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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A commentary on MOOCs from Clay Shirky

Some of my colleagues - past and present - are attending classes in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  I've been following their stories and also columnists who have been talking about MOOCs and education.  It is a very interesting time.

Clay Shirky has a long post (Napster, Udacity, and the Academy) about MOOCs that is well worth reading.  Some highlights:
The recording industry concluded this new audio format would be no threat, because quality mattered most. Who would listen to an MP3 when they could buy a better-sounding CD at the record store? Then Napster launched, and quickly became the fastest-growing piece of software in history. The industry sued Napster and won, and it collapsed even more suddenly than it had arisen.

If Napster had only been about free access, control of legal distribution of music would then have returned the record labels. That’s not what happened. Instead, Pandora happened. happened. Spotify happened. ITunes happened. Amazon began selling songs in the hated MP3 format.
It’s been interesting watching this unfold in music, books, newspapers, TV, but nothing has ever been as interesting to me as watching it happen in my own backyard. Higher education is now being disrupted; our MP3 is the massive open online course (or MOOC), and our Napster is Udacity, the education startup.

We have several advantages over the recording industry, of course. We are decentralized and mostly non-profit. We employ lots of smart people. We have previous examples to learn from, and our core competence is learning from the past. And armed with these advantages, we’re probably going to screw this up as badly as the music people did.

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