To unbundle the university

Ethan Gach, responding to Aaron Bady’s critique of the piece by Clay Shirky that I quoted a month ago, discusses exactly what part of higher education will (or should) be unbundled by the coming of MOOCs and other forms of online learning:

The original point of the university was the efficiency of large classes and large faculties all housed in the same location. That efficiency can now be gained in other ways. Especially if you already have the tools to do most of the learning on your own, which large lectures more or less require anyway. […]

What putting lectures online does do is allow them to be revised, stored, and retrieved whenever need be. This is the point of textbooks, and while I would be the first to recognize the limits of most of them, they are extremely effective as repositories for standardized information and references. […]

Of course, to simply recommend then that all large lectures be turned into online courses skips an important question, which is whether they should be turned into small seminars instead. And this is the real alternative to online lectures (since, unlike Bady, I do think the physical lecture is a dead medium).

While not agreeing with every aspect of Gach’s reasoning – of which the above is only one small example – I think his contribution to the debate is very much worth reading.