Tuesday, December 10, 2013

DeLong on the MOOC

Berkeley Professor Brad DeLong on MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses)
The fever of the MOOC has broken. As we got to have suspected all along, the students who will benefit enormously from MOOCs and Kahn Academy and so forth are the students with a cognitive skills, energy, and persistence to have been able to learn from the open University on TV, or programmed instruction, or simply picking up a book. For those who do not have the requisite skill, energy and persistence, the coming of the MOOC and of education over the Internet will do little: If they are to learn effectively, they need to be embedded in the social matrix of a university--classes and deadlines and attendance and tests and papers and peers around them all doing the same. And those who do not need this sociological matrix are a small minority, even at Berkeley.
Not that technological change isn't coming:
So the real questions of the area of technology in education today are these:
  • What are the key elements of this sociological matrix necessary to make education actually happen for all except the luckiest and most persistent of students?
  • How can we use modern computing and communications technologies to substitute for those costly things of the University currently does that are not key elements of preparing this sociological matrix?
  • How can we maximize the value gained from the application of resources to preparing this sociological matrix?
The post-Gutenberg university was very different from the pre-Gutenberg university: A lot less reading of texts aloud, a lot more outside reading of now-cheap books, a much wider curriculum, more discussions and tutorials, lectures as commentaries on rather than regurgitations of texts--or, rather, that is what good lectures were--and so forth. The post-Berners-Lee university Will ultimately be something very different from the post-Gutenberg pre-Berners-Lee university, and the universities that can first figure out what that something very different will be will dominate the 21st and 22nd centuries.