MOOCs: Evolution or revolution?

Today I heard a podcast from Radio National (Australia)’s “Big Ideas” program on the MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course, “an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access.” It gave me the title for this post, and provoked a lot of questions. In sum, its main question was whether this new platform for teaching and learning is going to revolutionize education as we know it, or simply represent the next stage of its evolution. (Whether or not it will go the way of education-by-radio or other past ‘revolutions’ wasn’t one of the options.)

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 14.57.30I’m agnostic on that question, but it’s clear enough that something is changing in the ways that students will expect content delivery in the future. I’ve believed that ever since I read Clay Shirky’s intervention last year: “Napster, Udacity, and the Academy.” Are universities suffering from ‘ostrich syndrome’ — as someone said in the podcast — if they ignore the ways that students consume media? (Is the analogy even right? Read Shirky’s blog post if you asked that question.) Will we be like the record companies in the wake of file sharing, if we don’t get ahead of this? Or (at least) if we ignore its implications so we can mount a strong defence against it?

My faculty is now grappling with these questions, and starting in January I’m going to enrol in my first MOOC, “The History and Future of Higher Education.” So before long, I hope my knowledge on these questions goes a bit further than podcasts and Wikipedia entries. More, then, in due course.

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