One late afternoon last spring I received a visit from a former student and budding entrepreneur. I usually schedule these meetings at the end of the workday. It feels like a treat, witnessing aspiration and insight blend into leadership to create something new.
Luis (not his real name), however, had not come to see me for leadership advice. He had come to pitch his tech startup and ask for my involvement.
The venture, he explained, would contribute to the ongoing disruption and reinvention of business education and allow anyone anywhere — not just those as fortunate as himself — to have access to my teaching and insights online, for free.
While I would not be compensated, I’d have the opportunity to reach a broader audience and to be at the front — and on the right side — of the online revolution in education. I would become a better teacher, help democratize management learning, and secure my own and my school’s place among the survivors and beneficiaries of digital disruption.
I had heard all those arguments before. Reach. Scale. Efficiency. Democratization. This was my third such conversation in six months, including one with a pioneer of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), the first wave of a digital tsunami headed towards the shores of higher education.
When I pointed out that I already share and discuss ideas freely online, in this blog and on Twitter, Luis beamed. That was why he had reached out, he said.
Apparently I have the right profile for a MOOC professor. I’m young enough to be threatened, good enough to be useful, and tech savvy enough to be interested. (Perhaps also vain enough to be flattered). My fondness for the Internet as a public agorá is surely a sign that I want it to become my open classroom as well.
Actually, no. It isn’t. When it comes to joining this battle I declare myself a conscientious objector.
Mind you, I am not unsympathetic to the argument for MOOCs and their derivatives — that many people who need knowledge and skills don’t have the resources to acquire them in those expensive and inefficient bundles called “universities.” Nor am I blind to the problems facing business schools and higher education at large, or lacking in my enthusiasm for technology. I am not immune to flattery either.
I can easily concede that for many topics, the right numbers and platform may foster online learning and interactions as meaningful as those that take place in the average classroom or seminar room, specially for students and faculty accustomed to living part of their social lives online. And I believe that the conscious intent of MOOC proselytizers is altruistic.
However, as the Princeton sociologist who discontinued his popular MOOC illustrated, if you are a prominent faculty member at an elite university the idealistic prospect of spreading free knowledge to the masses may distract you from pondering your MOOC’s more troublesome potential social consequences.
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Via Chuck Sherwood, Senior Associate, TeleDimensions, Inc