Thursday, January 24, 2013

Coursera's Lessons

There are lots of people who think MOOCs are game-changer, and others who think it is just a passing fad: I just like the classes I am doing on Coursera and Udacity, and believe this is a good thing. But, lately, I have discovered that there is more than just access to great learning through these platforms: They represent a way to meet great people. And, more than ever, this community is global: I am doing a course on Small Business Growth, and the community has over 60,000 people from all over the world, including a handful in London and the Home counties. And, I would like to believe that this is indeed something unique, and need to be celebrated.

If there is one defining thing about our generation, that is our faith in human progress. Everyone, right or left of the political spectrum, seem to have accepted that human history will move forward, and we would find our way out of even the most intractable problems, such as global warming and worldwide recession, through human ingenuity and innovation. This faith, presumably arising out of lifting of the threats of global Armageddon at the end of Cold War, is justified. But, I am not sure taking it for granted is the best way to make progress happen: If anything, our progress seems more fragile than ever.

This fragility can be observed, more than anywhere else, in the closing of the 'Knowledge Commons', the global shared pool of knowledge and information. If anything, this progress that we celebrate is largely about the progress in knowledge: Our understanding about our universe is far greater, far more nuanced and more pervasive than it ever has been. And, despite the enlightenment myth of Newton's apple and the works of lone geniuses, we know that the progress in knowledge is a social thing, it grows through connections. Knowledge created through collaboration and sharing is what got us to the modern age, and this is what sustained the progress that we celebrate. However, we can not take this for granted anymore.

If anything, the death of Aaron Swartz signifies the fragility of our progress. Aaron Swartz, regardless of how the law enforcement agencies saw him, was not a felon: He was a highly intelligent architect of social knowledge, a contributor to the development of RSS and founder of Reddit, someone who deeply believed that knowledge should be free and shared. He did what he believed in - set free research papers, funded originally through public money but expropriated by big publishing companies and databases, onto the cloud. He was hounded for his 'crime', far more severely than an irresponsible banker playing with LIBOR rates and threatening livelihoods of millions of people will be treated. His suicide, if anything, is about privatization of the knowledge commons and the biggest threat to our progress.

Since the corporations have caught on to 'intellectual capital', knowledge as the source of prosperity, the efforts to privatize, in order to monetize, knowledge was relentless. The gift economy inherent in knowledge work has been replaced, ineffectively but irreversibly, with transactions and contracts, eventually subverting the nature of knowledge altogether. The research spirit has been tamed to be result driven; the universities, the sources of knowledge production in a modern society, portrayed as idle and places of 'pie in the sky' thinking effectively dismembered of the 'gift' spirit that sustained them.

Coursera is a private initiative, even For-profit. The business model of Coursera, if pundits are to be believed, is to collect data on how people learn by observing and collecting data on millions of learners, just like Google does. But, the lesson of Coursera is really in the impromptu meetup groups that spring up everywhere in the world, the ones without prompting and tracking, the kind of communities universities originally hosted and were designed to nurture. And, this is where it may have a lesson for our universities: If the universities fail to play their role in creation, maintenance and growth of the knowledge commons, they are likely to become obsolete, fast. Peter Drucker said the universities might disappear in thirty years (and he said that in 1997) and some people are prophesying that MOOCs will hasten that demise: It seems they may, but in an inadvertent way, and only if the universities fail to imagine and live up to what they are really for.


Anonymous said...

Around for 20 years by mostly bad and for profits schools at high prices.
There are now 7 million online HE learners to get degrees. That is 7/18 = 39 % of the traditional education .
MIT started providing online courses at a small fee ( be careful it is free only for time being ) in December 2011.
Coursera and Udacity came later as a for profit initiatives to monetise the THE ONLINE BY ELITE UNIVERSITIES

I jumped into MIT in December 2011 . It was my dream of online .
I had been saying for 20 years only elite universities can attract many students required for an efficient online course and degrees.

But those bad online providers made the name of the ONLINE so bad that elite universities could not attempt to provide online .
MIT was very brave to do that in December 2011.

Peter Drucker had said in 1997 that universities will be obsolete in 30 years. 15 years passed , yes he will be right we have only 15 years left .

Now there are 2 models :
1.- Within 15 years all elite universities ( 20-30 of them ) will provide perfect online degrees to the world and all colleges will be closed then .

2.- Existing colleges will adopt online elite non profit universities online courses now and start giving credits towards degree from their colleges . Result they will reduce cost by 50 % if they adopt 5 online courses for each student for each year. Their quality will be up due to elite universities. Plus they will have more rooms for new students . So I say get smart .
Georgia, Colorado State, Antioch , San Jose started that . Good for them .
But I say there are good MOOCs and there are bad MOOCs . SDelect carefully GOOD MOOCs and non profit ones so that they do not suck you up .
I tell you my secret. The cost of the best online course from the best professor in the world is less than $ 10 . So if non profit charges you only $ 15 it is OK If more please negotiate very hard.
Another thing the course you selct must be the same course offerred in the campus . Do not accept courses designed for only online in another form . It is a gimmick to make money .

Anonymous said...

anonymous is me .


dedicated to online for 20 years

Popular Posts

How To Live

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Last Words

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

Creative Commons License