Regina Saphier: The Anatomy of a LinkedIn Comment Thread on Coursera

Regina Saphier: The Anatomy of a LinkedIn Comment Thread about Coursera

A few days ago I read an article via LinkedIn, by John A. Byrne, entitled: She’s Doing An Elite MBA For Under $1,000

I believe John’s title is misleading, Laurie Pickard will compile MBA worthy coursework via MOOCs, like Coursera, a smart decision in my opinion, but most readers managed to miss the key points of his article precisely because they could not get over the sensationalizing nature of the headline, and because most of them have no clue about Coursera and MOOCs. It was all about getting readers rather limited attention, but a more precise headline would have been more productive (not sure who came up with the new title of his previously published article). Below I am going to incorporate the thread that unfolded after I commented on this article supportively and at the end I am going to talk about society’s futile resistance to change in the cyber age.

So, I started with this comment: She will be just fine, the job market will adapt to the “degreeless”. Get over it. She will also not be bored out of her mind while her husband is working, rather she will be able to remain employable. There are also the Coursera forums that are buzzing with ideas. And there will be alternatives to the old school “degree”. Again, get over it. Look forward, not backwards. If [over] 10 years ago I had these choices, beyond starting and completing Teachers College, Columbia University (one of the top education research institutions in the US), I would definitely have opted for Coursera, because for me it was about learning and not about mingling. For me even the Interdisciplinary Studies MA program was too narrow and limited! I am glad John A. Byrne supports the MOOC movement and revolution. My favorite is Coursera. Here is my post from last year regarding the same topic.

At this point I got one positive comment from Deidre M. Simpson thanking me for my viewpoints, and another comment from a man accusing me of being a Coursera staff writer, that frankly was rather flattering, but utterly wrong, so I responded in the following manner (at the beginning of the paragraph I reacted to the man who accused me with something that was not true, and finally I address the woman who agreed with me):

I am an independent blogger. Not affiliated with Coursera at all, beyond being a Coursera alumna and a regular viewer of their videos. There are a few millions of us “Courserians” around the world! My blog is personal, just like My TED Blog [and My Virtual Humanism Blog]. It is all about my opinion, expertise, and experiences, but it pleases me that it looks so professional that you think I am their staff writer. Imagine, there are independent thinkers and writers. … I am so glad that you Deidre M. Simpson understand where I am coming from! Thank you for your open mind! 🙂
At this point the critical person proceeded by sending me a connection request and responded by explaining that he cannot imagine going fully online with education. So, I reacted to his points like this:
I am glad that you now see that my points are totally independent and true. As are yours. Every human being has different personal needs. We have different personalities and learning styles. I never mingled at Teachers College, Columbia University (as I wrote previously), and I feel super comfortable in the virtual space. It was made for me, because I love ideas and I connect with people on “the idea level”. I have, if you like, an abstract relationship with humanity. Not that I dislike people, I just like them one on one, or online. I am sure your viewpoint is perfectly valid for you, I respect that. For me Coursera’s video lectures are perfect. By the way I am Hungarian, living in Budapest. I have not been to the US since 2002, and Coursera brought top courses right into my living room since 2012 for free. I have been following their development since then (also blogging about Coursera ever since), and their growth rate is just so amazing, but not at all surprising to me. And this is only the beginning! There are schools already incorporating these courses. There are meetups all over the world. There will be special mentoring centers too. The world and people will find all sorts of new ways to best utilize top MOOCs. Some people like Coursera as it is, some people mix it with other learning methods, and some people cannot wait to see what else is in their future in terms of online educational innovation. Plus, the Coursera team is working on a career service that will connect the best students with the right employers.
If I were the minister of education in paternalistic, backward and provincial Hungary, I would introduce Coursera into the national curriculum, to open minds and to completely democratize quality [higher] education. I completed the Gamification course via Coursera with all the essays, peer grading, tests and the exam in 2012, and those lectures (and the entire material) were Ivy League level, completely comparable to my Columbia University courses, and there were students to communicate and connect with. You have to understand the global impact of this initiative to truly appreciate it. Coursera, founded by two immigrants in the US, is not about the US. When you take a Coursera course, you are becoming a member of a global movement. It is not about you, it is not about me, it is about humanity moving into a new era of available quality learning. We make it useful in million different ways. We are learning pioneers on a never before seen scale. 🙂 Just imagine the global impact in 10 years!
At this point a new commenter wrote the following comment that made my day:
Thank you Regina for succinctly stating what I was tempted to write. I am too often dismayed by what I call the entropy of thought that attends so many online threads: Idea->response->distillation->opinion->argument->pedants->attack->cynicism->entropy… until someone with clarity of thought and skilled in discourse resets the conversation and restores equilibrium. My belief? I think there’s a boatload of folks who will cling to tradition and in some cases elitism while the trajectory of change leaves them wondering “what happened?” sooner than they ever expected. Unfair? Perhaps. But I believe we are observing an accelerating shift in value proposition, one that will ultimately reward the resilience in letting go more than the determination in holding on.
Again, this previous comment made my day, and most of my closing remarks at the end of this blog post were inspired by David Dreyer’s comment. Next this positive comment appeared:

I think you’re sending a vital message here. When we consider how knowledge work (and leisure) is being increasingly crowd-sourced, what makes the educational experience exempt from this change? I don’t think the importance of interaction in learning is going away… it’s just going a different way. Regina, you have a great statement in [your] blog …, quoted below for convenience: “As the newspaper business collapsed in print, so will education become a risky business for many who are unable to change and adapt.” Resistance remains futile!

Next a comment appeared that apparently was lacking appropriate foresight for the depth of change already taking place when corporate employers are looking at applicants, so I am not going to include that reaction. Finally, here is one that connects Coursera to the past cases of nontraditional education:

There’s nothing new here. It wasn’t that long ago that you could take and pass the bar exam without being able to waive around a diploma from an accredited school. Abraham Lincoln did it in the 19th century, an uncle of mine did it in the 20th century in Illinois – and, believe it or not, you can STILL do it in California and a few other states. I’m with Regina. Get used to it. If you can still waltz into court in some states and try a case with a person’s liberty on the line, it won’t be long before you can waltz into an interview room and impress a recruiter enough to get a job [with Coursera courses on your resume].
Indeed, there are people in the world with no degrees but amazing expertise. And there are millions of degree holders who are unable to perform in any capacity, due to lack of real applicable skills.
At this point I got so many positive reactions via LinkedIn messages that I could no longer write individual responses. I did not want to expose private messages, therefore I decided to only use the positive and public comments above, providing the name of the commenters. I proceeded by recreating and concluding the thread by producing this blog and additionally writing the following:

Thank you for openly supporting my narrative. Indeed the positive attitude regarding MOOCs and Coursera is not welcomed by most people with the overwhelming urge to:

– “sit in a lecture hall with 150 other students and a teaching assistant”, or
– “party wildly and drink with fellow fraternity members”,
– “spend the student loan or their parents’ money” and
– “go into debt for decades” and

– “probably be jobless offline soon after graduation” because technology is making more and more people jobless (first those with no skills in key online technologies, people who are unable to perform in distributed global teams, but who have shiny and rigid theoretical degrees from all sorts of expensive and/or questionable nineteenth century types of educational institutions in the twenty first century). And don’t you even get me started on the importance of an unconditional basic income for everyone.

What you pick up from peers in person (in a narrow local bubble) you can just as well learn during online interactions (only with a fresh and multidimensional global perspective), you just have to learn to meaningfully interact online (you should because like it or not, it is a necessity).

It is the lack of any personal “herd attraction” plus my interest in technology and science that permit me to appreciate the flow of independent personal development online, without

– meaningless social pressures, without
– selfish group expectations, without
– the ever present peer ignorance, without
– pathetic competition for its own sake, without

– much meaningful cooperation taking place at most companies.

Most people are not born for the road less traveled, or for “interactions with strangers” (yet online gamers immerse themselves in virtual worlds… I am no gamer but I understand how “the epic win” keeps them going virtually).

Neurotypical fear of something different and unexplored is stunning to me, and the large scale lack of foresight for gradual and natural adjustment in the information age is disappointing to me (yet not surprising). Employers are naturally shifting interest and are looking for more flexible and faster ways of education for their employees. MBA degrees and PhDs are less and less interesting or applicable. People with obvious self education in business and other subjects and with online skills are more and more interesting to employers. The question is no longer: Do you have an MBA degree? The question is: Are you able to perform, learn, train, and lead in online environments?

I see how the online dimension is faster embraced by those who are less neurotypical. In general neurodiversity is widespread online and people find like-minded peers on the other end of the world for cooperative study or work. Indeed as if the “holding on to the past” kinds of attitudes were still more dominant in traditional group thinkers’ minds, even after it is so apparent that change is nowadays much faster in business and in technology, and everything just keeps going online.

People still feel OK to publicly announce these anachronistic thoughts:

– “I want the past”,
– “I want to stay offline”,
– “I want everything stay the same”,
– “I want my local bubble”,
– “I want my brick classroom”,
– “I want my mediocre and expensive classroom professor who is actually never available one on one”,
– “I want to spend my life in a boring office (90 min. drive from my home one way)”,
– “I want the future be defined by my past terminology”,
– “I don’t want to think about the Earth and Humanity”,

– “I don’t care about human beings beyond my city limits, beyond our borders, not even beyond my family”… even though everything obviously is in turmoil around us, and “the later I adjust, the harder it will be for me”. These kinds of statements are sad.

Also, if we were to measure the wasted aggregated lifetimes spent with rejection and resistance in relation to change, we would be stunned. People making fantastically stubborn rejective statements about something they don’t even understand is surreal, and yet this is still the norm. The most popular comments regarding the symbolic MOOC MBA of a self educating, creative, independent, self motivating and courageous woman are negative!? I have to question this as a sociologically protective slowing mechanism that is supposed to shield communities from overwhelmingly dangerous changes.

Let me ask you this: What is protecting us from the still damaging levels of ignorance in the information age? What is more, this ignorance emanates from so called leaders minds too. How much damage and loss comes from rejection of meaningful, useful and timely change on a large scale? When will the availability of knowledge finally support the quick change in thinking to get to the right place faster in the best interest of most people? I feel that opinion leaders who hold their own communities back from embracing free and meaningful opportunities by making uninformed negative statements about Coursera and quality MOOCs are publicly showing how dangerous they are and should be condemned forcefully, instead of being rewarded for their mindless statements that keep missing the point. Don’t you think?

Finally, let me suggest this relevant blog post by me that I wrote over a year ago in support of Coursera, refusing the digital scepticism of a US based journalist.


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