Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Are MOOCs progressive or regressive?

At the ELESIG's recent symposium on students' experience of MOOCs, one of the interesting questions posed by George Roberts of Oxford Brookes University was whether Open Online Courses (massive or not) would address the digital literacy deficit.

Since we had already agreed amongst ourselves that MOOCs weren't really suited to learners without significant pre-existing digital skills, as well as considerable self-confidence and the ability to drive and organise their own learning, I mischievously proposed that MOOCs would actually widen the digital divide rather than narrowing it: those who had good education already would be able to get more from MOOCs, but those unfortunate enough to have been poorly taught and given no models for self-directed learning would be left even further behind.

It's a feature of open and free systems - such as free markets - that they favour those with the power and resources - the capital - to dominate them. This connection between digital liberalism and political liberalism (that's to say, conservatism) was also made interestingly last week by a commentator on The Guardian's website, following a review of Evgeny Morozov's new book To Save Everything , Click Here. "RO42" wrote:

This sounds a very valuable book, and one that need to be more widely read.

The thing I'm increasingly coming to notice is that technophiles are very, very conservative politically but think they're liberal. They believe in deregulation and hands-off governance because it is "freer", market self-regulation rather than legal frameworks for business operation because it "promotes entrepreneurism" (shades, of course, of "wealth creators") and a strange kind of philanthropic Big Society obsession where everything is "democratically" chosen and the enthusiastic amateur rather than expertise listened to.

There is a massive fear of expertise and knowledge in this new technological culture; anyone who claims to know things is lumped in with the charlatans, or even worse deemed elitist and irrelevant. There is a place for crowd-sourcing and co-operation but it should not come with the devaluing of education.

If free and open education is not just to favour the already-privileged, there need to be educational structures to protect the vulnerable and disadvantaged - which is why I hope there will always be a place for institutions such as my own, The Open University, which have a mission to do precisely that, and why even as we ourselves move into MOOCs I think ours will be rather different from those envisaged by techno-utopians.


The sessions led by Alison Littlejohn and George Roberts at the ELESIG symposium "Researching Learners' Experiences of MOOCs and other New Pedagogies" can be seen at (you need to register, free, for access to the site).

1 comment:

  1. Can't believe how relevant this is right now! (2018, crisis of confidence in Open University's VC)