by Sean Gallagher and Geoffrey Garrett
We think the best way to understand the ecology of MOOCs is to consider them
the proto iTunes of higher education. The core of the analogy is that iTunes
transformed the music industry not by changing the way music was made or
recorded, but by revolutionizing how it was made available to listeners. Coursera
does not make the Stanford and Melbourne classes on its website, but it does
make them ubiquitously available.
MP3 files are not of the same quality as high fidelity stereo recordings, but they
are so much more convenient to use than even CDs let alone long playing vinyl
albums. Taking a Harvard class online isn’t like being in the Harvard Yard, but it
is so much cheaper and more accessible.
The parallels with iTunes are not convincing for mine: 1) music is rare you can only get it (legally) from the approved source, unless of course you want to hear me belt out the latest Lady GaGa album on my acoustic guitar, learning you can and do get it from other sources than universities, 2) suggesting people will put up with inferior sound quality means they will do the same with learning is simply untrue, if university education was substantially better than self-directed learning then universities wouldn’t be looking at MOOCs in the first place, 3) the value universities have is not in their courses but in their people (professors, lecturers, tutors…), 4) just for fun, Stanford professor Steve Blank insists the music companies were stupid to sign up to iTunes and only did so because Steve Jobs used a “reality distortion field” on them.
Maybe those creating and taking MOOCs are also subject to a similar reality distortion field.