MOOCs: Market Solution for Market Problems?

Of the writing about MOOCs there seems to be no end … but here is one more thought. Many of the proponents of MOOCs and online education* in general couch their advocacy in the language of competition, market forces, disrupting** the educational cartels***, etc. They point, as well, to the rising costs of a college education — costs which, in their view, are unjustifiable because they do not yield commensurate rewards.**** MOOCs introduce innovation, efficiency, technological entrepreneurship, cost-effectiveness and they satisfy consumer demand. The market to the rescue. But when you look closely at the named culprits these proponents of MOOCs blame for rising costs, they include frivolous spending on items that are not directly related to education such as luxury dorms, massive sporting complexes, state-of-the-art student recreational centers, out-of-control administrative expansion, etc. But why are colleges spending so much money on such things? Because the market logic triumphed. Students became consumers and colleges had to compete for them by offering a host of amenities that, in truth, had little to do with education. Market solutions for market problems, then.***** MOOCs are just the extension of a logic that triumphed long ago. On this score, I’d suggest the universities need to recover something of their medieval heritage, rather than heed the siren songs of the digital age.

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*I resisted, in the name of the semblance of objectivity, the urge to place ironical quotation marks around education.

**I resisted, in the name of decency, the urge to curse out loud as I typed disruption.

***Heretofore known as universities.

****These rewards are, of course, always understood to be pecuniary.

*****This is the hidden genius of disruption, brought to you by many of the same folks who gave us technological fixes for technological problems.

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