Whenever something is declared the subject of “the year of,” you know said subject is ripe for a big fat backlash. So, when The New York Times declared 2012 “the year of the MOOC,” it thus came to pass that massive open online courses should next become the subject of massive, open, often online criticism, as critics gathered to air both their disappointment that said courses had not in fact proven the savior of a broken education system — and almost transparent delight and glee at same.
That’s not to say that the MOOC bubble couldn’t stand to lose some of its air. Maybe it’s no bad thing that some of that shiny techno-utopian language got buffed from the courses’ gilded surfaces. The reality is that those responsible for MOOCs are still figuring out how to make them work, and they’re experimenting and adjusting as they go.
Anant Agarwal: Why massive open online courses (still) matterAnant Agarwal: Why massive open online courses (still) matterCase in point: Anant Agarwal, who spoke at TED Global in Edinburgh in June 2013. Agarwal is president of edX, the non-profit “online learning destination” founded by Harvard and MIT. We caught up with him on the phone to find out what he makes of the anti-MOOC rhetoric — and why he thinks a “blended learning” model of education that includes online and offline resources might just prove the real key to a vibrant education system of the future. An edited version of our conversation follows.
So let’s start with the question on everyone’s lips: what do you make of the backlash against MOOCs?
Initially there was a lot of talk about MOOCs being the solution to all of the world’s problems. And clearly they’re important; they can increase access to students who don’t have access to good quality education. But even when we started edX, we talked about MOOCs and the blended model on campus and of campus education as being a key part of the whole equation. So for us it comes as no surprise that a pure MOOC model, a completely online model, will not work so well on campus. There, a blended model can be even better than a purely online model. The backlash you’re seeing was more a backlash to the statement that MOOCs can cure the world of all educational ills. The answer is no. MOOCs have a very important place in increasing access to a large community of students. At the same time, if you take MOOC technology and blend it with in-person class help, we can achieve the blended model, which is even better and can improve campus education.