MOOCs and Economic Reality

In the article of Mo., July 8, Clay Shirky argues that it is impossible to understand what’s happening with MOOCs without understanding what’s happened to higher education in general. During the last 40 years, the higher education had been living the steady increases in tuition, class size, and non-tenured faculty. The net benefit from a bachelor’s degree keeps shrinking every year, and nothing today suggesting a reversal of the trend. This is the environment in which MOOCs have appeared, and the context in which they challenge traditional education that is not able anymore to keep cost and value in equilibrium. The only solution to it to “keep expenses below revenues”. (“…Profound.  There should be courses teaching this principle“, commented one of many discussants…)

Shirky argues that “small, identity-driven colleges might find some respite from those changes … but even that is no guarantee of viability”. (Deep Springs is pointed to as an exemplar).

MOOCs are not the future of higher education—that future will be far more various and surprising than we can see now—but they do expand the horizon of the visible. “What happens now is largely in the hands of the people experimenting with the new tools, rather than defending themselves from them”.

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