I barged into my son’s room on Wednesday afternoon to ask him when he wanted dinner, and discovered him watching a Khan Academy video to help with his chemistry homework. And I thought: that story I’ve been working on about the backlash against MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses)? Why am I even bothering? The war is already over. Debating the value of online education at the current moment in history makes about as much sense as questioning the tactics of the losing Roman generals in the great third century B.C. battle of Cannae. Perhaps of some interest to academics, but moot. Hannibal kicked ass. End of story.
I am not arguing that we shouldn’t be looking long and hard at exactly how online courses are “disrupting” education, with special attention devoted to who plans to profit from new delivery models and how taxpayers will inevitably get screwed. What I’m saying is we have to start from the position that the tidal wave is already here. Indignation, however righteous, is beside the point. The kids who are cutting their teeth on Khan Academy videos for help with their chemistry and calculus homework will grow up correctly assuming that there will always be low-cost or free educational opportunities available to them online in virtually any field of inquiry. They will naturally migrate to the best stuff and be less and less willing to pay for crap. This will cause a lot of trauma for the educational establishment, but that’s not the problem of the next generation that wants to learn.
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