Monday, December 17, 2012

Are MOOc's like Coursera a Bad Idea

Change is coming to higher education, and that is non-negotiable.  With the advent of on-line learning and a blurring of lines between degrees and competency, the field for associate, bachelor, and master's degrees is shifting.  At A Teacher's View, I have long argued that my philosophy of education is "Whatever Works," and while I firmly assert that not everyone needs a bachelor degree - or a thorough K-12 experience - I would not disagree that more education is better than less.  It's the vehicle by which it's delivered that is changing and probably should.  Thus, we've seen the rise of alternative classes and credentialing that is changing the dynamic for how we determine that someone is competently educated and skilled for a job.

The University of Phoenix pioneered the online degree - albeit for a great profit among school shareholders.  And, Phoenix and lessers like Westwood have developed a reputation of being diploma mills.  In response, or perhaps in spite of, the rise of online education at some elite institutions has changed the game again.  After Khan Academy made online learning look so appealing, the rise of companies like Coursera stepped in to provide all the information of a degree program for free.  What began as professors at places like Stanford and MIT posting syllabi and lessons online became a company through which "students" could basically access and complete all coursework for degree programs at highly respected institutions without ever stepping foot on campus.  And there is a certain degree of reason behind the plan by which a competent student could complete the work and receive "certificate" which validated competence.  And the idea is that at some point employers would have to decided whether an applicant needed a full degree or simply a certificate to qualify for a job.

Not so fast, says Doug Guthrie who writes in the Chronicle this month that we should Jump Off the Coursera Bandwagon.  The traditionalists will reasonably argue that an education is never simply about the coursework.  The loss of human interaction and collaboration and the classroom environment can only serve to weaken and dilute whatever knowledge is gleaned from reading all the course materials.  And, most companies will always prefer someone who could actually get in to Stanford and graduate rather than just read the materials and pass some generalized assessment. 

Still, the world is probably big enough for both Stanford grads and Coursera certificate holders.

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