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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: May 2018

9 - MOOCs, scalability, and other dangerous things


The idea that there is educational gold (metaphorical or material) in expansive, highly distributed online courses has been developing momentum over the last few years, primarily through the popularization of the acronym MOOC – massive open online courses. It is difficult to know exactly why a sudden fixation with this particular type of online education has emerged. But as this book argues, the idea of “massive” education (if you define “massive” as many people being involved in an asynchronous, shared educational process) is one of the earliest ideas in development of an online/cyberspace information universe – going all the way back to Bush's vision of his Memex machine. Nelson was promoting massive educational ecologies decades ago, writing,

Now that we have all these wonderful devices, it should be the goal of society to put them in the service of truth and learning. And this is the way I propose. … We want to go back to the roots of our civilization – the ability which we once had, for everybody who could read to be able to read everything. We must once again become a community of common access to a shared heritage. (1974, p. 45)

Licklider and Taylor had similar realizations:

if the network idea should prove to do for education what a few have envisioned in hope, if not in concrete detailed plan, and if all minds should prove to be responsive, surely the boon to humankind would be beyond measure. (p. 40)

One of the best technologies for these types of networked, large-scale education initiatives, the Programmed Logic for Teaching Operations (Plato IV), reached its height in the 1970s, capable of having up to four thousand students in a single course through intranet technologies, using innovative applications to help keep students engaged. (It is somewhat mystifying that current attempts at developing massive online courses not only don't seem to be using much of the discoveries and/or findings that could culled from Plato IV, but rarely seem to mention the project.)

Various possible reasons can be suggested why the idea of interconnecting large populations of learners into targeted online courses is suddenly receiving so much attention from so many quarters (educators, journalists, businesspeople): (1) Some of the reasons are probably philosophical – the Internet has created new interests in the potentials for human connectivity (Siemens 2005), process-based learning (Akyol and Garrison 2014), […]

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