Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs are currently being heralded as the future of affordable education. But what kind of education will it actually provide?
“Everybody loves the idea of lowering the barriers of entry to education; it’s the easiest sell in the world, and Khan Academy, a nonprofit, pushes all the right buttons. Khan’s success thus paved the way for MOOC providers to employ a rhetoric of inclusiveness, simplicity, low cost, and metrics, metrics, metrics: the same reasoning that today drives everything from ‘philanthrocapitalist’ foundation spending to high-stakes standardized testing.
“But the shortcomings of the Khan approach will be evident to anyone who cares to have a go at ‘US History Overview 1: Jamestown to the Civil War,’ the 18:28 minute video-with-voiceover class I chose at random from the Khan website. Within the first two minutes Khan has disposed of over a century, blowing past Jamestown (‘a kind of commercial settlement’) and Plymouth Rock (‘we always learned this in school, you know, the Pilgrims on the Mayflower sailing the oceans blue and all the rest’) and ‘fast-forwarding’ to 1754. It’s not even a flashcard approach; it’s a series of lacunae, startlingly free of insight or context, mentioning not one single book or author, and only one political or religious figure (George Washington) in the nine minutes I watched. I’ve seen more informative cereal boxes.”