Sunday, November 17, 2013


Peter Sloep says "No". I find his argument unconvincing. 

Sloep argues that third world higher education will shift from their own native universities to MOOC Learning Centers conveying contents from the West, shaped by corporate, rather than individual or public, interests.

There are two problems with his argument. 

First, there is no evidence provided that universities in developing countries are closing down - the key to Sloep's argument. Instead, many international students are supplementing their native educations with MOOCs, while many others are using them for continuing professional education - and some without access to existing agencies of higher education are using them to educate themselves. So the leading premise of Sloep's case seems false.

Second, Sloep ignores the corporate capture of conventional institutions of higher education. There is a huge literature on the topic Sheila Slaughter introduced a couple of decades ago under the rubric "Academic Capitalism". The idea that universities, even state operated universities, are run in the interests of their individual students, the public interest or the interests of the liberal state, has been entirely debunked with data across many countries. Slaughter and her co-workers have shown that on many dimensions of education, and across all classes of participants in universities, corporate interests now dominate and universities as organizations are mimicking corporate behaviors. The Idea that MOOCs represent a shift from the professional and scholar- run agencies to those of corporations serving their own narrow interests is as a result a non-starter.

Besides, new MOOC platforms such as provide all individuals and groups with the technical means to mount any courses they wish. Aggregation sites like open culture  are making MOOCs on all platforms readily accessible globally. No one platform - indeed, no one MOOC format - will dominate.

MOOCs as an institutional innovation are in the earliest stages of their development, and no one can predict how they will play out - there are simply too many causal forces at work. The democratising force of MOOCs is yet unknown. 

But one possibility is the exact reverse of what Sloep predicts - groups of scholars joining to provide a 'counter-education' to the one shaped in corporate interests - that is, an education shaped by communities of scholars and not by universities operating in the academic capitalist mode. The costs of entry will be low, and certifying agencies like ACE will lose all credibility if they discriminate against these MOOCs in favor of the corporate-dominated ones.

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