On The Territorial Dimensions Of MOOCs

To what degree have the territorial dimensions of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) been made visible? Remarkably little, I would argue.

This point came has been in the back of my mind for some time on the basis of following coverage about MOOCs including the three high profile leaders of the pack (Coursera, edX, Udacity), other MOOCs (Udemy and WeduboX), and complementary online learning platforms (e.g., Course Hero, iTunesU, Kahn Academy, OpenClass, Open Learning Initiative). Of course there is a long history to the development of these MOOCs (see 'Adjacent possible: MOOCs, Udacity, edX, Coursera' by the MOOC pioneer George Siemens), not to mention the impact of openly accessible courses in the 1970s and 1980s via ‘open university’ platforms that once used public television stations (e.g. British Columbia’s Knowledge Network), but we’ll leave the usually neglected historic foundations story to the side for now.

The lack of attention to the territorial dimensions of MOOCs came to the front of my mind when I attended a talk by Scott Page last week at UW-Madison during which I heard little about the geographies of MOOCs. As with much of the literature on MOOCs, Page’s talk included multiple references to enrollment numbers that generated ‘Ooos’ and ‘Wows’ from the crowd. Advocates, even reflective ones like Page, seem fixated on how many students sign up to take their MOOC courses. We’re now at a stage where tens of thousands of students is viewed as the desirable target. This drive to larger and larger numbers, much like the drive to build taller and taller skyscrapers (cf Dubai’s Burj Khalifa) is somewhat fetishistic but let’s give the MOOC people the benefit of the doubt in this exciting lift-off phase. Interestingly Page noted that maximizing volume is the defacto business model — an N-1 business model of sorts where scaling up numbers is the core objective, one that precedes an actual workable business model (that will eventually come, to be sure).

Now, as a geographer, three territorial silences initially come to my mind regarding the MOOCs discussion to date.

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