Michael Cusumano, a professor at M.I.T., raises doubts about the ultimate cost to the education field of massive open online courses, or MOOCs.
That the acronym MOOCs rhymes with “nukes” seems apt. Massive open online courses, or MOOCs — led by two profit-making start-ups, Coursera and Udacity, founded by entrepreneurial Stanford professors — are a new disruptive force in education. Leading universities have scrambled to join or offer alternatives like edX, a collaboration of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and others.
The MOOCs movement has been greeted with equal parts enthusiasm and angst. The MOOC champions predict a technology-fueled revolution in the distribution and democratization of high-quality education. The MOOC skeptics have a variety of qualms, but especially about what is lost in the retreat of face-to-face teaching — a point eloquently made by Andrew Delbanco, a professor of American studies at Columbia University, in an article in the current New Republic, “MOOCs of Hazard.”
Michael A. Cusumano, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T., raises a different issue in an essay published this week: the economics of MOOCs and the implications.
His article appears in Communications of the ACM, the monthly magazine of the Association for Computing Machinery, and he had circulated a version of it earlier to his M.I.T. colleagues. After reading it, L. Rafael Rief, M.I.T.’s president, asked Mr. Cusumano to serve on a task force on the “residential university” of the future, including online initiatives.
“My fear is that we’re plunging forward with these massively free online education resources and we’re not thinking much about the economics,” Mr. Cusumano said in an interview.
The MOOC champions, Mr. Cusumano said, are well-intentioned people who “think it’s a social good to distribute education for free.”
But Mr. Cusumano questions that assumption. “Free is actually very elitist,” he said. The long-term future of university education along the MOOC path, he said, could be a “few large, well-off survivors” and a wasteland of casualties.