The growing popularity–or at least hype–of the so-called Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, may be changing the higher ed landscape and forcing administrators at bricks-and-mortar colleges to ponder the future of their own institutions. According to a recent NY Times article,

“The spread of MOOCs is likely to have wide fallout. Lower-tier colleges, already facing resistance over high tuition, may have trouble convincing students that their courses are worth the price. And some experts voice reservations about how online learning can be assessed and warn of the potential for cheating.”

The challenge lies mostly for voc-tech-oriented colleges and universities where job competency has never been their strong suit.  Those who receive training and skills through other experiences and need but a bit of theory may soon fulfill the dream of the Land Grant universities–granting university credentials without having a real university education. MOOC will soon be the way to grant workers the academic green card they’ve wanted.

What will still be needed in industry and society is truly educated people who understand the human condition, anticipate problems, imagine creative solutions and know the true source of Wisdom. MOOC have a long way to go to deliver that. They also have a long way to go to mentor students in the spirit of Luke 6:40 (“A student, when mature, will be like his teacher”). Perhaps we should be afraid that students will be like their MOOC teachers–distant and impersonal.

That might not necessarily change the higher ed landscape for the better. But if MOOC eliminates the need for the voc-tech university model, that will probably be a good thing for everyone, including the classical Christian liberal arts tradition.