Clay Shirky, MOOCs, and Living the Deeper Mission of Education

Seems like the discussion about MOOCs so often gets cast in an “us vs. them” narrative, with people wondering whether or not the new guy on the block will supplant the venerable institutions of higher learning.

Media theorist Clay Shirky wrote a great piece that contextualizes the revolution in education within the “big pictures” of both technological innovation and higher education. It’s a long piece that is worth the read. One bit that particularly resonates:

The fight over MOOCs isn’t about the value of college; a good chunk of the four thousand institutions you haven’t heard of provide an expensive but mediocre education. For-profit schools like Kaplan’s and the University of Phoenix enroll around one student in eight, but account for nearly half of all loan defaults, and the vast majority of their enrollees fail to get a degree even after six years.

…In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as as songs came unbundled from CDs.

Well put.

It’s one thing to argue for traditional classrooms against the onslaught of massive online classes.  It’s quite another to remain ignorant of all the people who are boxed out of our current educational framework.


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