The problem with all the enthusiasm about MOOCs, though, is that it confuses the excitement of an awesome thing that is being given away with the thrill of watching a genuinely disruptive piece of technology come to market. MOOCs are certainly the former; as for the latter, though, a few recent articles confirm my intuition that the many predictions about the end of education as we know it are more smoke than fire.
This information throws a fair amount of cold water on the notion that there is anything particularly disruptive about MOOCs. And Dan Ariely, Duke University professor and newly-minted MOOC lecturer, provides some important insight as to where online courses fall short:
First, having a scheduled class with obligations, deadlines, exams, real consequences and real rewards is incredibly important for human motivation and getting people to spend the necessary time and effort to really understand the material. The second reason is that the model of many universities, in which students study and live together, is a particularly helpful model for creating the environment that people need to take their education seriously. It is not just about the particular classes, but about being immersed in an academic environment for a substantial period of time.
Missing this point is what so many educational technology start-ups fail to grasp, and this mistake isn’t limited to MOOCs. At the Teach For America 20th Anniversary Summit, I remember hearing a great deal of buzz about the game-changing possibilities of the Rocketship charter school model. However, a recent report from PBS NewsHour shows that they, too, have discovered some serious limitations to their key innovation of learning labs, despite doing what seems like plenty of other amazing stuff at their schools.
All this is just to say that the enthusiasm of innovation can be a blinding thing. It is better to understand the modest but real benefits technological advances stand to bring us in the classroom than to get lost in grand visions of disruption.
CJ Libassi is a Fulbright English teaching assistant in Madrid, Spain. He can be reached at clibassi(at)hotmail(dot)com.