MOOCs again? That old chestnut

I have been tasked to respond to Carole Cadwalladr’s article, Do online courses spell the end for the traditional university? (2012)

I have also been asked to pretend it’s 2012 as I read it. Here is my response…

I remember the hype around the MOOCs, and frankly then I didn’t believe it. Then I thought claims were overblown. To be honest, in 2012, I didn’t even approve of ebooks, preferring to read the real thing. Cynical young me thought that the ebook was a way to cut corners and save money, whilst providing a worse service to students. And I hated the MOOC acronym.

Anyone who knows me may be surprised to read this. I am now a passionate advocate for digital education. I am happy to read from a screen and all of my notes are written up in OneNote. I hardly ever use a real pen and highlighters. My colleagues tease me because OneNote seems to be my answer to everything…. but seriously OneNote is amazing… a recipe book, journal, planner and wiki all in one.

A screengrab of my OneNote from my last OU module… a thing of digital beauty

Back to the point about MOOCs…

So in 2012 I didn’t believe that a free online course could replace a university degree. I always assume that loud articles trumpeting revolutions are in fact hyperbole. This goes for self-driving cars, android assistants and Second Life (which I am sneaking in a mention of, as all of my OU study material seems to mention it).

Back then, I knew little about digital education and learning technology.

Should I even admit that I didn’t learn about the job title learning technologist until 2015?

Yes, I am a learning designer now and an advocate for ed tech.

Point is, if I was cynical, I imagine many others were too. Yes, newspapers like to make headline and announce The Next Big Thing, this doesn’t mean that they are reflecting the word on the street. I don’t think they even believe it themselves. They have to write about something.

The question posed by the OU on my course, is “back in 2012 would you have agreed that the MOOC would lead to the end of the universities”? NO. My short answer.

Back then I would have been very dubious that something provided for free would have been good quality. Don’t we all think that? If it’s free, what’s wrong with it? I assumed that the course would have been clunky, bad to navigate, and that the contents would be flat and boring.

Ask me the same question now, in 2020.

Could the MOOC lead to the end of the universties?

My answer is still no. I am coming it at from a different angle, and have different reasons now. Since the article was written I have participated in two MOOCs- one excellent and one mediocre. The mediocre MOOC funnily enough was indeed badly designed, flat and boring. The excellent MOOC was well put together, engaging, though provoking, active, practical and interesting.

Even so, I don’t think it’s a realistic model to compete with a university education. I may expand on my reasons in another post, but I am finding it hard to concentrate on this backward-looking question when I keep on returning to a question that everyone in edtech is asking at the moment…

As face to face universities are having to pivot online, will the way in which education is delivered post Covid-19 change forever? Will those in their ivory towers deam edtech worthy? Perhaps, more importantly, will we ever convince students? Will the powers that be ever realise that an online course is not necessarily a whole bunch of video lectures? Or that the online pivot need not mean a switch to hours of live Zoom lectures.

These are different blog posts. And ones I will have to write, even if they turn out to be amusing time capsule s to look back on in years to come.