The Guardian homeHumanities are at risk, less from the free education market than the free market strategies in education, says Aurélien Mondon.
Let's be clear, access to quality lectures for free is a fantastic achievement, allowing hundreds of thousands to access knowledge for its own sake. But with Tedx, Coursera and others like them taking part in the democratisation of education by removing it from the shackles of consumerism and the market, there is a risk that such developments will be detrimental to the exploration of knowledge in the long term. Carole Cadwalladr recently reported in the Observer that free online access to tertiary courses and lectures was set to revolutionise education. She imagined a United Kingdom where "the 'second-tier' universities … could struggle in the brave new free education market world". What her piece ignored is that these universities are already struggling, not because of the "free education market", but because of the hegemony of free market strategies in education. This is particularly striking in the humanities, an area of study to which only one paragraph was dedicated, but that could be the greatest loser in this recent transformation of the education landscape.
A world where online learning is generalised and ends up replacing other education delivery modes could seriously impact the original purpose of a university. Most of the examples cited by Cadwalladr are from what is often termed the 'hard sciences'. Even in these disciplines, a problem lies in what seems to me the central element of higher education learning: the development of critical abilities and the potential for students to express their own original analytical skills. Assessment marked automatically, where only one answer is correct, does not leave space for human imagination and, by extension, progress. But critical skills are also (or should be) central to assessment in the humanities, from good essay writing to more developed research. Read more...