Should education be seen as a free good? How about MOOCs?

I have been pondering on this important question since the inception of OERs in the early 2000s.

In this post, Andre Dua says:

it’s equally important that education not be seen as a free good, because it will always take big investments to attract and retain the talent needed to develop world-class courses and materials. Unless new online platforms are associated with meaningful revenue streams—from textbooks, tutoring, proctored exams, per-degree fees, or creative alternatives not yet imagined—the model will prove self-defeating.

MOOCs have been viewed as freebies to a certain extent.  Here I am posting part of it for sharing:

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?

Here is a nice update on MOOCs.  MOOCs are now charged for institutions to use, though most users could still register for free for some of those MOOCs.

5 thoughts on “Should education be seen as a free good? How about MOOCs?

  1. The presumption behind the idea that education should adopt a commercial model, in order to attract the investment, is that the return on such an investment would warrant the investment. But I don’t think it would. Without massive government support, people couldn’t afford to pay for their education, and companies couldn’t afford the expense of training a modern industrial workforce from scratch. Given this dynamic, the question is, and ought properly to be, what justifies allowing a corporate return on education at all?

  2. Hi Stephen, Absolutely agreed on what you said:”without massive government support, people couldn’t afford to pay for their education, and companies couldn’t afford the expense of training a modern industrial workforce from scratch.” What justifies allowing a corporate return on education? A great question that requires more thinking about the economics of education, from a macro and micro point of view, and how these would impact on the vision of institutions and corporations.
    Thanks Stephen for your visit and insightful comments.

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