I’ve said this many times over the past six months: If 2012 was the year of the MOOC, 2013 will be the year of the anti-MOOC. Things are unfolding nicely according to plan. Faculty don’t like MOOCs. Critiquing MOOCs is now more fashionable than advocating for them. Numerous quasi-connected fields that thrive on being against things have now coalesced to be against MOOCs.
It’s great fun. I am very pleased to see substantial critiques of MOOCs. Every concept needs to be challenged, chewed on, evaluated, and understood from multiple angles. There are many reasons to not like MOOCs (including the elite university models, poor pedagogy, blindness to decades of learning sciences research, and its entire identity: just a very bad name). The faculty response to MOOCs is particularly important. Almost every major MOOC initiative over the past 18 months has developed without the inclusion of the faculty voice.
The more prominent argument emerging is one of classifying MOOCs as neo-liberalism. This is disingenuous. First, I don’t think anyone actually knows what neoliberalism means other than “that thing that I’m thinking about that I really don’t like”. Second, if we do take a stance that neoliberalism is some combination of open markets, deregulation, globalization, small government, low taxes, death of the public organization, and anti-union, then MOOCs are not at all neoliberalist.
In recent presentations, I’ve been positioning MOOCs in terms of the complexification of higher education (see below for sample presentation). The argument is simple: Much of today’s economy is knowledge-based. In a knowledge economy, we need to be learning constantly. Universities have failed to recognize the pent-up demand for learning as the economy has diversified and society has become more complex and interconnected. As a consequence, the internet has contributed by creating a shadow education system where learners learn on their own and through social networks. MOOCs reflect society’s transition to a knowledge economy and reveal the inadequacy of existing university models to meet learner’s needs.
The reason MOOCs are being classified as neoliberalist is because entrepreneurs see the changing landscape and have responded before many universities. Universities, in contrast, are actively trying to preserve their legacy models so as to stay relevant, or at minimum, stay in control. Something is not neoliberalist just because neoliberalists are the first to take advantage of the gaps created by the traditional and emerging shadow education systems. Don’t blame the ill motives of others for what was caused by inactivity on the part of the professoriate and higher education in general.