The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform

15 May

By Aaron Bady

The MOOC phenomenon has happened very quickly, to put it mildly. Last November, the New York Times declared 2012 to be “the Year of the MOOC,” and while it feels (at least to me) like we’ve been talking about MOOCs for years now, the speed by which the MOOC has become the future of higher education is worth thinking carefully about, both because it’s an important way to frame what is happening, and because that speed warps the narrative we are able to tell about what is happening. Coursera, Udacity, and edX are all less than a year old, and while the first two—which are silicon valley startups out of Stanford, essentially—have already enrolled millions of students, the non-profit consortium edX has grown just as prodigiously. Beginning as a partnership between Harvard and MIT, it now includes a dozen different universities, and that number will surely grow.

The MOOC phenomenon is also a shift in discourse, a shift that’s happened so quickly and so recently, that it fills up our mental rear-view mirror. When the word “MOOC” was first coined in 2008, by a set of Canadian academics who needed a term to describe the experiment in pedagogy they were putting together, the word itself was a niche term that most people in higher education would not hear about, or need to. In the last year, it’s gone from a rather singular experiment in connectivist and distributed learning to a behemoth force that we are told and retold is reshaping the face of higher education. And whether MOOCs are disrupting education through innovation—as Clay Christensen’s model of disruptive innovation in business would have it—or simply representing the disruption of education as it is embedded in the market, the phenomenon under discussion has changed quite dramatically as it has migrated from Canada to Silicon Valley.

This is why it’s interesting to note that Inside Higher Education’s new booklet of essays, “The MOOC moment,” introduces its subject by writing that:

“The acronym MOOC (for massive open online course) first appeared in Inside Higher Ed in December 2011, in reference to a course offered by a Stanford University professor. These days, the acronym is omnipresent and – to many – needs no definition.”

I would say, in response, that this apparent lack of a need for a definition is exactly why we need to slow things down and figure out what the heck we’re talking about. For one thing, when we start the story in 2011, we forget about the 2008 MOOCs, and if the MOOCs are the future and the future is now, then it tends to have little to do with what was happening at the University of Manitoba in 2008, or why.

[ Full article available at The New Inquiry: ]

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Posted by on May 15, 2013 in MOOCs in the News


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