That the acronym MOOCs rhymes with “nukes” seems apt. Massive open online courses, or MOOCs — led by two profit-making start-ups, Coursera and Udacity, founded by entrepreneurial Stanford professors — are a new disruptive force in education.1.
The MOOC skeptics have a variety of qualms, but especially about what is lost in the retreat of face-to-face teaching — a point eloquently made by Andrew Delbanco, a professor of American studies at Columbia University, in an article in the current New Republic, “MOOCs of Hazard.”
Michael A. Cusumano, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T., raises a different issue in an essay published this week: the economics of MOOCs and the implications.
His article appears in Communications of the ACM, the monthly magazine of the Association for Computing Machinery, and he had circulated a version of it earlier to his M.I.T. colleagues. After reading it, L. Rafael Rief, M.I.T.’s president, asked Mr. Cusumano to serve on a task force on the “residential university” of the future, including online initiatives.
“My fear is that we’re plunging forward with these massively free online education resources and we’re not thinking much about the economics,” Mr. Cusumano said in an interview.
The MOOC champions, Mr. Cusumano said, are well-intentioned people who “think it’s a social good to distribute education for free.”
But Mr. Cusumano questions that assumption. “Free is actually very elitist,” he said. The long-term future of university education along the MOOC path, he said, could be a “few large, well-off survivors” and a wasteland of casualties.
Mr. Cusumano’s concerns grow out of his study of the software and media industries in the face of price pressure from free, open-source software and digital distribution over the Internet. Two-thirds of the public companies in the software industry disappeared between 1998 and 2006, as companies failed or were acquired. In the media world, Mr. Cusumano contends that newspaper and magazine companies — including The New York Times Company — made a strategic mistake by giving away their publications free on the Web....
Give-away pricing in education, Mr. Cusumano warns, may well be a comparable misstep. The damage would occur, he writes in the article, “if increasing numbers of universities and colleges joined the free online education movement and set a new threshold price for the industry — zero — which becomes commonly accepted and difficult to undo.”
Beware of the High Cost of ‘Free’ Online Courses
New York Times | MARCH 25, 2013, 5:04 PM
"Massive open online courses, or MOOCs — led by two profit-making start-ups, Coursera and Udacity, founded by entrepreneurial Stanford professors — are a new disruptive force in education."
We have disruption now?
As far as I can tell, "creative disruption" is occurring when a new business is actually winning. MOOCs aren't a business, and they aren't winning, not at the moment.
And I don't recall distance learning being a disrupter back in the 1990s.
As far as I can tell, the only reason we're even talking about MOOCs is that we are 5 years into a depressed economy, and "free" is sounding like an awfully good idea right about now.
But as for disruption....I fear that the kind of disruption people seem to have in mind when they use the word already happened in the 1990s, and MOOCs are the least of it. Lots more administrators, lots fewer full-time professors, and now MOOCs. Swap in videos of Harvard professors, swap out the adjuncts. More for me!
I suppose you could characterize the bureaucratization of colleges and universities as creative disruption that benefits the administrators, but that's not what Clayton Christensen had in mind when he developed the concept.
"Mr. Cusumano’s concerns grow out of his study of the software and media industries in the face of price pressure from free, open-source software and digital distribution over the Internet....Give-away pricing in education, Mr. Cusumano warns, may well be a comparable misstep."
People like music and news; people listen to music and read news instead of getting down to work.
College courses, on the other hand, are work. A college course is the activity you listen to music and read news to avoid. MOOCs are going to be hard to give away, not easy.
For most of the MOOC discussions I come across, executive function is the Great Unsaid. That, and the fact that Free is not a business model.