation and most of are too gregarious to keep at it for the extended periods necessary to master a topic.
Well, the realists were right. Before television, before even radio, libraries were full and people read; mostly for entertainment, but read they did. Now libraries are sometimes just as full, but with people checking out DVDs or sitting at Internet terminals (as you are doing now). Books are now secondary—at best. They and reading will never disappear, but they will become the habit of only a fraction of us, as was true historically and as is part of our nature.
So it should come as no surprise to hear that the on-line courses aren’t living up the ecstatic hyperbole which accompanied their announcement. According to Politico, they have “high dropout rates and disappointing student performance among those who stick it out.” Completion rates average 10%.
They “found that disadvantaged kids performed particularly poorly and students found the courses confusing.” The same students, that is, who are not heading to the library.
Some expert or other—the kind likely to use words like “Learning-management systems”, “revolutionary impact”, and “Transformational Learning”—was heard to say, “The elephant in the room with online learning has been that these courses don’t equate with the quality in face-to-face courses.”
That’s the kind of thing expected as universities transform from colleges to corporations. What was already known is given more impressive sounding labels.
Skip all that. Scan this: “Some college faculty members donâ€™t trust the courses or actively work against their formation”.
No wonder. What professor wants his material packed into a YouTube video—which makes his presence redundant. At least as far as teaching goes. He’s still needed to solicit money from Leviathan, which in turn is needed to feed the Dean.
Make that seemingly redundant. Professors have always been in the habit of writing books, which distills and concentrates the same material. And these books could have been, but largely were not, read free.
The only difference I can see between off- and on-line “open” courses is that the latter are easier to track and award “credits” for. I.e. they are useful steps toward “degrees”, the thing the vast majority of students and employers desire.
There’s probably a way to do courses on-line, but they’ll mimic the off-line ones. That is, lectures to groups of students which allows back-and-forth questions and answers, homework (reading!), writing, unique exams (and not generic multiple-choice which any college might use for the course of the same name). But there goes most of the cost savings and all of the hype. And out the door go the consultants and “education specialists.”