MOOCs and Me

Once again a BBC Radio 4 podcast has sparked a long line of thinking and critical reflection, this time on the current phenomenon of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and their impact on education and all sorts of related topics (e.g., society, access to education, the value of education, etc.).

I have to admit that I don’t yet have a clear picture of how I would/should react to and interact with MOOCs, but the discussion and documentary certainly elicited a long series of questions, with different answers leading to further questions and a gradual fleshing-out of the overall picture that may at some point allow me to reach an internal equilibrium consensus:

What is the importance for me?

  • Can I supplement my current knowledge with additional courses (i.e., fields of interest outside my career specialisation, or job-related fields complementing what I do all day)?
  • Would it be time well-spent, or am I better off spending more time socialising as I am already using up my “available capacity” for facts and learning?
  • Where are my strengths and weaknesses, and how could an online course complement, compensate, or strengthen the one or other? Which leads to the old debate: work on your weaknesses to balance out the overall palette, or focus on your strengths, which requires far less effort and might achieve more in the short term?

What is the importance for my children?

  • What will be the impact on their education? Will education be a mixture of “school” learning and online help-yourself?
  • What will be the impact on travel for them? If you can do more by staying at home, is this what they will choose? What are the drivers of going abroad to learn something, or staying at home? Again, how do you balance the advantages and disadvantages (i.e., stay at home and spend the time not traveled wisely, compared to the thrill of traveling with intense periods of learning while standing still/resting in a particular place)?
  • How will it affect their ability to get a job? Will MOOC certificates and degrees be recognised (on paper), and how will companies test whether a candidate is a good fit (i.e., how will they assess knowledge, creativity, and ability to think)?
  • How would online learning affect their social skills, given that “social skills” in an online environment work very differently compared with in the offline world (someone from my generation probably grew up learning mainly offline social skills, while the current generation probably spends as much time working with other people online as off). How will future societies work in groups, and how will this affect group dynamics?
  • In particular the last point is one that concerns me: making friends and interacting with teachers strikes me as oh-so-valuable, and consequently also important for society, given that each teacher has a very particular way of teaching and influencing pupils.

What is the importance for society?

  • Will MOOCs reach out, enabling those who cannot attend the great bricks-and-mortar institutions to access their “library,” or do they somehow simply entrench those elements of the rich world, who already have spare time, greater access to a broad range of options, and a quick internet connection?

Overall, the more I read the more I am convinced that for people like me and my family the biggest store of value is creativity and the ability to generate (and concretise) ideas, as well as the development of social skills and the interaction with other people. MOOCs might support this in a multitude of ways, but as with so many things, the key lies in the balance, and I will be following this story as closely as I am able to see how things develop.

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