Home > Uncategorized > The Future of Universities: Everything a MOOC is NOT

The Future of Universities: Everything a MOOC is NOT

I’ve been puzzling about what Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) do an do not mean for the future of universities, and I think I finally have an insight: 

Amy’s Conjecture: The future of universities is in excelling at everything a MOOC is not.

The trend over the last dozen or so years is for people who make money creating intellectual property to be compensated more and more poorly.  Fewer people are making a living as musicians.  Professional journalism is in crisis.  Small newspapers are closing, and major ones are struggling. This hasn’t happened all at once, but like a frog in a pot, raising the temperature/economic pressure a fraction of a degree per year over the long haul has dramatic consequences.  MOOCs turn education into a form of IP.  The same economic pressures are going to apply.

If you buy that, then what’s next for universities?  There will no doubt be MOOC winners–but I suspect that just as Amazon.com seems to be dominating the e-commerce business, there will be advantages to size that will be hard to fight.  Margins will be tight, with a small number of big winners.

The future of universities, then, is in everything a MOOC can not do. What is that?

Amy’s Lemma: There are some things that will never be learned as well online.

I believe that there will always be something special in an on-campus experience. Young adults need a liminal period, between dependence and independence, to grow into full maturity.  And there are educational benefits to a face-to-face experience that will be hard to capture online.  Like project-based learning, undergraduate research, entrepreneurship, oral presentation, writing and teamwork skills.  I’m sure you will be able to learn all those things online to some degree–but the in-person experience will always be better.

The challenge for universities then is: are we giving students the very best in their on-campus experience?  Are there compelling reasons for students to invest their time and money in an embodied educational experience?

The further challenge for us as a society is: Will we continue to make some degree of face-to-face higher educational experience affordable for students from diverse economic backgrounds?  That’s not a forgone conclusion–it’s a political choice, and an important one.

So here’s my call to action for university administrators: If you are concerned about change in the world of higher ed, have you thought hard about the unique value of an on-campus experience?  Instead of investing in a new MOOC, how about beefing up programs in undergraduate research and entrepreneurship?  Are we doing sound evaluation of the many experiences students are having on campus, and making them better every year?  Why don’t we form new high-priority committees and redirect resources to seriously address  those challenges?

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  1. October 7, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    Exactly what I’ve been saying to folks. I think you are spot on.

    • October 7, 2012 at 11:12 pm

      Thanks James! The dynamic of what is and isn’t already happening and how administrators are reacting is… mind boggling!

  2. October 8, 2012 at 7:51 am

    The comparison to musicians is interesting. One defining property of recordable media is that new works need to compete with old works. It will be extremely difficult for a modern artist to get his work exhibited at MoMA, New York because displaying it means removing an acknowledged masterpiece. I could contemplate buying a Katy Perry album, but I could also purchase the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. Which is better? There’s so many great movies out there already that I can easily purchase online and view at home that the latest theatrical releases are less intriguing. Why should I read the latest mystery when I can read Christie? On the theatrical front, why should I pay royalties for a recently written play when I can get Shakespeare for free? What if this model can be applied to lecture as well? For instance, check out this explanation of the differential gear: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4JhruinbWc It may be old, but it will be worth watching for many decades to come. Sort of a Casablanca of educational videos. MOOCs are interesting because they turn more educational content into easily accessible recordings. One implication I see for the future is that it’ll be more important for educators and educational institutions to find, share, structure and augment content rather than to produce it.

  3. October 8, 2012 at 9:50 am

    Though I have some issues with some things my school is doing, we’re doing just that. Experiential learning, undergraduate research and entrepreneurship are on the rise, but have always been part of Ryerson. I always have half dozen undergrads working in my lab, and 2 are preparing to spin off businesses, and 4 new ‘inventions’ have been registered. It is more work for me to heard undergraduate cats, but it sure beats talking to a brick wall of lecture hall chairs.

  4. Gunnar Karlsson
    October 12, 2012 at 7:49 am

    Shouldn’t the formative phase in life happen during high school? Seen from a non-US perspective, this is what we expect: After all students come of age at 18, are allowed to marry, vote and more. High school should have prepared them for adulthood; college comes too late.

    Surely personalized on-campus education has features hard to replicate online. But I doubt that they justify the cost of 20 to 50 thousand dollars a year for four years. Why not academic summer or winter camps where examinations, hands-on labs and socializing is condensed; allowing students to mix work and studies in the meantime.

    The monolithic four year on-campus programs appear to a legacy of a small elit system that has been scaled up beyond reason.

  5. October 15, 2012 at 1:14 am

    Hi Amy, based on taking 2-ish MOOC courses starting about a month ago, despite my optimism about such things I think you’re dead on — even to the point of hoping that one of the main effects of MOOC’s will be to push universities to more overtly value the activities you’ve mentioned.

    I’m blogging about the courses at moocchronicle.blogspot.ca and have found some issues that I haven’t seen discussed, such as the troubles with peer assessment in a global context and the fact that Coursera’s rules tend to inhibit cooperation while edX’s rules and interface encourages it.

    Peter Rowley

    • October 15, 2012 at 6:35 am

      Interesting–look forward to reading your blog!

  1. November 7, 2012 at 4:09 am
  2. April 23, 2013 at 11:48 am
  3. July 28, 2013 at 1:04 pm

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