Friday, December 18, 2015

Democratization of Education - How do you define this?

I've been trying to catch up with things I've saved in my Pocket reading list over the course of this past semester, and one of the articles (or blog posts?) came across was about how MOOCs have failed to democratize education, and given that this was one of the fundamental goals of MOOCs this is a problem.

I don't think I know where exactly this goal, or rhetoric, about democratizing education came from.  I suspect that it was somewhere in the xMOOC discourse around the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012.  Even if xMOOC providers, and their proponents, didn't initiate this discourse, they certainly capitalized on it by providing cases of poor learners, who would normally not be served by higher education given their backgrounds, and MOOCs could help. It's easy when you have prodigies to start with, but that's a whole other story. The point is that xMOOC providers just added some fuel to the fire since this discourse suited them. And, it's not a bad goal to have, but you don't start with a service and say your service provides for that demographic.  You do a needs analysis on that demographic and build your services with those constraints and information in mind.  Anyway I digress, back to democratizing...

So, this author (who I am failing to remember right now), claims that MOOCs (xMOOCs I guess) seem to be taken and completed by people who already have college or graduate work completed, and they aren't the main beneficiaries of MOOCs.  Since there isn't a majority of poorer, non-college educated students who are benefiting from this, the goal of democratizing education is essentially bust.  I disagree.

I think everyone has latched on to democratization of education meaning only that education is available to those who have not had any education of this type in the past, so anyone who has not attended college.  I ascribe to a broader, more liberal, meaning of democratization of education, one which encompasses providing access to education in an open manner to anyone who desires it regardless of their background.  Just because someone has already gone to college and graduated, it doesn't mean that they want their education to stop.  I see the democratization of education as being able to provide accessible portals into lifelong learning, being a 'palace of the people' (sort of like the Boston Public Library) where people come to gain knowledge for development and delight.

While it is true that college graduates (hopefully) have some means to sustain themselves through gainful employment, it doesn't necessarily mean that they have the time to attend credit-bearing courses, or the money to spend on them.  If all they want to do is learn something new, either for professional or personal reasons, paying for a college course binds you in terms of time and cost. Work and family usually come before continued and life-long education, so it's something that's always thought of last.  Democratizing education to me means making the option for education, regardless of your educational background, more accessible in terms of flexibility of time, flexibility of cost, and flexibility in participation.

Just because one demographic has not benefitted from MOOCs (yet) doesn't mean that they are failing in democratization of education. It also does not mean that we should give up on that demographic.  Maybe MOOCs, and specific MOOC pedagogical designs, are better suited to that purpose.  Maybe MOOCs are not the answer, but a failure of democratization of education it is not.

What are your thoughts?
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