Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Some thoughts about online education

The usual optimists —the disruptors and singularity believers— are on one side. The contrarians —the contemptuous, the fearful— stand on the other. In the middle, the ones who have the hunch that, current shortcomings aside, the MOOC model may have something to offer, and that online education a as whole can be (will be) much better than it is right now. The Chronicle of Higher Education is publishing an entire series of articles about that, actually. Here's the latest one, which raises some relevant questions.

Where am I in this debate? You can find out about it in this interview, written by Francis Gagnon, one of the participants in my first intro to infographics and data visualization massive online course. It's almost all in there.

To summarize: I don't think that online education and MOOCs will replace traditional degrees soon. They can't. They are a different kind of educational experience, which may nicely complement what we already have. That's why I prefer to label my own "course" as a workshop. It works as an introduction to the core concepts of what I teach with much more depth at the University of Miami. But I also fear that, as newspaper managers did when they faced the Internet, college administrators will use that argument as an excuse to become wishfully ignorant of an environment that can start mutating rapidly and unpredictably. We humans suck at forecasting and the fact that things have remained the same for ages doesn't mean that they won't suddenly change in a short time. That's what Nassim Nicholas Taleb has called the turkey problem.