Will MITx work?

Tony Bates, online learning, distance education resources, Feb 16, 2012
Commentary by Stephen Downes

MITx, as everyone knows by now, has launched its free open courses in pilot phase. As Tony Bates notes, the online course is 'fully automated'. So what does this mean for the future of online learning? Bates writes, "automated online courses are not new; in fact the main form of computer-aided learning in the 1970s was programmed learning, based on behavioristic principles of punishment (failure) and reward (positive feedback). However, in the 1980s there was a move away from behavioristic approaches to teaching, at least in post-secondary education, because it did not develop critical thinking skills." And so, he writes, "I am trying to ignore my gut reaction that this is in fact a step 30 years backward in e-learning, and I wish to give this very interesting experiment the benefit of the doubt."

And then he sets up the conditions for success: "making such courses open is terrific, but ONLY if they lead to engineers with the same quality as those who are privileged to be inside the tent." But how now are we to evaluate the quality - with the same behavioristic principles of punishment and reward? What if many more people graduate, because far fewer drop out, but with the result that the overall graduating class has a lower average grade? I really question the making of 'quality' the sole criterion of success (and to be fair Bates openly questions whether we could accept graduates who 'aren’t quite as good', whatever that means).
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