Disruptive Innovation or Distracting Technology?

Robert L. Jackson

Last week’s “Minding the Campus” posted an essay by economist Richard Vedder (Ohio University) focusing on the immense value of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  According to Vedder, now that most of the Ivy League has joined the cause, this “disruptive innovation” within higher education—as Harvard’s Clayton Christenson describes it—should enable the market to close inefficient colleges and universities, while producing the best in high-quality lectures, assignments, etc. 

On the whole, Vedder is genuinely impressed with the kind of offerings available from Coursera, Udacity, edX et al., though he does have a few reservations: how to produce the hands-on aspects of science education—i.e., the laboratory apprenticeship; how to produce the lived, social experience of educational communities; and how to produce the essential, recognizable forms of credentialing.  That's quite a few concessions.  But, to the question of credentialing, Vedder foresees the introduction of a national exit examination that could be used by anyone—college degree-holder or ‘MOOC scholar’—to demonstrate competency, and cull through the clutter of higher education.  So, for Vedder, the future looks bright, indeed:

Bottom line: Plato was right in saying that necessity (high college costs) is the mother of invention (MOOCs). I think there is a very strong probability that MOOCs and related efforts such as Saylor and StraighterLine will have a major, positive impact on American higher education.

Inventive technology, to be sure.  But, the real question is whether Plato would take his Academy online...

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