New Directions in Education The not-so-hidden costs of free: MOOCs and more. . .
By Sandy Mayer, iPub Global Connections COO It was a startling and exciting time when the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) movement began. Many well-known, high profile universities jumped on board offering free courses to the public. These sponsoring universities helped launch open and online education with such fanfare that Internet-based free education is now commonplace. It has disrupted the higher education model as many people now think of education as a DIY activity. As for-profit and not-for-profit education companies compete with each other, they indirectly and directly accuse traditional higher education programs of being less effective and inconvenient, even though many of these same companies promote and sell university courses! The explosion of offerings such as those from Skillshare and LinkedIn’s Lynda means that in addition to YouTube, there is an abundance of solutions that are free or nearly free. How is free information valued? If a professor selects Open Educational Resources [OER]- based materials for her course, a YouTube film, or a video excerpted from her MOOC, how is the value perceived? And, perhaps more importantly, how effective are these programs? From an educational perspective, MOOC offerings may not be particularly nourishing courses. One anecdotal case in point. A student I know took a complete certificate program on Coursera (cost was $1200) on social media marketing. She completed all courses, did all assessments, and graduated. Although she enhanced her resume which may have helped her find a job, she concluded that she still did not know how to do much of what she watched. That same student has now enrolled in a General Assembly course, and she has concluded that the synchronous, cohort-oriented, mentor-supported environment with real-world assignments was the “only way I’m going to actually learn this stuff.” Are corporations the ones benefitting from MOOCs since they do not have to pay for training on their own campuses, nor sponsor an employee under tuition reimbursement? Have the universities which offer free certificate programs lost students first to a MOOC and then to General Assembly, a for-profit training company recently acquired by a worldwide technology recruiting firm? Further, let’s not forget that the student is paying for all of this with their dollars and attention. Another concern is the shift in ownership of course materials. In the past, professors and corporate trainers would own or buy copyrighted class materials for use in their courses. Professor-authors and their publishers benefitted by the selection and use of their materials for classes. The openness of the Internet, the plethora of free materials, and the pressure to reduce education costs are contributing to schools selecting open materials. Temple University, for example, recently offered a $5,000 stipend to pay for books that would be open for the University forever. All of this raises many contemporary philosophical, ethical, business, and logistical issues. These materials are not free for anyone, including the student. In Charles Romesburg’s reply to critics of his argument about maintaining the integrity of the Wildlife Journal by not supporting its transition to open access, he argues the credibility of science is in question in Open Access journals, while those opposed argue that Open Access is crucial to science. His common-sense points remind me of the objections about Academia.edu from several Professors. The lack of curation and peer review makes the platform different in its purpose. The tagging distribution, and connectivity offered by Academia.edu cannot be matched by a specialty behind a paywall journal, but it still has value. The value of Academia.edu is similar to the value of MOOCs. MOOCs are a form of education, and one that provides tremendous value to students working full time or without financial resources. The continued dialogue on open education combined with research on students’ experiences, and future educational technology including artificial intelligence, will continue to influence the form. These are exciting times!