Moocs hotly debated at Battle of Ideas

Massive open online courses: new horizon or redundancy tool? Experts fight it out

October 24, 2013

Source: Devonyu/iStock

The future of massive open online courses – whether as a new academic horizon or a chance to “get rid of the duff scholars” – was debated at this year’s Battle of Ideas Festival, held on 19 and 20 October.

Chairing “Laptop University? The Future of HE”, an event at London’s Barbican Centre in association with Times Higher Education, Toby Marshall, curriculum manager at Havering College of Further and Higher Education, asked whether Moocs were “a threat, an opportunity, a tool”, or even “a mirror into the soul of frustrated academics”.

Matt Walton, head of product at FutureLearn – the first UK Mooc platform, owned by The Open University – suggested its courses were “good for learning new skills alongside a full-time job”. Despite predictions, podcasts had actually led to people listening to more radio, he said: in the same way, Moocs might “rekindle the love for learning”.

But Diana Laurillard, professor of learning with digital technologies at the Institute of Education, noted that although Moocs marked a welcome return of the “talking head”, “students need nurturing and guidance as well as lectures”. Moocs might be the “21st-century answer to the public libraries of the 20th century”, but neither in themselves amounted to an education.

She also commented that the small proportion of people who had completed Moocs tended to be “professionals who already had several degrees”. Was there something odd about a situation where “campus students are paying £9,000 a year to subsidise the education of highly paid professionals”?

Dennis Hayes, professor of education at the University of Derby, was unimpressed by claims that “iPhones are making universities redundant”. He even cited a pro vice-chancellor who believed we could “now get rid of the duff scholars and listen to…Harvard”.

Yet this rested on a fallacy, he said: “Access to information is not only confused with knowledge and understanding but also seen as a substitute for them.”

Real education, by contrast, always required “an intense engagement with intellectual authorities”.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham