By John Warner
The champions of MOOCs and other digitally-mediated mass produced education often speak of the “necessity” of transitioning to this model because of all of the increasingly onerous expense of traditional higher ed and unmet demand for education.
Clay Shirky believes the need is dire, “The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.”
I don’t mean to pick on Shirky specifically (I did that already). His post is just the freshest example of an attitude that’s widely shared by important people like Bill Gates, Coursera founder Daphne Koller and Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, not to mention the venture capitalist community that fuels this industry with their investment dollars.
However, the more I think about a MOOC or machine-mediated educational future and consider the nature of this demand, the more I come to believe that there is no inherent demand for education, and definitely not for the education they’re peddling as a possible substitute for the traditional system of higher education.
Because the demand isn’t for education, per se, it’s for what we believe education can provide: a secure, stable life. This narrative may not even be true, as Freddie DeBoer argues in a recent post, but we cling to it anyway because what choice do we have? If we instead believed that painting yourself purple from head to toe had the same effect, we’d all be walking around looking like Barney the dinosaur.
[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/just-visiting/there-no-demand-higher-education ]