MOOCs aren’t the saviours of education – they’re destroyers

How online university courses are destroying opportunities for young people

Adam D'Souza
Sep 25, 2013 · 2 min read

Enter stage right the glamorous young hero, about to save the day. MOOCs (massive online open courses) are about to explode as education’s hottest ticket. Brands like edX and Coursera are about to go viral.

Peel back the shine and the reality is different. MOOCs have been eagerly championed by the Silicon Valley set because it is the same Capitalism 2.0 that has built giant, job-destroying, capital-munching companies that drives the founders of MOOCs. As Jaron Lanier has alluded in his book Who owns the future? those that will succeed are those with the biggest server. In other words, the internet isn’t opening up educational opportunities for the many, but entrenching the dominance of the few. MOOC providers use the entrepreneur jargon of “scaling”. Which is apt. MOOCs are nothing more than a device to scale up the world’s most desirable university brand names.

MOOCs’ proponents argue that they will educate the world. But will they help underprivileged youths escape the ghettos of America’s post-industrial wastelands? Will they help Chinese worker-bees climb up the social ladder into the middle class? Will they hell.

Only the top Ivy League colleges in the US, and Russell Group universities in Britain, have the money to donate their academics’ time to MOOCs for free. It’s the Wal-Mart approach to selling; only the biggest providers in a market can afford loss leaders. The top universities that can afford it know that they will soon be able to cash in. Smaller institutions won’t be able to keep up with the online courses arms race and will fold. The top universities’ entry requirements will remain out of reach for most; their tills will still ring from educating the children of the rich elite; their public images buffed up by their global altruism.

As for the MOOC entrepreneurs, their long game is to become the only game in town for the majority, with lower-tier universities knocked out of the market. Then these Starbucks-sipping, venture-backed leechers will be able to “scale” their low-calorie online courses and cash in, squeezing out more student dollars into their bank accounts and into the hands of a few celebrity academics.

Meanwhile, there will be fewer vital university places for young people to have the the real educational experience, the social experience, experience of adulthood. It’s this connection with fellow human beings and time spent away from home that gives students the vital social and cultural education that enables them to move into adulthood and into the middle class.

I. M. H. O.

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