New Directions in Education The not-so-hidden costs of free: MOOCs and more. . .

By Sandy Mayer, iPub Global Connections COO
It was a startling and exciting time when the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) movement
began. Many well-known, high profile universities jumped on board offering free courses to the
public. These sponsoring universities helped launch open and online education with such
fanfare that Internet-based free education is now commonplace. It has disrupted the higher
education model as many people now think of education as a DIY activity.
As for-profit and not-for-profit education companies compete with each other, they indirectly
and directly accuse traditional higher education programs of being less effective and
inconvenient, even though many of these same companies promote and sell
university courses! The explosion of offerings such as those from Skillshare and LinkedIn’s
Lynda means that in addition to YouTube, there is an abundance of solutions that are free or
nearly free.
How is free information valued? If a professor selects Open Educational Resources [OER]-
based materials for her course, a YouTube film, or a video excerpted from her MOOC, how is
the value perceived? And, perhaps more importantly, how effective are these programs?
From an educational perspective, MOOC offerings may not be particularly nourishing courses.
One anecdotal case in point. A student I know took a complete certificate program on Coursera
(cost was $1200) on social media marketing. She completed all courses, did all assessments,
and graduated. Although she enhanced her resume which may have helped her find a job, she
concluded that she still did not know how to do much of what she watched. That same student
has now enrolled in a General Assembly course, and she has concluded that the synchronous,
cohort-oriented, mentor-supported environment with real-world assignments was
the “only way I’m going to actually learn this stuff.”
Are corporations the ones benefitting from MOOCs since they do not have to pay for training
on their own campuses, nor sponsor an employee under tuition reimbursement? Have the
universities which offer free certificate programs lost students first to a MOOC and then to
General Assembly, a for-profit training company recently acquired by a worldwide technology
recruiting firm? Further, let’s not forget that the student is paying for all of this with their
dollars and attention.
Another concern is the shift in ownership of course materials. In the past, professors and
corporate trainers would own or buy copyrighted class materials for use in their courses.
Professor-authors and their publishers benefitted by the selection and use of their materials for
classes. The openness of the Internet, the plethora of free materials, and the pressure to
reduce education costs are contributing to schools selecting open materials. Temple University,
for example, recently offered a $5,000 stipend to pay for books that would be open for the
University forever.

All of this raises many contemporary philosophical, ethical, business, and logistical issues. These
materials are not free for anyone, including the student. In Charles Romesburg’s reply to critics
of his argument about maintaining the integrity of the Wildlife Journal by not supporting its
transition to open access, he argues the credibility of science is in question in Open Access
journals, while those opposed argue that Open Access is crucial to science. His common-sense
points remind me of the objections about from several Professors. The lack of
curation and peer review makes the platform different in its purpose. The tagging distribution,
and connectivity offered by cannot be matched by a specialty behind a paywall
journal, but it still has value.
The value of is similar to the value of MOOCs. MOOCs are a form of education,
and one that provides tremendous value to students working full time or without financial
resources. The continued dialogue on open education combined with research on students’
experiences, and future educational technology including artificial intelligence, will continue to
influence the form. These are exciting times!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s