By John F. Schwaller
The MOOCs are here! Every few years or decades, some new idea threatens to revolutionize higher education and right now that is the MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) just about the hottest idea around. The promise of MOOCs is that large numbers of people can learn from the leading specialists in each field. There have been problems on how individuals who take the courses will earn college credit, and how one might string a series of these courses together for either a degree or a certificate, but frankly those questions miss the point of whether this is a good method of instruction. While a few college presidents and other leaders in higher education have gotten on the bandwagon, most have taken a more reserved wait-and-see attitude.
Taking a much longer view of the MOOC, one quickly realizes that there truly is nothing new under the sun. Every epoch has had its new technology which threatens to completely change the way we deliver higher education.
Back in the Middle Ages, students would attentively listen to their professors and copy down every word he said. These notes were then passed around so that others could also gain wisdom from them. Reading the notes was the equivalent of attending the course. Then in the fifteenth century a revolutionary technology came along which made all of that obsolete: the printing press. Professors now could publish their ideas in books and do away with the classroom entirely. But that never happened. The books became something which augmented the learning experience in the classroom, not which replaced it.
With the rise of the nation state and efficient mail delivery, some enterprising educators decided they could do away with the classroom. They would mail out the lectures and other classroom materials and students could read and process them at their own pace. It was the first widespread example of asynchronous learning techniques. Correspondence schools were going to do away with traditional higher education as we knew it. Fortunately they did not. It proved to be a boon to many who were place bound, but it did not eliminate the traditional classroom.
[ Full article available at The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-f-schwaller/the-moocs-are-coming_b_4854324.html ]