On Being Unhelpful

MOOC Sign

MOOC – licensed CC BY-SA 2.0 by cogdogblog

My two previous posts have considered the role of venture capitalists in higher education and my disagreements with a fiercely critical anti-mooc article by Jennifer Cost and colleagues. From this you could be forgiven for thinking that I am some sort of arch capitalist hell bent on exploiting higher education for profit.

Peter Sloep picks this up in a blog post about ‘unhelpful’ arguments. He states that:

Quite obviously Mark sits on the ‘make money’ side of the fence, as is evidenced by such terminology as delivery model, product, marketplace, consumer.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I actually dislike the use of the language of commerce being applied to higher education. Nothing irks me more than hearing students being described as consumers or customers. They’re  not; they’re students. The reason I used that language in my blog post was that it is the language that Clayton Christensen uses when he talks about disruptive innovations. It was just clearer to use that language in describing the way that MOOCs are working as a disruptive innovation in higher education. That was the point I was trying to make.

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MOOC FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt)

Windmills in La Mancha

Windmills in La Mancha for some reason. This is licensed CC BY-NC 2.0 by lapidim http://bit.ly/Y6teyP

In what can only be described as a rant, six community colleges members have taken to Inside Higher Education to produce a self serving article that bemoans the implications of the use of educational technology and, in particular, the rise of the MOOC.

Without encumbering themselves with anything so drastic as a bit of research into their topic they proceed to brand MOOCs (presumably all types of MOOC) in fairly inflammatory language as being “designed to impose, not improved learning, but a new business model on higher education, which opens the door for wide-scale profiteering”.

There are a couple of problems with this; firstly it supposes that the current higher education business model is the only one that should exist and, secondly, that the current higher education delivery model does, in fact provide a better learning experience.

Both of these claims are contentious to say the least. MOOCs are a classic disruptive innovation that fits the model described by Christensen precisely. They operate at the lower end of the supposed product capability range at low cost to the student. Typically such innovations arrive in a marketplace in which the functionality of existing ‘products’ has increased beyond the current level of demand from the consumer at a cost beyond what they are prepared to pay. In other words, the disruptive innovation is good enough.

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