Michael Peters, a professor of education at the University of Waikato in New Zealand and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has a thorough criticism of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) over at Truthout. While he points out that anyone should be wary of MOOCs if for no other reason than snake oil salesmen like Larry Summers are hailing them as the way of the future, the criticism is far more substantial than “and by their friends, you shall know them.”

His argument against MOOCs is lengthy but — as I understand it — it all comes down to market structure. Particularly labor market structure. Venture capitalists are backing many of these initiatives, making MOOC boosters’ claim of opening up higher education seem fleeting, at best. MOOC providers, in their cost-cutting endeavors “are hiring programmers, often with little or no experience” in crafting curricula or lectures., diluting the quality of higher education. If these schemes, as they exist, are accepted as the norm, most students who enroll in MOOCs will therefore be receiving a cheap education that doesn’t encourage critical thought, but rather the rapid consumption of superficial knowledge – a mode of thinking that seems to benefit a class of Godlike (in their brute power) global elites increasingly demanding its serfs be “flexible.” Of course, quality education will remain, as it is today, in the domain of the privileged. But blind acceptance of MOOCs could further the cause of yawning inequality, intense labor alienation and all all those other happy entrenched features of the Reagan-Clinton consensus era.

However, what I appreciate about Peters’ piece is that it also sees the benefit of using the web to further access to information and to personalize education – possibilities I have discussed in another Truthout article about education reform in Iceland. Traditionalists shouldn’t shun using the internet as a learning tool just because some very terrible people are championing it.

With the advent of the Internet, Web 2.0 technologies and user-generated cultures, new principles of radical openness have become the basis of innovative institutional forms that decentralize and democratize power relationships, promote access to knowledge and encourage symmetrical, horizontal peer learning relationships. In this context radical openness is a complex code word that represents a change of philosophy and ethos, a set of interrelated and complex changes that transform markets, the mode of production and consumption, and the underlying logic of our institutions.

Take a gander at his piece in its entirety, if you’re interested in higher education policy.

Samuel Knight

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.