(Thanks to this site for the funky visual.)
Before you do, though, if you do not know what MOOCs are, here is a bit of an update. The acronym stands for Massive Open Online Courses. And this despite the fact that they sound vaguely like mooing cows and they are almost the opposite of a sacred cow in higher education today. They are at the center of media -- and higher education -- debate about how to make higher education scaleable (read: open to huge numbers of people for as little money as possible), combining a sort of populism with a variety of forms of access to new forms of learning. The big examples right now are Coursera and EdX. For a video on what a MOOC is, click here.
In many ways, MOOCs are part of the "free" movement -- and the open movement -- both of which focus on linking access to education to the use of technology to the notion that these social goods ought be made as widely available as possible. In some ways they are utterly new -- and in other ways, their path was cleared by earlier efforts at on-line education in both the not for profit and the profit arenas of higher education. Some think the predecessors are large lectures with teaching assistants leading discussions (click here for that view); others connect this to earlier experiments in on line education. (See in this regard, Taylor Walsh's Unlocking the Gates: How and Why Leading Universities are Opening Up Access to Their Courses published by Princeton in 2011, well before the first MOOC. For an interview with Walsh, click here. And no, it is not the same Taylor Walsh as the character in a not very high end television show.) And, of course, on line courses are not -- and never were -- the original form of distance or dispersed education.
For readers who are not Shimerians, perhaps, the notion of Great Books may need some clarification as well. Yes, the phrase has a specific meaning (linked to such names as Mortimer Adler and Robert Hutchins and to institutions like Columbia University, University of Chicago and Shimer), which links to a historical movement to identify and render accessible through the high tech of the era (a multi-volume encyclopedia) works of enduring historical significance. The movement was thus populist in some ways and linked to elite universities and colleges in others.
So: today, MOOCs and great books? Great MOOCs? Here we are at the cusp of what some see as the changing nature of higher education. Read Adam's views -- and share your own please.