‘Farm to Brain’: Locavore Education vs. MOOCs

‘Farm to Brain’: Locavore Education vs. MOOCs

September 19, 2013, 11:17 am

By A. W. Barnes

We are in the midst of the MOOC-ification of higher education. Depending on your response to massive open online courses, they represent either a promising future or the downfall of higher education.

“By and large, the delivery platforms for MOOCS—Udacity, Coursera, edX—were developed and are managed by large research institutions, like Stanford, MIT, and Harvard. For those of us who don’t work in large institutions, I want to suggest, contrary to common wisdom, that the MOOC-ification of higher education is a boon. Not because it will give us the chance to cut costs by substituting MOOCs for what we do well on our small campuses, but because it lets us sharpen the contrast between our educational model, which emphasizes the one-on-one and the hands-on, and the remote and generic education that MOOCs must of necessity offer.

“As MOOCs become the Costco of higher education, small colleges have the chance to argue that we offer a healthier and far more nutritious alternative.


“Given a chance, a farm-to-brain argument could persuade philanthropic organizations like the Gates Foundation—which has poured millions into the kind of bland generic knowledge we see coming out of MOOCs—to redirect their efforts to a small-is-better philosophy. Such an argument could even influence President Obama and his education policies, which seem to echo Gates’s MOOC philosophy.  (Perhaps Mrs. Obama can take the president out to the White House garden to explain that a farm-to-brain education is better for our country.)

What will become more challenging for us administrators in farm-to-brain institutions is to choose to adopt more efficient business practices to reduce the cost of the educations we offer.”

Perhaps by “efficient business practices” he means the streamlining of provosts, assistant deans, and general administration (“rethinking our financial structures,” in the article, perhaps).

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