By getting to know more and more about the principles of Massive Online Open Courses, I am starting to wonder what the future of education will look like….

I can agree with the argumentation that with a growing world population the demand on higher education will also increase and the ‘old’ education model will not be able to meet that demand (as it would imply building more and more universities, see David Wiley TedxNYED talk So providing online openly accessible courses seems a perfect solution. I also like the fact that this is breaking through economic barriers in getting educated.

I also agree with Wiley’s argumentation that openness is the ONLY means of doing education, and that it is all about sharing and being generous. A culture of selfishness should thus be avoided/counteracted/demotivated…Online learning and sharing, be it massive or not, seems thus a natural and positive step.

But from watching the explanation of what a MOOC is by Dave Cormier, one of the people behind the first ever MOOC (see and from reading some Chapters in the book by Weller, M. (2014) ( Battle for Open: How openness won and why it doesn’t feel like victory. London: Ubiquity Press) gets me wondering about two main issues:

  1. How do we teach our students to learn in a new (non-linear) networked way?

  2. How will we be able to give sufficient pedagogical support in MOOCs, given the economic constrains?

Lets take some steps back on each, so I can explain my thinking:

Dave Cormier explains some of the key elements of MOOCs as:

i) sharing work;
ii) engaging in other peoples work,
iii) rather than specific assignments, making connections between ideas, engage with each other, ie networking
iv) appling distributed learning: having a non linear way of going through the course,
v) course material is not found in one central location, but can be found at many different locations and is connected in a networked way,
vi) promoting students independence, working in your own spaces
vii) ‘only you can tell in the end if you have been successful’-just like real life…

Though some of these elements of course reflect back on elements we may already have in our current educational systems (e.g peer mentoring, presenting your work, literacy), some of these elements are distinctively different:

Our educational system today is still rather linear, the way we expect students to receive and/or find information, learn content, reproduce content, develop content… With the occassional exception, I would argue that from primary school to university we are today still promoting a linear way of learning.

How then can we expect our students to be ready and able to learn in a completely new way?

I do not think that the added technology will be a barrier, especially not when we see our tottlers already able to navigate their way through ipads and pretty much everybody is used to browsing through social media platforms. But finding, posting and replying to content is not the same as learning and understanding new content…How and when are we teaching our students (and perhaps our teachers) to learn in a new non-linear way?

Shouldn’t universities in addition to developing MOOCs be developing training courses for teachers and students to learn how to learn in a new way? And would that suffice or would we need to already start redesigning all of our educational institutes?

Some claim that traditional class-rooms and online courses will always exist in parallel, but will the MOOCs really reach their potential success and impact if we still promote the traditional way of learning throughout all of our educational system, but expect students to be able to learn in a networked, participatory, non-linear, independent add-on way when taking online courses?

If we now, for a moment, take a vision of MOOCs becoming in the future our mainstream educational form: We will be living in an Open, Connected, Interactive, Inclusive, Global world where education is accessible to all…. there will still be a need for an economic sustainability of the MOOCs. As Weller is describing in his ‘Battle for Open’ book: those that finance the start-up costs of MOOCs will, generally speaking, want a (economic) return within a certain timeframe. Universities and teachers will also still need to be able to finance the material, effort and time their teachers and researchers will put into the courses. Perhaps indeed tuitorship and university credits will only be supplied to the paying participants and the content can be open to all. But assuming that some level of mentoring, pedagogical support or teaching will still be required on the MOOCs to ensure that the participants can indeed follow and learn from the course …..who will be those teachers?

If indeed our future education is dominated by MOOCs and if the MOOCs are catering towards the ‘M’ in the word, that would mean a massive amount of tuitors. Will these tuitors be our Faculty? So,…

…will the future university Professor be spending his/her time on tuitoring everyone that takes part in the MOOC? Or will we end up with a new generation of MOOC tuitors: highly educated professionals that cater towards the pedagogical needs of the MOOC participants, similiar to the call centers in India that are used today by many Western companies for the support needs of their customers?

If the latter is the case, what would then be the role of our Faculty in this? Will each Professor that starts a new MOOC course, build the content and structure of the MOOC, train his MOOC tuitor teams to support the students and be available him/herself on weekly Q&As?

I think promoting non-linear ways of learning is a good thing, regardless of the future role of MOOCs, as we live in a complex non-linear world. Many of our challenges today are intrinsically complex and will need a new generation of engineers that can develop multi-disciplinary innovative solutions. Being able to take time and place consideration into account in a more complex, iterative, evolving way would thereby be a large benefit.

I am convinced that the key to all of this lies somewhere in taking a systemic perspective to what it will take to ensure a sustainable (socially, environmentally and economically) future. I just hope that the efforts and investments that are currently being made by pioneering and passionate individuals get sufficient sufforts by the institions in terms of systemic changes. As change always meets resistance, this could be a monstrous effort that will require a long-term commitment of many individuals to hang in there…