What MOOCs and Libraries Have in Common


Substitute the word MOOC for library and you see an interesting commonality in Ray Bradbury’s quote.

MOOCs are providing opportunities for people to educate themselves for free. Just like libraries have been doing for more than a century. Except on a larger scale. That’s a good thing, right?

Despite the enthusiasm ad nauseum of MOOCS as a panacea for higher education, they’re still in the experimental stage of development. I’ve explored my fair share of them and at this point don’t see them transforming education in a positive way. First of all, from an instructional design standpoint they are not innovative. Innovation only lies in their mass delivery. Secondly, they’re not an education model – they’re a business model for education.

Ideologically, I’m all for the democratization of learning. And MOOCs, like libraries, can do that. But I question whether MOOCs are in fact democratizing learning. It seems to me that they could potentially create a bigger divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ If MOOCs really replace big chunks of higher education, then we’ll see the ‘haves’ enjoying the in-person college experience, while the ‘have-nots’ watch it all on video. I know I’m not the only one who shares this concern. And we’re already seeing it happen as the rising cost of tuition is limiting college choice for more and more students.

The irony is that MOOCs are supposed to solve that problem. In my opinion, they might just make it worse.

As Ray Bradbury’s quote so eloquently describes, libraries are a place for people to educate themselves for free. While that is true, libraries were never created to replace formal education as MOOCs may someday do. Instead, libraries play a critical role in supporting the outcomes of formal education.

And that’s where I see a future for MOOCs. To me, MOOCs have the potential to be designed as a sort of interactive textbook in a way that e-textbooks have failed. As interactive textbooks, they could be integrated into traditional courses – online or on-campus. If they’re free, that means no textbook fees for students. And if they’re openly available to the public, they also provide opportunities for lifelong learning. But at least for now, they don’t hold a candle to a well-designed on-campus or online course where interpersonal relationships are key to facilitating learning.

Like reading books in a library, MOOCs can fill a person’s mind with knowledge. But knowledge alone does not make an education. And if MOOCs are like books, then librarians have the responsibility of evaluating, selecting, curating and organizing the highest quality MOOCs for their patrons to easily access.


4 thoughts on “What MOOCs and Libraries Have in Common

  1. “Like reading books in a library, MOOCs can fill a person’s mind with knowledge.” ???

    I have to disagree with this statement though I agree with the sentiments of the overall post. Nothing can fill a person’s mind with knowledge except the person herself — creating that knowledge. MOOCs provide an opportunity to learn but there is a lot of extraneous noise — 1000s of bits of chatter, most needless repetition of “I agree with…” and so within that huge pile of debris, a lot can be missed.

    The quality of the video and lecture posts is critical but more critical is the attention and work that goes into understanding and connecting in a meaningful way to that information.

    MOOCs do have a place in education and they can be very rich experiences. But as in our information overloaded world constantly grows, we can only draw benefits and “knowledge” by being careful consumers and much THINKING!

    • ” But knowledge alone does not make an education. ”

      I view knowledge and education (or learning) as two separate things. Knowledge is just “stuff” that sits in our heads (e.g. facts). We can obtain that “stuff” through reading, listening to lectures, etc.. I see learning as something that either requires us to connect that “stuff” to prior experience or apply it to new experiences. So, in that vein I agree that learning requires an effort by the person to do something with knowledge. Though, I think it’s more of a pragmatic view than pure constructivism.

      MOOCs are still evolving, and from an ed tech perspective I imagine we’ll someday see them as a learning tool that is regularly integrated into education, versus an education in and of itself (much like library resources).

      • I believe we are on the same page but that our issues are semantic. Knowledge has much more weight to me in that knowledge requires learning. I believe what you call knowledge I would call information. Knowledge is stored and relational.

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