There are some positive contributions that MOOCs can make to the intellectual environs of our time, but at what cost? Well, the first “at what cost” is perhaps the biggest attraction: most are free to anyone with online access. A video I watched recently predicted that the next generation of (college?) educated students will laugh in disbelief at the tuition that their predecessors paid for acquiring knowledge. The video claimed that “Tuition as we know it will be a thing of the past.”
Currently, the wealth of information coming from the World Wide Web is enormous, but, again, this information is not all true and many times we are suckered into believing the online information because it is supported by the majority report. MOOCs come against this to a certain degree by presenting the course information by experts in the field. Now, of course, this does not make these teachers and professors right, but they are the ones who are putting their reputations on the line (forgive the pun), and their credentials earn them the right to be heard on their topics and lectures.
What shall we say of these things? Better yet, how might the Word of God guide us in thinking through these signs of the times? We must first realize that knowledge is not our end goal. Rather, it is God, the Revealer of knowledge, who is our end goal. As I have emphatically stated before, God should not be separated from the knowledge that depends upon Him. Knowledge is only contingent upon the Eternal; it is dependent upon the only true Independent. Unfortunately and to its own demise, the culture will pursue knowledge without due recognition to its Author and Revealer.
Second, knowledge must be viewed as an avenue to wisdom which is biblically defined as living skillfully and pleasingly before the Lord. Proverbs clearly advocates that wisdom is worth monetary investment. The current entitlement and MOOC generation is crying out, “How dare you charge me for information? Who are you to keep such things to yourself and only give it to those who pay?” Yet this is what the Bible emphatically
states; we should value the pursuit of wisdom enough to pay for it. Psychologically, changes occur in our value system when we actually invest our resources in something. Our investments reveal the things we consider valuable. (A quick side note: I was always blown away by some of my female high school students who would willingly and gladly spend hundreds, and some even thousands, of dollars a year on facial and hair products, not to mention their slavery to the fashion market, but thought that any comparable investment in the grey matter under their trendy hair and behind their finely painted faces was highway robbery.)
Third, as Jesus points out in Luke 6:40, a student is to learn from his teacher and to be ultimately like his teacher. It stands to reason that we ought to be choosing our teachers wisely by holding them up to biblical standards. There is little to be learned from online teachers and certainly the personhood of the instructor is lacking completely. The student immersed in a hodgepodge of MOOCs will come out on the other side of an education as a composite of secular and ungodly nonsense with a sprinkling of computer-like mechanisms. Remember the old adage of education only requiring a teacher, a student, and a log?
Fourth, the lack of Christian worldview dominates the scene. I am a full advocate of redemption; not just for our salvation and thanks to God alone, but also for our participation in the redemption of our culture for the cause of the Kingdom of God. So while a Christianized version of MOOCs may not solve all the issues, I can easily envision—and pray and hope for—a Christ-centered approach to MOOC-driven education. It would be very good if this approach were to be supplemented by other factors that we have noted above or others we have not encountered yet. I speak from experience when I say that too many Christians today, even—especially—in academia, do not hold to a proper Christian worldview just because they profess the true faith. A Christian MOOC program should be led by top Christian thinkers who are capable of thinking “Christianly.” And as with many things with which Christians try to compete, money—or the lack thereof—sadly becomes a factor. MOOCs need to be redeemed for the Kingdom—without question—but I still do not believe that they are the best solution for our needs today.
In their own words, MOOC advocates proudly pronounce, “Knowledge replaces ideological dogma.” This should give you a sense of the cultural war in which we are about to engage. Knowledge will be dictated by a supposed authoritative voice; content will be downloaded into the students’ brains as though those students were computers. What they consider ideological is that which is antiquated and impractical. What they consider dogma is belief without substance. In their secular minds, Christianity and its worldview will have no place in this MOOC world; indeed, it will not just suffer neglect, but premeditated murder.
MOOCs have the potential to dominate the educational scene, whether we are talking secular or Christian settings. The plan is simple and laid out for the interested student: stay at home, consume the content, prove your competency, get a badge, a certificate, or perhaps even a degree, get a job, and live better debt-free when it is all over. Education will only be an end in itself, a pathway to self-betterment. “Knowing God and the world He has given us is admirable, but a luxury we cannot afford,” some believers may even say. But we in the minority who actually believe in classical Christian education have the ripe opportunity to take advantage of the direction the 99%ers will go. We will stand by our tried and true methods of learning, believing that character content cannot be advanced over a computer screen. The Lord wants a people of substantive content and character. Let us rise up and continue to fight the good fight.
If this educational revolution fulfills its self-proclaimed destiny, we will see an onslaught of expert ignoramuses, while we in the classical Christian educational niche will find ourselves at complete odds with the system. I paradoxically find this exciting. This is our opportunity to demonstrate the actual strength of our devotion to the historic orthodox Christian faith, to live a life of discipleship as we follow a real live mentor, to think like a truly free-in-Christ person without false pretenses of knowledge, to love knowledge because of our love for the Creator of knowledge, to exercise wisdom that comes from above and is practical here below, and to do all things as unto the Lord. The divide will be great. Let the glory of the Lord shine on us as we are His light, that others will be drawn to truth.