Two ways of looking at a MOOC

In a new essay in Times Higher Education, Oxford emeritus professor Alan Ryan places the MOOC movement into a broader historical and pedagogical context. He ends by sketching out the two “mirror images of a future in which MOOCs are the order of the day”:

The dystopian vision that chills the soul of even the least Luddite among us is of undergraduate education dominated by uniform courses, no doubt put together by wonderful teachers but turning everyone beyond the course builders themselves into something like the monitors of the 19th-century Bell-Lancaster schools, checking their students’ work against a schedule determined elsewhere, with little or no scope for their own pedagogical ideas. “Course delivery”, in the awful idiom of the Quality Assurance Agency, will be almost everyone’s lot. The utopian version is the reverse, the anarchist’s vision of an almost magically decentralised education, with no authority determining course content as everyone listens and responds. It is very reminiscent of the two sides of Marx’s vision of the future – uniformity, efficiency and the elimination of effort on the one hand, and the liberation of imagination and frictionless cooperation on the other.

You’ll have to read the essay to find out which version of the future Ryan sees as the more likely.