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More Peter Klein on the Universities’ War on MOOCs.

September 21, 2013 in Economics

By Mises Updates

Expanding on his Circle Bastiat post from earlier this week, Peter Klein writes at LewRockwell.com:

Universities to MOOCs: We Will Assimilate You

Universities haven’t changed much since the Middle Ages. There is the campus with its lecture halls, dormitories, libraries, and laboratories surrounded by leafy quadrangles. Well, they’ve added giant sports complexes, gyms and swimming pools, and gourmet restaurants, but the basic layout is the same. And the production process hasn’t changed since around 1200. Professors give lectures, students read books and take notes, there are examinations and grades, along with the occasional tutoring session, and a great deal of hanky panky. The professors wear tweed jackets instead of gowns, and the students wear – well, just about anything, including pajamas – but otherwise the university remains one of society’s most conservative institutions.

This has all been challenged, quite radically, in the last decade, as students, parents, taxpayers, and donors have begun to grasp the potential of the internet for revolutionizing the education industry. Distance-learning has been around for a long time (what used to be called “correspondence courses”), but the internet has made it possible for people to educate themselves, independently or in groups large and small, on an unprecedented scale. Startup companies, sometimes unaccredited, are entering the education space as never before. Alternative providers and platforms such as Khan Academy, TED, and the Mises Academy are offering modular, flexible, and specialized alternatives to the medieval model that continues to dominate the establishment universities. And everyone is talking about MOOCs, “Massively Online Open Courses,” offered by standalone firms or in partnerships with established universities.

The early — and predictable — reaction of the traditional universities was to denounce the entrants as cheap, inferior, fly-by-night operations. “They don’t offer real degrees!” “They don’t provide a high-quality education like we do!” Actually, some of the startups offer extremely high-quality products. Others don’t, but so what? Why should “higher education” correspond exactly to a four-year degree from Yale? Why can’t it be better, or worse? A Hyundai isn’t a Mercedes, but that doesn’t mean everybody has to drive a luxury car. And in many cases a shorter, more specialized – not to mention cheaper – curriculum is vastly superior to the bloated, politically correct, and increasingly irrelevant program offered by many of the prestige institutions.

Lately some traditional universities have …read more


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