Landing : Athabascau University

Comment on Uof A "cheaper" online "dinosaur" MOOC

This is a commentary on an Edmonton Journal article on July 30th, 2013. See:

At AU we have been arguing that online learning couldn't be cheaper. Now, UofA is about to prove us wrong. Good for them. We should be leading in the delivery of less expensive online courses and obviously we are not.
If UofA can do what we can't then good for them or any other for-profit or not-for-profit institution that can offer quality learning at lower cost for students.
That should be our territory as an open university. Sadly it isn't and is painful to see traditonal universities moving into our online learning space, while we back off of it and seem to want to be more like traditional institutions. AU should be leading in online learning and be perceived to be leading. Is either true?


  • sarah beth August 3, 2013 - 2:29am

    This seems to leave me with more questions about the role of MOOCs in public education than confidence that the model is actually opening education.

    Is there evidence that this model will remain cheaper than traditional classes, or can we expect, once the novelty wears off, universities to charge more and more for credits while investing less and less in the infrastructure (labour and development) of education? This has been the trend with every other model and platform, has it not? Could the one-time purchase of course materials vs. the employment of academics in stable, sustainable, full-time jobs help to justify (and worsen) cuts to public education funding? Does lowering the cost of a few course-by-course "samples," as they put it in the article, actually address systemic issues like poverty and racism that make entire degree programs less accessible for some people?

    Sounds like a neat course about dinosaurs, and the model itself is interesting, but I'm still skeptical that MOOCs are the answer to systemic problems in education. 

  • Rory McGreal August 16, 2013 - 5:59pm

    Sarah, Thanks for your post.

    MOOCs are NOT the answer to systemic problems in education. No one is claiming that. I would also point out that the traditional university is also NOT the answer to systemic problems in education NOR is the present open university model, an anwer.  They have been around for years to little effect on the systemic issues. There is no evidence that MOOCs will remain cheaper, nor is there any evidence that they will become more expensive. They are too new and they are diverse. There are different models. But, there is evidence that traditional university courses will remain become more expensive. This we know.

    Investing less (proportionately) in infrastructure and labour is the reason for our ability to sustain our standard of living and raise it. Why would you think that education should be exempt from this trend? if one can clean the house yourself with a vacuum and wash clothes and dishes with machines rather than employing 3 maids, then why wouldn't you do that? Why would we hire 10 000 workers with shovels when we can use machinery to do the job, faster, better and more economically?

    But, let me repeat MOOCs are NOT the answer. Neither are our educational structures. However, MOOCs are experimenting in better ways of delivering education to masses of people. If one or another or many of them succeed in providing quality learning opportunities to large numbers of learners, that would be wonderful. Meanwhile traditional universities who are not experimenting, we know will not find any answers.

    All the best.


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