The new Candlemakers’ Petition (sentences of interest)

by on March 26, 2013 at 9:39 am in Education | Permalink

The MOOC champions, Mr. Cusumano said, are well-intentioned people who “think it’s a social good to distribute education for free.”

But Mr. Cusumano questions that assumption. “Free is actually very elitist,” he said. The long-term future of university education along the MOOC path, he said, could be a “few large, well-off survivors” and a wasteland of casualties.

There is more here.

Typhoon Jim March 26, 2013 at 9:45 am

“a “few large, well-off survivors” and a wasteland of casualties.”

God, I hope so. If free MOOCs become quality enough (and certification options begin to exist,) they will displace for-profit schools that generally do the same damned thing except for charging you a bunch of money.

Andrew' March 26, 2013 at 9:48 am

Even certifications may become obsolete. Why do we need students and taxpayers to pay for out-of-date training? Maybe employers will pay for the relevant on-the-job training. Can we not get the conscientiousness signal/training done in the first 18 years of life?

Rob March 26, 2013 at 10:00 am

Well, we feel bad for people who signal that they lack conscientiousness in HS, so we promote them through HS anyway, destroying the value of the HS signal. Then we feel bad for these same people who signal that they lack conscientiousness in college, so we promote them through college anyway. Then we feel bad for these same people who signal that they lack conscientiousness in grad school, etc.

Maybe we should go back to letting kids flunk/drop out of school earlier (or try harder to route them into apprenticeships, etc.).

Ray Lopez March 26, 2013 at 10:09 am

Well said–I learned very little in high school, and learned most of what I needed to know by myself without the aid of a teacher, en route to several advanced degrees, though I sat through class. American schooling is a waste, yet various governments in the DC area stick me with property taxes to pay for the glorified day-care known as “elementary school, middle school and high school”.

Andrew' March 26, 2013 at 10:55 am

Well, what credentials the public school system fails to certify we make up for with the criminal justice system.

RM March 26, 2013 at 11:04 am

We should not assume that employers know what they want, i.e., they do not know what is “relevant.” Steve Jobs will agree. Perhaps that is why companies hire many 20- and 30-something consultants.

Lots of jobs that do not require a degree are indeed suited for specialized training. A lot of this already happens, e.g, car mechanics already receive specialized training.

Freethinking Jeremy March 26, 2013 at 10:18 am

“God, I hope so.”

I second this, also hoping they do some damage to the public universities too. At my school, the professors were too busy with researching to bother with such low tasks of teaching well. The MOOCs I’ve seen blow them away in quality. And their research? Trivial arguments over obscure topics that will never have application in the real world. Then they’d complain about their six figure salaries, comparing themselves to CEOs even though they had no real world experience.

Because the universities are considered to serve a higher purpose, federal, state, and charity money falls down on them like a waterfall. Plus poor students are paying more money than they will ever get out in value. And the sniveling dean at the graduation speech at my school implied we owe him donations (his pay and power were based largely on donations). For all this money, they pay themselves more and build nice new facilities.

A MOOC-based system could dramatically improve results and dramatically reduce costs.

john personna March 26, 2013 at 10:37 am

It is an interesting framing, that success involves keeping institutions, as a means of producing education. Without an institutional view, what would happen? Perhaps providers would supplant institution, and then the providers would shake out in a power rule. Map colleges to newspapers.

I Robot March 26, 2013 at 10:14 am

MOOCs, in the near horizon, are great for developing countries like India, most of Africa and other developing Asia where there’s a great shortage of good teachers and can help fill the gap.

We should go further and ask the real question. If the future is going to be automated you probably don’t need so many educated people to begin with. Maybe MOOCs will decimate all 2nd and 3rd rate univs in the US.

But who’s going to use the MOOCs?

acarraro March 26, 2013 at 10:23 am

I wonder if there is a interesting nugget in his point of view. What if teaching is an implicit subsidy to research?

You could imagine that a world in which there are only few university teachers positions will look much less attractive to students who are unlikely to devote themselves to pure research. Luck plays a role in everything. If getting a teaching job becomes much harder, people may be less inclined to remain in academia. A teaching job is an insurance for someone trying to get a phd. Maybe second rate university teachers provide enough research to justify the expense.

I don’t personally agree with this view of the world, but it’s more interesting than a simple protectionist prospective.

Andrew' March 26, 2013 at 11:12 am

They cross-subsidize each other. Research is learning. I think this is the real reason graduate students exist. It is not all trickle-down, either. It may be mostly bubble up.

Dan Weber March 26, 2013 at 11:32 am

There can be a market failure where people are willing to provide a better education than the free one, and people are willing to pay for a better education than the free one, but no one is willing to bother because “free” is sucking up all the oxygen in the room. It’s a possible problem, not a guaranteed problem.

There are segments of the software industry where it’s just not worth trying to produce valuable content because the target audience assumes it ought to be free.

Complaining about the disappearance of software firms is silly, though. Now is a fine time to be a software developer. It’s not like the world is about to be done producing all the software it needs.

Yancey Ward March 26, 2013 at 10:51 am

I just loved this analogy:

Mr. Cusumano’s concerns grow out of his study of the software and media industries in the face of price pressure from free, open-source software and digital distribution over the Internet. Two-thirds of the public companies in the software industry disappeared between 1998 and 2006, as companies failed or were acquired.

Thus we have seen no advances in software and media in the last 15 years??

Andrew' March 26, 2013 at 11:17 am

(that’s a completely backwards definition of elitism, btw)

I Robot March 26, 2013 at 11:27 am

it is also true that the universities behind MOOCs are the ones least dependent on education as a business, they make their money elsewhere.

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/paying-tuition-to-a-giant-hedge-fund/

Rich Berger March 26, 2013 at 11:46 am

Some things never change.

Olaf March 26, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I love Tyler’s header to this item…

Rahul March 26, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Isn’t it a tad too early to worry about whether MOOC’s will kill traditional universities? What’s the revenue stream of the largest MOOC out there? What’s the largest enrollment that a online university has? ( Not counting the “free” students nor the ones at Phonenix and other diploma mills?)

How many purely online higher-ed students have been recruited yet? I say, much ado about nothing.

In any case, if all this does work out, the last laugh will be of the credential agencies. The real value is going to come from having credentials people will trust. Who cares if they acquired that knowledge from a MOOC, YouTube Videos or a textbook?

If we ever get to that point won’t online courses be mostly overpriced, glorified textbooks? Maybe pirated videos of Sebastian Thrun lectures on YouTube will undercut Udacity?

VTProf March 26, 2013 at 3:28 pm

I may be “talking my book”, but good luck putting down Coursera as your professor reference on job applications. Employers seem to put a lot of stock in talking to human beings about a potential hire.

Andrew' March 26, 2013 at 3:34 pm

True story: one of my senior design professors (some years later) gave me a recommendation to enter graduate school (same institution). I went to meet him to get it and he asked “remind me how I know you again?”

Silas Barta March 26, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Holy f***ing s***! I never thought I’d see the day when people would compete to provide free education in hard disciplines, and complain when someone else “dominates” this charitable “market”. I thought the Browser Wars would be the last of “fighting over who gets to give you free stuff”, but I was wrong.

john personna March 26, 2013 at 6:01 pm

BTW, started Dan Ariely’s A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior at Coursera today. Very well produced. Best production values of the MOOCs I’ve seen. (I have not tried MRU.)

Sarah March 28, 2013 at 1:59 pm

“God I hope so”

Yes, me too. And I wrote a response to Cusumano, posted on the Saylor Foundation’s blog (part of the Open Education movement) here:
http://www.saylor.org/2013/03/response-to-michael-cusumano-are-the-costs-of-free-too-high-in-online-education/

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