As the open online learning movement comes to it fourth year of life, it is natural for attention to focus on matters of economic sustainability.
The path to cover the costs of open education will surely go through online courses that focus on career building and job skills. The fees that students pay for alternative credentials in these programs represent the surest path to cost recovery for both the schools creating these courses and programs.
As those of us in the open online learning world turn our attention to professional education, we would be wise to not lose our connection with the founding liberal arts institutions of the open online education movement.
Liberal arts schools bring an essential perspective, and a differentiated value proposition, to the world of MOOCs.
Liberal arts schools focus on character development. On building independent thinkers and strong communicators.
A liberal arts education is all about learning how to learn.
This focus on developing lifelong learning skills will serve liberal arts graduates particularly well in a dynamic and uncertain labor market. If today’s graduate will change jobs 12 to 15 times during their career, and if two-thirds of these jobs will be one’s that don’t currently exist, then we can expect significant advantages to accrue to liberal arts graduates.
An open online course developed and taught by a liberal arts institution will be different from skills-based and professional courses. We can expect open online course from liberal arts schools to privilege lateral and broad thinking, community and collaboration.
A liberal arts school will develop MOOCs not around what is currently hot in the labor market, but rather around a set of enduring intellectual themes and cross-disciplinary scholarly questions.
Open online courses from liberal arts institutions can be expected to generate more questions than answers.
The material covered will be less amenable to summative assessment.
The goal may be to disrupt and challenge the thinking of the learner, rather than impart a skill that can be quantified and measured.
Open online courses from both the professional and the liberal arts world’s are both necessary if the open online education movement is to continue to be vibrant and relevant.
We need to find ways that open online professional education can cross-subsidize the development of courses in the arts and sciences, courses that will not generate adequate revenues on their own to cover their costs.
By explicitly linking the economic success of professional MOOCs (developed by schools with professional schools), with the sustainability of non-professional open online learning (from liberal arts institutions), we can preserve the essential diversity and progressive spirit of the open online learning movement.
Liberal arts institutions must remain central players in the coalition of schools leading the open online learning movement.