Landing : Athabascau University
  • Blogs
  • Rory McGreal
  • MOOCs are a bad idea just like books - Bob Metcalf (ethernet inventor)

MOOCs are a bad idea just like books - Bob Metcalf (ethernet inventor)

  • Draft
By Rory McGreal August 16, 2013 - 4:54pm

Bob Metcalfe (the inventor of ethernet) wrote:

"One of the objections to moocs is that you’ll lose the personal interaction with the professor. And I say, yeah, you will. But moocs are a bad idea just like books were. You used to sit around the campfire and hear the story directly from the teacher. And now, thanks to books, we read the stories. Like Great Gatsby. I’ve never met F. Scott Fitzgerald. So yeah, moocs are a bad idea just like books."

I often ask the question during my presentations:

What technology has done more to unmake human community than any other?

Of course, in the US, some claim it is the gun, with some validity, but responses like the internet, or computers are easy to discount with the rise of social networking sites. TV and radio are often enjoyed with others.

My belief is  that it is the portable book or pocket book that has done more to unmake learning communities than any other technology. When Gutenburg implemented movable type and one of the first printing presses in Europe, he created large books that were very expensive and distributed to a small elite who could afford them. Universities kept them under lock and key which was entrusted to the lecture, who would unlock its secrets and read to the assembled students.So communities were still needed for learning.

The portable book was invented by Aldo Manuzio (along with the appearance of italics, the comma and semicolon). With the portable book, readers could now learn on their own without the lecturer and with no need of any community. Learning could now be a solitary  activity. There was no longer a need for community.

And I do mean that learning does NOT need a community, with access to books and now the Internet. Many of our students learn almost solely from their texts and workbooks. However, do not take this to mean that I do not support learning communities. They can be very effective for learning, especially with unskilled and less-motivated learners. The research shows this. There is room for both solitary and communal learning and perhaps a mix of the two is the optimum. It is not a case of "either/or" but rather "both".