MOOCs vs. House of Cards smackdown

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood

The usually techno-utopian Joshua Kim is channeling our pal, MOOC skeptic Jonathan Rees!  It’s almost unbloglich!  (I’ve jumped on Kim before and was kind of a jerk, but he was a thoroughly decent guy about it all, contacting me in a personal email.)  In a post published yesterday at Inside Higher Ed, Kim reports that he was doing so well watching recorded lectures in three different MOOCs when Netflix released the entire new season of House of Cards recently, enabling Kim’s penchant for immersive binge-watching.  In “How House of Cards killed my MOOCing,” Kim writes:

Access to media, from games to videos, is now as close as our smartphones.

The quality of compelling content available on our phones is only increasing.

House of Cards comes from Netflix.  Amazon is releasing original programming. Some folks are lucky enough to have passwords to HBO Go accounts.

And this is only video. The real action is probably in mobile games and mobile social media platforms.

As higher education content migrates to our smartphones, as it surely will, this educational material will be competing with entertainment available on the very same platform.

The answer, of course, is that I was not really missing out on an education by missing out on my MOOCs.  

An open online course is a wonderful thing for many many reasons, but participating in a MOOC is not the same thing as investing in an education.  

Learning requires much more of us than is demanded from a MOOC.   

Learning requires creating as well as consuming.  

The best sort of learning is done at a human scale rather than a network scale.

The combination of a talented educator collaborating with a dedicated student remains our most powerful adaptive learning platform.

N.B.:  Kim is certainly not the only person who is lured into binge-watching!  I must admit that I do it, too.  (I don’t find this season of House of Cards all that binge-worthy myself, but if my choice of entertainment options were either HoC or “Public Speaking,” there’s no question that I’d watch HoC until I could watch no more new episodes.)

Kim’s experience suggests that my prediction–that they will be useful for entertainment and marketing, not for actual education–was pretty darn prescient.  But who am I?  I don’t teach at Princeton, Stanford, or Penn.  I’m just a schmuck who teaches at an underfunded aggie in flyover land.  However, I know a thing or two about my students (or prospective MOOC “customers,” that is).  And if Kim–who holds a Ph.D. in Sociology–falls prey to binge-watching sudsy potboilers rather than Professor Hologram’s fascinating lectures, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

I guess Daphne Koller needs to hire Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright for her MOOCs.  They’re so much more watchable than boring old real-life professors!

9 thoughts on “MOOCs vs. House of Cards smackdown

  1. “Learning requires creating as well as consuming.”

    YES. THIS. This is why I’ve found so ironic the large overlap between people who advocate “flipping the classroom” (i.e., active learning) and people who advocate MOOCs (utterly passive).


  2. I binge-watched a grainy black-and-white tape of the first Ali-Liston fight (technically Clay-Liston), fifty years ago this night, from the top of a stairmaster on ESPN Classic earlier in the evening. Not as mystical as listening to the original production live on the radio as a teenager, but interesting enough in its own way. Anything in the “content” space that migrates from anywhere to anywhere else, platform-wise, I pretty much run from. I get the sense that MOOCs are like that Ukrainian leader, high-tailing it into the night, with bunches of former acolytes saying “I always knew there was something wrong with the concept…”


  3. Well, yes. Or, as my 6th grade teacher said — when I made a decision he didn’t like about Junior High — you get out of a school what you put into it. (The irony is that I had been admitted to a selective single sex school, and I turned it down, because in 6th grade, I was bullied by the “mean girls”. Who knew?)

    My question about the flipped classroom has always been, who gives the same lecture every year? I lecture to my students, and my lectures — which are interactive — change.


  4. MOOCs are probably fine for people who (1) know what they ought to learn, (2) know what they don’t already know, and (3) know how to learn. So yeah, I’m sure a fucker with a PhD can totally master new areas of inquiry watching MOOC videos. But higher education is in large part supposed to be about taking young people who lack 1, 2, and 3, and imparting them.


  5. What Comradde said. Actually, it would be great if small groups of people with definable shared but relatively uncommon interests or areas of inquiry could get together, recruit an “expert,” and *sponsor* a MOOC for themselves and any others on that subject. Say, tin mining in early modern Cornwall, or something like that. With the costs to be covered by Coursera Bitcoin debentures, I should have added. This would be a “Medium-Sized Open Online Course [M-SOOC].” Or a “Human-Scaled Open Online Course [H-SOOC].”


  6. Pingback: The edutainment chronicles: comedy gold! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  7. Pingback: The edutainment chronicles: comedy gold! | Historiann

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