20 Things the Matter with MOOCs

20 Things the Matter with MOOCs

1. MOOCs are the bastard children of 1980s cyber-utopianism and post-1945 economic neoliberalism.

2. MOOCs are a 21st century manifestation of cyberspace’s revolutionary ideology of information freedom.

3. MOOCs deploy the liberatory and egalitarian rhetoric of the Open Net in the service of the 21st century neoliberalization of higher education.

4. MOOCs are driven by the desire of Silicon Valley entrepeneurs to capitalize on the data generated by college students.

5. MOOCs falsely equate non-profit higher education with profit-based industries like bookstores or newspapers or entertainment companies

6. MOOCs use the economic model of 21st century social media to build a massive user base for commercial purposes

7. MOOCs follow the model of Facebook or Google by giving away their product in exchange for data and advertisements, perhaps eventually for money.

8. MOOCs, like for-profit commercial entities, admit all comers; the ability to pay (whether in money or data) is all that counts; colleges and universities require applications for admission, only admitting those who are qualified.

9. MOOCs reduce the purpose of a college or university education to training students for jobs

10. MOOCs reduce human learning to cognition and information

11. MOOCs minimize the role of embodiment and affect in education

12. MOOCs eliminate the ideo-affective structures of intimacy that have been central to education for millenia.

13. MOOCs replace shared embodied relations with individualized mediated interactions.

14. MOOCs reduce education to content delivery; online lectures and interactive exercises and discussion boards are not equivalent to classroom education.

15. MOOCs reduce college education to testable knowledge, eliminating completely the benefits of accident, chance, embodied interaction, late-night partying, modeling, bonding, individualized and personalized attention.

16. MOOCs imitate the logic of derivitization, breaking up courses and faculty into discrete parts—a MOOC here and a MOOC there, an online discussion moderator or grader here, another there.

17. MOOCs ignore the logic of the curriculum, in which a student’s education is designed to be completed in a sequence, where courses are meant to complement and build upon one another .

18. MOOCs represent the pro bono gestures of elite universities

19. MOOCs are extractive industries. The knowledge that they are exploiting was gained over long years of hard work in small, in-person seminars or archives, representing a resource that will become finite in a MOOCified future.

20. MOOCs must be made to serve the needs of higher education, rather than higher education being made to serve the needs of MOOCs.

“What’s the Matter with MOOCs: A Critical Conversation”
Center for 21st Century Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
March 12, 2013

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About rgrusin

I am an Academic Entrepreneur and Professor of English at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
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12 Responses to 20 Things the Matter with MOOCs

  1. joyburnout says:

    what are your thoughts about online (or hybrid) courses at colleges/universities? similar, or qualified/variable (based on subject matter, delivery method, design, etc)?

    • rgrusin says:

      My problem is not with digital technologies per se but with the privatization, deskilling, and deprofessionalization of public universities through the neoliberal deployment of massive open online networks. I think academics should be responsible for education not entrepeneurs or journalists of legislatures

  2. J Wright says:

    Hmmm. Maybe this is just about a dozen or so things wrong with MOOCs. 2&3 and 6&7 say more or less the same thing, and 11 is just the corollary of 10.

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  4. KC says:

    What about the only non-profit MOOC, edX? They at least avoid the data, advertising, Facebook model of revenue generation. And the hidden “commercial purposes”

    • Lisa M Lane says:

      None of the original MOOCs, sometimes referred to as cMOOCs (offered by Cormier, Downes, Siemens, Couros, Wiley) fit these objections. For commercial or proto-commercial MOOCs (xMOOCs), I agree.

  5. David Yerle says:

    You seem to assume MOOCs will replace university courses. But aren’t they a great vehicle for the simple pleasure of gaining new knowledge in a field that’s unrelated to yours? For example, I use Coursera to learn programming, even though my background is physics. I already got all the bonding and the late partying during my degree. I only want to know some programming.

  6. qriopal says:

    Some of these are good points and I hope MOOCs providers will address them as they mature. In fact, some are already being addressed…e.g. the bill of rights and principles of learning in a digital age. http://blog.udacity.com/2013/01/a-bill-of-rights-and-principles-for.html

    Others are based on perceptions that don’t match my own experience with MOOCs. (e.g. point#19.)

  7. Big words. Lots and lots of big words. Strung together, they’re all so – baffling. MOOCs open up learning to well – everyone – and I think that’s brilliant. Are they the perfect model? Absolutely not, but they are, in my opinion, a step in the right direction.

  8. While I appreciate a few of the critical observations here, MOOCs are only a beginning – like the first Wright Brothers flight (all of a 120 feet), this is not where online education will end up. Is there a long term commercial agenda for many MOOC providers (perhaps all except edX)? Sure. Is that really a problem in an organizational environment (higher ed) that seems incapable of change and cannot be held accountable (outside of a modicum of self-regulation)? No.

    It’s all well and good to talk about the “benefits of accident, chance, embodied interaction, late-night partying, modeling, bonding. . .” but the average age of higher ed student is climbing. The benefits you mention – while real for the 18-22 year old crowd – are not even on the table for working adults.

    There are issues here with Silicon Valley moving into the higher ed arena, but we long since opened the door to them by somehow thinking we could avoid the most significant impacts of the digital revolution. Believe me, putting projectors and smart boards in our classrooms and using an LMS is no more addressing the underlying socio-technological dynamics of change swirling around us than a newspaper putting up a website.

  9. timokaerlein says:

    I don’t agree entirely with the criticism expressed in this list. First, a lot of the bullet points are redundant, as has been pointed out earlier. So it all boils down to a smaller list of valid points. But I think the main problem with these is the perspective from which they are formulated.

    For Western middle-class would-be students these might all be valid, but there is a large population out there who simply can’t afford to visit an ivory league school in the US. For example, I read about a girl from New Delhi taking extra classes via edX that greatly enhanced her education at home. She would never have had the opportunity to receive this kind of quality education in the rather weak public education system at home (not even in a private one, at that). This directly translates into job opportunities but also to her general scope of participation in society.

    I guess my point is that MOOCs should probably be complementary, but that there are many people who greatly profit from them. And btw, I’ve participated in a few myself (just for the pleasure) and greatly enjoyed the extra education options. The ciriticism expressed here is quite elitist. And it is based on the somewhat naive assumption that the current education system isn’t already tainted by neoliberal logics.

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