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MOOC’s and the Widening Gap Between the Haves and the Have-Nots

October 1, 2012

I have an opinion piece published today in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Authors usually don’t get to write their own headlines, and I’m never happy with the ones my pieces are given. I like the above headline better than their’s: “How the Embrace of MOOC’s Could Hurt Middle America.” But at least I don’t hate it.

The article will be online and in this week’s print edition. Unfortunately the online article is only available to subscribers. I’ll publish the article here on my blog, but am under contract with The Chronicle to wait 30 days before doing so. It’s kinda like waiting for a movie to come out on DVD rather than paying full price at the theater.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Ironically, although the move toward online education is being advanced by some of the nation’s most elite universities, in the end it will be the lower half of the student population that will be forced out of the traditional classroom, widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.”

By the way, for the uninitiated, “MOOC” in an acronym for Massive Open Online Courses.

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  1. Faye Graham permalink

    Can’t wait to read this one…..congrats, again…Mom

  2. John permalink

    Unfortunately, your article seems to be pay-walled. Greg, do you address the fact that the free-market momentum towards MOOC is inevitable? Or do you see an alternative future and a clear path to get there?

    • Yes, it is unfortunately pay-walled. Indeed I do address the fact that money is the main issue here. I identify a triad of powerful interest groups: state and local governments that want to reduce education expenditures, school administrators forced to cut budgets, and technology companies looking to expand their markets. Add to that our society’s history of magical thinking regarding technology, and I am not optimistic about the future of general education.

  3. John permalink

    “money is the main issue here”

    Maybe, but I see it differently. First, the growth of MOOC is inevitable. It’s part of a larger cultural-global shift related to rapidly growing human inter-connectivity. Technology changes old paradigms. The wheel changed everything. Books changed everything. Railroads and telegraph changed everything. And each new technology can put a lot of people out of work, while creating new kinds of jobs and skill requirements. Online stores are putting a dent in physical store sales, a trend that is accelerating. Online news and e-books are effectively rendering newspaper and book printing obsolete, causing a whole lot of journalists, publishers, and support staff to think hard about their next career.

    I don’t see changes in communication technologies as necessarily “good” or “bad” — I see it as a natural progression of humanity as we continue to invent new ways to connect. Education is changing rapidly. We’re learning that self-paced online learning coupled with teacher-classroom engagement is better than teacher-only models. In a teacher-only classroom, all students typically move at the same pace – the pace of the current lecture and assignment. But small, on-line lecture modules and testing allow each student to progress at their own pace, some faster, some slower. A teacher watches the progression of each student via online summary. Those who are going slower get more personalized teacher attention. Those who are working ahead can actually help tutor the stragglers.

    As for MOOC, it will grow rapidly, and I have seen enough of the way free-markets work to know that people won’t pay for inferior products. Free markets have a way of self-adjusting — low quality ultimately fails, and high value attracts capital. Emerging MOOC models must deliver high quality education, or people simply won’t buy into it. But we’re just getting started, and perhaps nobody really knows what that means yet.

  4. Andy Dufresne permalink

    Perhaps I should have waited to read the full article before commenting, but I just have to chime in here.

    As a first-in-the-family student who was just bright enough to graduate from an elite university by the skin of my teeth, but not mature or disciplined enough to take full advantage of the incredible opportunity I was given, I very often look upon my undergraduate years with a deep sense of shame and embarrassment. I still remember the expressions of pride and happiness on the faces of my parents as I took them on a brief tour of the campus on the day before commencement, all the while thinking what an absolute fraud I was for, essentially, just paying for my degree. At least that’s how I felt (still feel) given my abysmal academic performance.

    So why the wrenching confessional, and what does it have to do with MOOCs? Well, for someone whose every student loan statement is a painful reminder of squandered opportunities, MOOCs can mean hope…another bite at the apple…a chance at redemption. Now, without financial risk of any kind, I can explore new academic avenues that I never considered before, prove to myself that I am no longer the immature drunk I was then, or simply re-take that vexing Genetics course that I failed so miserably years ago.

    There is genuine opportunity to be offered by technological advances that open up the world of academia to people who, for whatever reason, could not enter it before. Just as there is also real hope and redemptive power in being given the chance to atone for the mistakes of one’s past.

    • Thanks for your comment Andy. I can discern you are not what I would call a struggling or remedial student. My concern is with the students who need immediacy and a personally engaging learning environment. For starters, many of the would not have both a mom and dad attending their commencement.

      I will say this much: you managed to get a degree, which I’m guessing is more than you would have accomplished in an online environment. Something about that brick and mortar college kept you engaged enough to get your degree.

      I agree with you: MOOC’s offer folks like you — folks who have finally discovered a motivation for learning — a wonderful opportunity. It’s the ones who need plenty of personal encouragement and attention that I’m most concerned about.

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