The MOOCs don’t work … part xyz

The FT continues the sceptical realism with a super piece on MOOCs (reg req).

Financial Times
Financial Times (Photo credit: Christine ™)

All sorts of interesting material here – costs and motivation may be the key issue for US college students. MOOCs promise to address part of the equation, but the problems run much deeper than a broadband connection and a video of somebody delivering the non-immersible experience of an online lecture.

Start with the following fact (FT):

‘According to the Harvard Business Review, the US has shed 750,000 jobs in the information sector since the turn of the millennium – second only to manufacturing in percentage terms.’

Because ICT jobs can and are being automated. And it is against the hype that suggests there are bucket-loads of ICT positions – there may well be particular skill shortages (like coders), but not thousands of ICT positions per se. After all, websites have been largely commoditised. This blog (and the millions like it) just requires an internet connection and some minimal willingness to learn how to blog. The content? Well, that’s another matter.

Now, add this judgement (FT):

Moocs can reduce costs and broaden access, both of which are highly desirable. But they have no special insight into tomorrow’s labour market.

The jobs of today and tomorrow are elsewhere – principally (and perhaps not so remarkably) for social science and humanities graduates! And these jobs are in the non-automatable and non-robotisable parts of the economy.

The FT again:

Technology is reducing the need for most kinds of labour. At the same time it is vastly expanding the number of channels for creative output. That ought to make humanities – and the study of humans – more relevant.

Perhaps (notes of heresy here), we have enough STEM-only graduates? And what we need are more properly STEM-acquainted AHSS (arts, humanities and social science) graduates? That every AHSS student would have to take a year or two of STEM courses alongside their primary concentrations might be unthinkable to some, but to others completely reasonable and indeed utterly desirable?

Perhaps the future threat to universities comes from within: the inability to have meaningfully porous disciplines within the academy, and not some dude with some notes and a videocam?

And maybe University College London’s BASc is the model universities should be looking to to future-proof the generalist graduate of tomorrow?

Author: Shane O'Mara

Neuroscientist

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