#CFHE12 #Oped12 A story about freebies

MOOCs are free.  They are hailed as the most important education technology in 200 years,  as shared here.  There are more praises on how online learning would make a difference to the world of education, in helping more people to receive higher education, and in democratizing education.

Online learning also holds the appeal of democratizing education by providing poor people in any village the opportunity to “rub minds” with the most brilliant professors on the planet.”

Online learning would be the future of education, there is little doubt about it.

I don’t find this surprising, as I realized that it is a catalyst of disruptive technology that could revolutionalize education.

Is MOOCs a great sign to turn education upside down, with learners as the pinnacle of education and learning?   Not yet.

I am both fascinated and awed about what would come next, when these MOOCs take over the “battle” in the education arena.  MOOCs are blossoming, developing rapidly, and are ubiquitous.

Is education about prescribed, pre-determined learning or emergent learning?  Will such form of education learning revolutionize education?

What happens if the learners become too receptive of “freebies” in education and believe that open education should be free for all?  Is education still be of great value as perceived by the learners?

As shared here?  “For other faulty members – those teaching languages in particular – the prospect is for near or total obsolescence”.

In an 1838 address to graduates of the Harvard Divinity School, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can receive from another soul.”

“I don’t think we can emphasize too much this distinction between instruction and provocation, facts versus knowledge, discipline versus inspiration, information versus insight,” Delbanco said.

What would happen if the best education turns up to be all about education offered for free by the Super Rock Stars teachers, and best professors in the world?  Who are the winners?  Wouldn’t that be similar to Olympic Games where the best Olympians win the medals?

Would education based on MOOCs be more than just as the Olympic Games?

What is the purpose of education?

What should our education look like?

Here are some wonderful ideas that relate to the future of education:

Funding and Finance

Distinctiveness and specialisation

Student experience and widening participation



I am in favor of open, free education.  The reality is: education has become a business.  For a business to survive and thrive, it must be profitable.

Does education need to be “profitable” if it is run on a business model?

We need to have a sustainable education. Where will the finance needed to run education be coming from?  Would it be from the government, venture capitalists, businesses, charitable organization, or philanthropists?

The Story

Here is a fictitious story that I learnt through a very old movie, back in the 60s.

There once lived a group of kind-hearted and loving people in a Chinese village.   These “good” people were so kind to each others that they ran their “small business” and offered their service to other people in the village at a very low price and low profit margin.  These good people provided all sorts of services including the provision of hair cuts and selling of buns often with little to low charges for those old people, young kids, and those who were poor.

Soon, news were spread about such great acts of love and serving others, with a spirit of altruism to the neighbours.    This also  attracted a lot of jealousy from other people in the village who had lost their profits because of these good people’s wonderful business and acts.

Some people in the village decided to compete with these good people by offering their services of hair- cutting and selling of buns at a cut-throat price.

Here, the competition began.

The good people decided that they would offer their hair cut and their buns for near to a zero cost.  And they attracted hundreds of customers from their village.

The other group responded by offering their hair cuts and buns for free.   And the customers immediately flocked to their free service.

Here, the good people decided to offer “free buns” for every hair cuts offered to their customers.  That seemed to be the perfect way of running business and serving the society.

In a modern world, isn’t that the perfect model of socialism where everyone enjoys the freedom of choice and wonderful free services and social equity?  May be free service and products for everyone is the best way to serve a society, based on the concept and principles of “free, open education”.

Is that what a Utopian society should look like?

So do you want to know what happens next?  Both groups of people were competing so fiercely that they ended up not getting any profits from the customers, their fellow villagers.

That wasn’t the end of story.  That was only the beginning of the story, where learning started.   Those good people realized that they had to re-think and reflect on what it means to offer free services for all in the community.

That is the story.

The modern Story of MOOCs

Those were the days of the MOOCers in the 60s.  Is it significantly different from that of the MOOCers of the 2012s?  May be not.

How would our story of MOOCs end?  We might have to re-think about how we could offer our services to the world for free.  Internet has opened up the opportunities of free, open education for everyone.  Providers of MOOCs are trying to leverage the “power” and value of internet and webs  to achieve their visions.

But would anyone be able to beat the disruptive technology and its associated free open education offered through internet and social networks?

May be, it is better to surf the internet rather than to fight with the internet and the tsunami of online education, in its various forms – like MOOCs.

Here “Stanford University President John Hennessy has likened the latest wave of online education — from simple video lectures to entire degrees earned online — to a tsunami.

“What I told my colleagues is there’s a tsunami coming,” he said recently. “I can’t tell you exactly how it’s going to break, but my goal is to try to surf it, not to just stand there.”

These require educational leadership, to direct and guide education and learning towards a better future.  Who would take up such leadership?  Would it be all of you? What HE needs from future HE leaders?

14 thoughts on “#CFHE12 #Oped12 A story about freebies

  1. Hi John,

    As always, you raise very interesting questions and issues. As much as I enjoy following MOOCs, I don’t believe they can be a substitute for other more traditional types of learning – yet.

    It is easy to say that the internet has opened up education to all but who exactly are these “all”? From the MOOCs that I have attended, most participants are individuals with degrees, taking degrees or in some way involved in research and most of all, individuals who think, reflect and have a strong educational background.

    I have been teaching online to different groups of students in a developing country. Although they too are educated, they have little notion of the responsibility of studying online, little autonomy and struggle with many aspects of online learning. They are not to blame as their society has not prepared them for this type of learning nor the demands of meeting deadlines and learner-autonomy.

    This is a mere example but one that I am certain is applicable to many countries and cultures. To say that rock star professors will become available to any villager is, again, a bandwagon cliche; villagers are usually more concerned with the rice growing in the paddies and how to feed their children.

    So I do wonder like you about the extent of influence of MOOCs. I also wonder about the quality. Not everyone can offer the same level of quality, as for example Stephen Downes and George Siemens and their MOOC speakers.

    I did not mean to write such a long reply but if one has experience of teaching to developing countries, then one’s perspective is necessarily different to the hype that comes from (mostly) North America and Anglo countries.

  2. Hi Ana,
    Well said. “To say that rock star professors will become available to any villager is, again, a bandwagon cliche; villagers are usually more concerned with the rice growing in the paddies and how to feed their children.” That’s resonating.

    You reminded me of the “Not made in here NMIH syndrome” when a particular technology (x MOOCs) is “exported” or “imported” into communities (villages), society and other nations. Every MOOC provider wants to be recognized as the world leader in the field (the gold medalist). Besides, not all followers (other nations, communities) would like to be viewed as the “copiers” or just getting the Silver or Bronze medals in the field of education. Isn’t that a reality?

    Besides people need to be aware of the possible interpretation of colonialism of education, as it could impact on the traditions and cultural values of the communities involved. This is a matter of interpretation, but could be an important factor in deciding whether they would like to join the bandwagon or not.

    I shared your experiences about learners’ preferences in learning. Online learning could still be new to many educators and learners in some countries, though I don’t think I could generalize. There are both praises and criticisms in online education as the quality of “instruction” and “learning” do vary.

    I do believe that we have a big difference even in the understanding and application of the xMOOC and cMOOC and that there may a “battle” ground on pedagogy – where a win-win strategy has yet to evolve. I know it is hard to pin down the pedagogy in xMOOCs though the pedagogy in cMOOCs is readily known.

    What might be some outstanding questions with xMOOCs? I would continue with that in my next post.

    Thanks again for your visit and wonderful sharing.

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