Thursday, June 13, 2013

Good enough for MOOCs?

As a computer science professor who is interested in learning, it's natural that I've been thinking about and following the whole MOOC-mania.  I'm partly interested from a research/tech perspective (just how much is online learning capable of, given time to develop?), and partly from a job-survival one (what's the likelihood of my line of work disappearing before I retire?).

A friend's blog post lead me to a Forbes article from this week on why online ed is a bubble: summary---students go to college as much as for social/experience reasons as for education, and online can't reproduce the networking and fun aspects of college.  Certainly not a new argument.  Certainly an argument that makes sense for some segments of colleges and of the population.  But I'm not ready to dismiss the MOOC paranoia just yet.

MOOCS aren't going to wipe many colleges off the map in 5 years like an asteroid (though I'm thinking this would make a good 48-hour film project premise).  The college experience is going to wither by a thousand cuts (budget cuts, staffing, time, etc).  A pending case of academic frog-boiling.  College doesn't have to be great--it has to be good enough.  On the educational side, MOOCs just might prove good enough for many students.  What's good enough on the social side?  Could an innovative entity create a social space with a bit of exclusivity (part of the college draw), clout, alumni, and many other things that together create a "good enough" social experience?  Membership driven, like a fitness club?

To claim that colleges will retain their stranglehold on the young-adult social experience bets against innovation.  There will always be a place for elite schools, but they don't serve the majority of students.  It'll take time, but there's a lot colleges could lose and still be "good enough".  Colleges need to innovate to figure out how to lower costs and still be "good enough". Other organizations will figure out how to grow to be "good enough" socially, by which time online education will have matured a lot.

Should we bet against good enough?