Jonathan Freedman (UM at Ann Arbor) writing for the Chronicle places the MOOC movement properly (IMHO) in the long history of middlebrow education:Knowledge becomes a commodity you can buy rather than a product of a process that takes time, effort, and patience to master. [Bill] Gates’s words speak to a view of cultural attainments that we call middlebrow.
While Freedman connects MOOCs genealogically to lyceums and chautauquas, I also see connections to the self-help / self-improvement movements of the 19th & 20th centuries, as well as to oft-compared mail-order education. These options are not bad, especially for the upward-aspiring masses, and MOOCs are offering such a commodified education to the broadest market ever. Therein lies their promise and usefulness.
I’m confident that Universities will remain places where students learn that time-consuming, challenging process of critical problem solving and moral leadership. MOOCs are no competition there, especially when the single-most important factor in learning such life skills is the personal relationship with one or more significant mentors.
Freedman has some good recommendations for traditional brick and mortar colleges, and they align nicely with my own thoughts of op0en educational resources (OER) being a burgeoning public commons.Instilling in the public a taste for culture and imparting scientific and social-scientific knowledge beyond the classroom was once part of the university’s mission.