Education and Online learning and MOOC

There is so much talk and doom about the “ending” of traditional education by the disruptive innovation of online learning and massively open online courses.  I can’t help but to think back to the end of the 1990s and the first boom & bust in ecommerce, as illustrated by Webvan delivering a pack of gum from Oakland to San Jose for less than $1…

When it comes to education, though, we must distinguish between learning and signaling.  All debate and hype is about the learning but I have not heard anything about the latter, which I believe is at least as important (for better of worse).  Just ask any parent (whose kid now just heard about college acceptance) about the strength of their desire to be admitted to certain institutions.  We seldom hear the point that their kid will learn more at that desirable institution; so what is its attraction?

Signaling (as Nobel laureate Spence wrote about quite a while ago). Admittedly, this distinction pertains mostly to top or “brand” schools, whose value proposition of the degree is signaling selectivity—that will not change by MOOCs or any online learning.  The desire to signal uniqueness and distinction (and to self-classify as the BCC wrote about recently in their study and poll of “class” in the UK) is so human it is timeless.  And US higher ed is the best in the world to respond to that desire.

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