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Comments on A MOOC Delusion: Why Visions to Educate the World Are Absurd by Ghanashyam Sharma

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By Rory McGreal July 19, 2013 - 5:29pm Comments (2)

G. Sharma  argues that the cultural differences of students will make absurd any "one size fits all" approach to mass education in reference to MOOCs. Of course he has a point, but the elephant in the room is that "one size fits all" doesn't fit very well into traditional classroom-based education either, especially in multicultural countries like Canada where not only the students but also the teachers come from a wide variety of international cultures. Even within Canada, with "traditional" Canadians there are significant differences. Many Canadian grew up with Farmer Brown selling his cows. How culturally relevant was this to urban Canadian kids?

Yet, Canadian university students and other international students are learning in Canada and the USA from Indian, Chinese, African, European and Latin American professors in their classrooms. International students likewise can also learn from international professors in MOOCs. And, when the content consists of modularised Open Education Resources, the courses can be more easily adapted  to accommodate different cultures.

All too often educators argue from the basis that traditional classrooms are highly interactive, culturally sensitive and personalised. This is simply not true in many if not most of our traditional universities,where the lecture reighs supreme . Yet, students still learn. In MOOCs and other forms of online learning, we should strive to do better, but we need to remind the traditional education critics that they are not doing what they expect the distance education teachers to do.



  • I agree that education (especially higher education) need not be "culturally relevant" to students; indeed, being able to communicate, learn, and work across cultures and other types of borders should be a critical goal of education in today's world. But while on-site classes are not always effective in helping students overcome cultural barriers, they don't have thousands of students in them. In other words, scale and quality of teaching/learning don't seem to go together. Now, when pointing out the blind spot in MOOC's global visions, I was not trying to compare it to on-site version of higher education. I just think that the blind spot needs to be part of the conversation. I study international students' academic transition (sorry if it sounds like a plug: and I read one story at a time of how students cross cultures, overcome barriers, embrace difference, succeed in places that scared the hell out of them. I wouldn't want myself or any of these students to be pandered/catered to their local tastes. But when I find myself, as a teacher, start moving toward the attitude that says, "you need to make all the adaptatioins to understand however the heck I am going to teach," I come to my 21st-century sense of global citizenship and want to work one-on-one with my students--whether they are from Kansas or Kathmandu. 

    Thank you for the observation. I completely agree with you about the need/value of overcoming/learning from cultural differences. My intention was to alert us as teachers toward thinking harder about our end of education, but after listening to the discourse on MOOC's global visions for months, I saw an impasse with regard to how its providers and many educators who bought that side of the argument much more easily than they did anything else. I understand how anyone who is serious about teaching can even imaging "educating the world" from right here. 

    - G Sharma

    an unauthenticated user of the Landing July 24, 2013 - 3:34am

  • Gh.

    Oh, I agree with your approach, but it is important to me to consider MOOCs in relation to traditional classroom teaching. Critics of MOOCs all too often do not look at themselves. Also your view that scale and quality of teaching/learning don't seem to go together can be overcome by many different methodologies and technologies. Quality can now be maintained in mass classes. However one-on-one will in nearly every case be better. But who can afford it?  There is a way through the morass of problems in international mass education. We haven't found it yet.

    All the best.


    Rory McGreal July 26, 2013 - 5:59pm

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