The first time I saw the acronym, I thought “great – another education acronym!” and since I was browsing for other information, left it floating in the recesses of my brain until later. Today’s NY Times Education section brought it back into my conscious mind and all I can say is WOW!
MOOCs or “massive open online courses” are turning the academy on its head, whether the academy knows it or not.
We’ve all taken a class that ended up being an exercise in repetition because you could have taught the class, sometimes better than the instructor whose salary your tuition dollars supported. Up until now, though, the academy has had an iron grip on what constitutes “knowledge”, holding out that if you didn’t learn while sitting in an actual college classroom, then it can’t be counted as your knowledge. (In other words, if you didn‘t PAY someone for it, …) .
As a US Navy veteran, this always torqued me because after six years on active duty in a hospital larger than most civilian hospitals, I knew “a few things” but they never translated into the neat, restrictive packages that the colleges would recognize as attained knowledge. In fact, 2 esteemed universities that I attended required that I retake Anatomy & Physiology, Medical Terminology and Pathophysiology. Did I learn something additional? Sure I did, if for no other reason than each instructor brings something unique to the learning environment, however; I’m not sure it was worth 9 – 12 credits of tuition and fees (which I am probably still paying for via student loans). Then there was the doctoral advisor who said that I could not apply for credit for a class titled, “Higher Education Administration”, even though I was working as a Dean at a community college and in truth, could have taught the class. Oh, to see the possible end of these tyrannical rules makes my heart pitter-patter.
Enter Coursera, and other MOOC-like offerings to the scene. If you have no idea what I am talking about, you should check it out. Signing up is easy, quick and did I mention, FREE! Browse through the numerous courses offered from such venerable institutions as Penn, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Princeton, UVa and more. After more than a decade of robust online learning and technological development, innovators in higher education are more than ready to offer learning in this manner, and I suspect it will blow us away in its quality, accessibility and the best part – no student loan promissory notes required!
Back to my complaint about universities not recognizing military or other work experience as true knowledge: I wonder how long they will protest that the “Intro to Logic” course that you took online from Duke isn’t good enough to exempt you from the 3-credit Intro to Logic course at Podunk-U? While my background and experience tells me that they will push back, I also know that it will only be for a time until some college, desperate for the remaining tuition dollars that these folks represent (half a loaf is better than none, after all) will reach out with a marketing campaign and a process that provides these students a path to finishing a formal degree, recognizing the MOOC-acquired knowledge as part of the degree requirement.
Another potential scenario, as the value proposition of a generic college degree is increasingly questioned (due in large part to the overproduction of unqualified and non-educated graduates from for-profit institutions), is that the reliance on “badges” will increase , opening the door to a “run on the bank” in higher education, if you will. We’re already seeing this in the tech-heavy sectors. Google and other similar employers care little what the piece of paper says you can do; they want to SEE what you can do, and in a skinny heartbeat, they’ll hire a crack programmer with a HS diploma over a masters-prepared individual who can barely operate a simple database, regardless of what the degree is listed on his/her diploma. It’s all about WHAT you know in the 21st century and if you can do anything with it.
What will this mean to the layers and layers of tenured do-nothings, and questionably-useful administrative ranks at too many of our state-supported institutions of higher yearning (intentional word slip)?
Perhaps a long-overdue reset is coming to higher education, to which I say, “bring it!”