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.