I’ve noted before a significant shift in the MOOC commentary—from arguments about whether MOOCs are good or bad to a recognition that they are here to stay (at least for now). This has led to some more productive discussions about how best to use them, for example, a recent article in which Tata Interactive Systems’ Sahana Chattopadhyay suggests that precisely because they are open, MOOCs can forge diversity and innovation.
Chattopadhyay suggests that MOOCs can create diverse communities that are simply not possible in other forms of learning. And indeed, that is what has happened. Pick any MOOC and you will likely find a student group made up of people from different countries, different cultures, different fields, and different educational backgrounds. You will find students who didn’t graduate from high school right along with students who have master’s degrees, students with intensive training in the topic along with students who have never studied it before.
These aren’t groups that co-mingle much in the halls of traditional higher education institutions, and that’s a good thing.
Chattopadhyay writes: “Unlike universities where strict entrance criteria filter out aspiring students, MOOCs do not have such [a] filtering mechanism. Moreover, because the filtering mechanism in most universities operate at a cognitive level, they automatically filter out learners with different abilities, thus moving a step closer to removing diversity—maybe not of color, race, or religion—but of thought.”
When we talk about diversity in education, the focus is usually on more external aspects of diversity. But for innovation to happen, what we really need is this diversity of thought. David Burkus wrote earlier this year in Forbes about why innovation needs outsiders. It all boils down to this: people who are experts in a field tend to be somewhat myopic; they are unable to look at a problem with new eyes. Outsiders, however, don’t have enough expertise to know what isn’t supposed to work, so they are able to propose fresh solutions.
Innovation is the key to success today—for communities, schools, companies, and so on. As Chattopadhyay says, it’s time to shift our focus away from how MOOCs can benefit people individually and onto how we can harness the collective power of the diverse individuals the courses bring together.