December 6th, 2012
Now that Coursera has created a
business plan, we may be able to call MOOCs a trend and not a fad. The
business plan is to sell access to the list of those MOOC enrollees who opt in
to companies looking for employees.
You wondered how the MOOC companies could sustain themselves by offering free
courses? Well, this new plan is one answer.
The sudden explosion of MOOC mania says many things: first, it could of
course just be a phase, but if it is not a phase depending on a particularly
bad job market for survival, then what does it say beyond "watch out,
As Clay Shirky said at EDUCAUSE, MOOCs are not the way to understand what's
going on now: it is better to understand the larger cultural context, that of
"openness." Openness is re-shaping all existing
knowledge-making processes. MOOCs are only one indicator of the power of
What is really going on with the Coursera business model? Primarily, they
are extending the potential learner pool way beyond the young learner who is
already enrolled in high school or in a 2-year program. Coursera is
plumbing the culture for learners of all ages and situations in all countries;
it and the other open-education phenomena are helping to create a learning
market orders of magnitude larger than the traditional market.
Something that enlarges the market significantly is not just a fad.
Openness, where learning resources are everywhere and often are free, redefines
how education should function. No doubt, existing educational
institutions will remain vital and may even transform sufficiently to
incorporate openness but will need to allow the academic side, not the business
side, re-define learning structures.
There is no doubt that this is the age, also, of eportfolios. Openness in
some ways depends on individuals owning eportfolios: away from a standard
and consistent curriculum structure, the eportfolio offers a replacement
structure. The eportfolio is a "retroactive curriculum":
"this is the knowledge structure that resulted from my various
unstructured learning experiences." "This is a record of how I
discovered knowledge and then ordered it."
This is generally called DIY learning -- do it yourself.
The talk about "dropping out" is now being re-framed as positive, as
learners taking charge of their own learning (DIY). Successful people in
Silicon Valley wear the "drop out" badge proudly. Dropping out
is not for everyone and perhaps for only a very few select people. But
this changing cultural view of the necessity of college is in keeping with
DIY demands an eportfolio. If you are creating your own record of
achievement, you need your own permanent, cloud-based eportfolio.
The trends toward DIY, badges (micro-credentialing based on peer riview), and
MOOCs are all indicators of the move to openness that has roots starting in the
1990s and earlier. I hear educators scoff at badges and MOOCs. But,
they are, in fact, important indicators of cultural trends. And, from the
perspective of AAEEBL, these trends are pertinent and vital for our work.