Coursera woos me to MOOC through my college email. I haven’t succumbed yet, but only because they haven’t offered anything interesting enough. I signed up for one course on logic, but backed out after clarification over the goal of the course which was to prove through logic that God does not exist. Having been to college and teaching at a college, even just a community, I’ve been through that argument informally many times. God or not-God is a choice of premise, an unsettled enthymeme, by which I mean that for some the matter is settled through faith in God and for others it is settled by — I am told I cannot call it faith in science, so I don’t know what to term the unstated assumption of their logic, except God-is-not. Some atheists talk about God more than most believers do. Anyway, I wasn’t in the mood for the argument at the time, which is how I have resisted the siren call of the MOOC.
Peter Lawler’s current discussion of the economics of MOOCs is on the money. Save for this, that apparently students are reluctant to go for the credit offered by colleges for MOOC courses. James Ceaser insists on the preferability of books for the mass transmission of knowledge; there follows that post an argument about the need for teachers, which Jim incited with “True, a few of the BOOKs might produce courses that would prove a too difficult for students to pursue on their own.” That might be true, but might be more about giving a context to any original work. I am writing this as a confessed autodidact. Most of the books I was instructed to read in college I had already read. Through reason a reader might get the main point or instead get a main point which might not be the main point by conventional wisdom. There’s a lot to be said for conventional wisdom.
I might also argue that any tool that enables the spread of knowledge is worthwhile. My preference has been books, though the Internet and the graphical user interfaces that preceded it have been great sources for information that made the computer user in the hinterland feel like part of the modern conversation in a more immediate way. The MOOC might be a useful means for those merely interested in learning to be able to do so. And at far less expense than the college classroom, which we also deplore.