MOOCs - Herding education to the slaughter?

By Dominic Pettman, 23 May 2014
Image: If you look long enough into a MOOC, the MOOC looks back. 'Nietzsche's Moustache', Not Vital, 2003.

Massively open online courses (MOOCs) have been sold as the future of higher education but there is more than a whiff of ‘primitive accumulation’ at the new frontier. Dominic Pettman examines the state-and-vulture-capitalist looting of ‘the last great unplundered resource’ and considers some other definitions of educational value


Friedrich Nietzsche, famously a full professor at the tender age of 24, was in a good position to develop an acute sensitivity to the university as machine:


The student listens to lectures . . . Very often the student writes at the same time he listens to lectures. These are the moments when he dangles from the umbilical cord of the university. The teacher . . . is cut off by a monumental divide from the consciousness of his students . . . A speaking mouth and many, many ears, with half as many writing hands: that is the external apparatus of the academy; set in motion, that is the educational machinery of the university.[1]


Today, we are living in an age in which many are poised to cut this umbilical cord altogether, while others would prefer to keep the connection, but stretch the flesh all the way around the globe, so it can double as a fibre optic cable.


New values on new tablets


Like the economy itself, higher education seems to be in a perpetual state of crisis. In the United States – where I have worked for nearly ten years– universities nevertheless like to consider themselves the last bastions of true homegrown industry. Despite the mushrooming of new educational institutions in China, the Middle East, and South America, the operating assumption here is that everyone around the world desires an American education. ‘This country may not make things anymore,’ so the logic goes, ‘but we still produce the finest minds the world has to offer, no matter the field.’ Whether this is an accurate representation of reality or not, a college education in the US is still a precious thing, at least for those who can afford it. Despite the daunting costs involved, some economists still insist that it is the best investment you can make in your financial future, but this of course depends on the institution and the area of study.[2] This yield is measured in prospective income, of course, for no mathematical formula can measure the benefits to one’s soul, if I may use such a word. American parents and students, however, crushed by more than 1 trillion in collective debt, are becoming increasingly skeptical of the rather intangible benefits of higher education. The rate of cultural climate change is such that the new batch of billionaires can try to bribe the brightest young minds not to go to college, in order to better jump feet first into the world of digital entrepreneurialism (as Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, is doing now, offering 100k scholarships for young tech developers to skip that bothersome ‘higher education’ requirement for a well-rounded life).[3] But from either side of the debate, it is clear that universities – like real estate and medical care – create their own greenhouse effect, leading to huge bubbles that must surely burst.     


Enter MOOCs – Massively Open Online Courses. While the precise form and definition of MOOCs are hotly debated, and evolving rapidly, they all depend on an updated version of ‘distance learning.’ The nutshell version, however, is an online course designed for large-scale participation. For those pushing this ‘revolution’ in education, MOOCs will solve all the systemic problems of higher education through the unprecedented power and potential of the internet. Classes will be ‘scalable’ from, say, 100 students up to 10,000, when digitised and put online. Being a student will not cost a bomb because the costs of real estate – and all those other real world factors with which ‘bricks-and-mortar’ campuses are forced to contend – don’t necessarily come into the equation. Location-based analog education will morph triumphantly into omni-accessible e-learning. Or so the rhetoric goes. There are many high-profile cheerleaders for this anticipated paradigm shift, who claim that education needs the next killer app in order to remain relevant. David Shay, for instance, takes the long, oversimplified view:


If Academia 1.0 [ancient Greece] was about institutionalizing access to the masters and their oral culture, and Academia 2.0 [the modern age] was about a transition from orality to literacy and access to the knowledge of certain masters through physical books, then Academia 3.0 is about universal access and social learning.[4]


Indeed, MOOCs have given birth to more Gutenberg comparisons than you can throw a museum full of printing presses at.


Professors, however, and other educators, are not necessarily so excited about the vision of the future these online evangelists paint for the panting pundits. Indeed they are concerned about what is already happening in terms of implementing (some would say ‘forcing’) the change. In the pedagogic trenches, MOOCs are considered a symptom of wider economic patterns which effectively vacuum resources up into the financial stratosphere, leaving those doing the actual work with many more responsibilities, and far less compensation. Basic questions about the sustainability of this model remain unanswered, but it is clear that there is little room for enfranchised, full-time, fully-compensated faculty. Instead, we find an army of adjuncts servicing thousands of students; a situation which brings to mind scenes from Metropolis rather than Dead Poets Society. (While it’s true I’d much rather watch the first film, I’d rather live in the later one.) Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of MOOC-provider Udacity, predicts that in 50 years there will be no more than 10 higher education institutions in the US. Now there’s a utopian vision for you.


How to do pedagogy with a hammer


Matters were complicated further in 2013, when the Californian Senate passed a bill stating that Universities are obliged to recognise online courses for credit, and indeed to provide such courses if demand outpaces supply. As the New York Times pointed out, this is ‘the first time that state legislators have instructed public universities to grant credit for courses that were not their own – including those taught by a private vendor, not by a college or university.’[5] It is worth noting that this bill passed unanimously, since this is not only thinly-veiled blackmail, but a wholesale shift of authority away from teachers and towards technocrats, with little history or understanding about the field they are now annexing. It denies faculty the right to make decisions about pedagogic quality, and what constitutes a legitimate course. Say goodbye to the idea of a carefully crafted and sequenced curriculum if ‘knowledge’ is simply treated in the same way as Xboxes or Nike shoes – a matter of supply and demand. The notion of admissions – a certain threshold of skill acquisition and expression, which students need to acquire before continuing – is effectively banished. Of course, this latter aspect can be framed as a democratic mandate, opening up the ivory tower to any who would like to step inside its walls. But in practice it is closer to a Trojan horse, designed to eviscerate education as an actual experience. The upbeat mantra of ‘access for all’ is a red herring, since it could very well be access to something that is incapable of responding to student needs.    


What makes all this so hard for professors to swallow, especially in California, is that this new corporate-driven mandate is being considered by the very same government body which voted to decimate public funding for universities, leading to a brain-drain to other states (which themselves are considering taking the same Draconian and short-sighted steps). Meanwhile, huge subsidies are provided for Silicon Valley, where a lot of the for-profit third-party providers of MOOCs are based. That’s right: a wide public investment in the education of future citizens and tax-payers is traded in for extremely narrow private gain. (We won’t even mention how much money California allocates for prisons, many of these profit-driven as well.) Lillian Taiz, the president of the California Faculty Association, notes, ‘What’s really going on is that after the budget cuts have sucked public higher education dry of resources, the Legislature’s saying we should give away the job of educating our students.’[6] No wonder conspiracy theories abound that hedge funds, lobbyists, and speculators zoomed in on education at the turn of the millennium – as the last great unplundered resource – artificially lowering the value of the university experience by hollowing out its essential core. An all-too familiar story; made all the more vivid by the recent English translation of Thomas Piketty’s Capital: vulture capitalists swooping in and making a quick fortune by monetising any meat left on the bones. I believe the agricultural equivalent is known as ‘slash-and-burn.’


Distanced learning


For companies pushing MOOCs, education is no different from entertainment: it is simply a question of delivering ‘content.’ But learning to think exclusively via modem is like learning to dance by watching YouTube videos. You may get a sense of it, but no-one is there to point out mistakes, deepen your understanding, contextualise the gestures, shake up your default perspective, and facilitate the process. The role of the professor or instructor is not simply the shepherd for the transmission of information from point A to point B, but the co-forging of new types of knowledge, and critically testing these for various versions of soundness and feasibility. Wisdom may be eternal, but knowledge – both practical and theoretical – evolves over time, and especially exponentially in the last century, with all its accelerated technologies. Knowledge is always mediated, so we must consciously take the tools of mediation into account. Hence the need for a sensitive and responsive guide: someone students can bounce new notions off, rather than simply absorb information from. Without this element, distance learning all too often becomes distanced learning. Just as a class taken remotely usually leads to a sea of remote students.   


Indeed, experts have noted that those who need education most, the unmoneyed and marginalised, are precisely those who require an actual, present, human guide most in order to advance. Moreover, students of colour ‘benefit the least from online instruction and flourish most when engaged on campus through residential housing, mentorships, and involvement in student organizations and community service’[7] (Gregory Jay). As Jonathan Marks notes, in reference to one of the biggest MOOC providers,,while Coursera’s mission of open access is democratic, its education is elitist, designed for those who already possess the judgment, independence, and discipline to teach themselves well.’[8] Even Sebastian Thrun himself, the CEO of Udacity, has recently admitted that it was naïve of his company and its rhetoric to consider students to be demographically-neutral consumers. After all, when it comes to those ‘from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives…[for them] this medium is not a good fit.’[9] It should be no surprise then that ‘a survey of active MOOC users in more than 200 countries and territories has revealed that most students on these courses are already well educated — and that they are predominantly young males seeking to advance their careers.’[10] Hence the schadenfreude felt by myself and my colleagues when one of the most hyped MOOC courses of last year, hosted by Coursera, collapsed into a heap in the first day when 40,000 students flooded the system. The topic? ‘Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application.’


TED talks are fine for interesting factoids to mention at your next dinner party, but hardly the model of critical depth or complexity one needs to nurture minds for extended focus, deep history, and intricate context. And if you thought lectures are often boring, then videos of lectures are excruciating. (Audio podcasts less so, but that might just be me.) Personally, I love learning about ‘the world’ through MIT’s open-courseware or documentaries on TV. But I don’t expect credit for watching these, nor assume I’ve done anything but scratched the surface of the topic. Indeed, the rose-coloured hope of the MOOC-spruikers – that credentials could be somehow untethered to your identity – has recently come crashing down to the ground.[11] What’s more, experience has shown that online discussion boards are no replacement for face-to-face interaction; for talking through ideas, methods, or techniques. And while intellectual communities can flourish on the Internet, these are usually established thinkers, who benefitted from tried-and-tested forms of instruction, who then seek each other out online. Anyone who has taken or taught an exclusively online course knows that it tends towards Tweets From Nowhere. Critical thinking, I would venture, is a martial art. Would the Karate Kid have learned his holistic skills through VHS subscription? Teachers provide the transformative spark. It’s sensei, not Sony, stupid.


So the problem is essentially about modes of engagement. ‘MOOCs assume a one-size-fits-all approach,’ writes one critic, ‘which might work for developing iPhone apps, but won’t necessarily work for teaching ethnographic film.’[12] Universities are not warehouses full of ‘information.’ If that was the case, they would have died a long time ago, with the introduction of campus libraries. Rather they are dynamic factories, lateral workshops, experimental labs, centripetal studios, speculative ateliers. In the US, lectures are often punctuated by student questions or comments, which can prompt a professor to shift gears or clarify something that the whole room was silently hoping would be clarified. Plato’s dialogues are alive and well on campuses in 2014, providing the same sense of shared exploration and discovery (though thankfully including a greater diversity of voices). In the Silicon Valley vision, the nuances and nebulous nature of human education – as well as the world’s many profound problems – are reduced to ‘information’, ‘innovation’, ‘disruption’, and ‘design.’ The importance of ‘being there’ is ignored, along with two little things called Time and Space. We know more than before about how important emotional involvement is for learning. The professor’s role is to demonstrate the stakes involved. It is a performance of commitment, sensibility, trust, and what Leo Bersani and Adam Phillips calls ‘impersonal intimacy.’ Pre-packaged courses will smell bad within months, especially if they are about the contemporary world. I have to update my PowerPoint presentations every year, and in much more substantive ways than simply replacing the photos of Paris Hilton with Kim Kardashian.


You are the commodity


Believe it or not, there is more to life than efficient delivery of preconstituted modules. University is as much about socialisation as education (as if the two could be separated). Here young people learn how to best inhabit the public sphere, without their parents or guardians. Much learning occurs in the hallways, dorms, quads, coffee shops, and streets, and not just the classroom. There is something very powerful and motivating about being in an unfamiliar space to do this; and not just one’s bedroom. To do so unencumbered by wage-based labour is a true privilege, sketching the outlines of a beckoning communicative utopia, and one which everyone should have access to during the formative late teenage years. We should be figuring out how to continue funding this kind of experience for everyone, rather than diluting the possibility for all but the anointed few. Which is not to exclude technology for the sake of an Arcadian fantasy of co-presence; but to recognise that new media should be enlisted in very deliberate ways to encourage potential pedagogic connections which allow for the full confrontations and challenges of the face-to-face. (Itself the model for ethics, for many 20th century philosophers.)


Then again, this traditional ‘college experience’ is looking increasingly precarious, as university administrators look to the pharmakon of ‘technology’ to bring down already compromised budgets. Academia has been relatively sheltered from the neoliberal onslaught on those basic rights and conditions hard-won by the labour movement, and subsequently revoked by governments who prioritise the figure of the shareholder rather than the welfare of the citizen. But in the time it has taken to order a particularly elusive inter-library loan, the professoriate have found themselves dazed and blinking in front of students who have internalised the anti-intellectual discourse of higher education as commodity. Class instructors, almost overnight, have become reframed even by their own institutions as service providers delivering highly instrumentalised ‘learning outcomes’: a symptom of the global subsumption of any and all labour under the metaphor of value, while cutting the actual level of economic investment in the education process. Hence the increasing percentage of Deans who speak with Kool-Aid coloured lips, talking in pre-defeatist terms of financial ‘realities.’[13] To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To a cash-strapped administrator, everything looks like an opportunity to implement a MOOC.


As Ian Bogost, one of the most visible and articulate critics of MOOCs puts it,


The fundamental problem isn’t one of cost containment, it’s one of funding — of understanding why the cost containment solution appeared in the first place. We collectively ‘decided’ not to fund education in America. Now we’re living with the consequences. [14]




The more we buy into the efficiency argument, the more we cede ground to the technolibertarians who believe that a fusion of business and technology will solve all ills. But then again, I think that's what the proponents of MOOCs want anyway. The issue isn't online education per se, it's the logics and rationales that come along with certain implementations of it.[15]


So what’s wrong with MOOCs? (Other than the name itself, which seems to refer to the hybrid bovine-human herd-animal that Nietzsche held in such contempt?). Well, it’s there in the very first word. ‘Massive.’ A lot of things can be massive. But true learning never is. (Which is why, according to the statistics I’ve seen, 5-10 percent of the people who enroll in these pseudo-classes complete them.) Given that MOOCs are so heavily influenced by the rhetoric of cybernetics, it’s supremely ironic that its adherents forget about the importance of ‘feedback’; or at least the logistics involved. You simply cannot ‘scale this up’ without resorting to ‘peer-to-peer’ learning (too often merely a euphemism for outsourcing teaching to the students themselves). The logistics involved are at once mind-boggling and depressing. What about identity fraud? Or plagiarism? Making education ‘social’ essentially hands the entire enterprise of self-formation to the over-coded algorithms and tunnel vision of Mark Zuckerberg. And like Facebook, if the service is free, then you are the commodity being sold. As media theorist Richard Grusin notes, ‘MOOCs are extractive industries. The knowledge that they are exploiting was gained over long years of hard work in small, in-person seminars or archives, representing a resource that will become finite in a MOOCified future.’[16] One also wonders where this super-sized graduating class is supposed to look for jobs. Certainly not in education (unless you develop an app to automatically replace photos of Kim Kardashian with the next default pop culture touchstone reference in all online presentations).


The Medium and the Massive 


No doubt, I realise that I risk sounding like a nostalgic humanist Luddite, suspicious of a technological intrusion into the classroom. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth (as any glance at my books will confirm). I have been an early adopter of what’s now called ‘the digital humanities’, and I use blogs, wikis, and other online tools to complement all my courses. I have taught Romantic literature in computer labs. I have had students ‘beam in’ to my seminars quasi-holographically, from other countries; but not en masse. These tools are supplements to the classroom experience, and should not be considered surrogates. Marshall McLuhan was half-right when he insisted that the electronic age is ushering in a post-literate society. But no matter how we like to talk of new audio-visual forms of literacy, there is still the ‘typographic man’ pulling the strings, encouraging us to express ourselves alphabetically. Indeed, the electronic and the literate are not mutually exclusive, much as people like to pit them against each other.


As my techno-savvy colleague Trebor Scholz puts it, ‘For-profit MOOCs completely ignore the history of online education, collaboration, and have no good understanding of what learning is about.’ The proof?


None of the major MOOC providers have hired anyone trained in instructional design, the learning sciences, educational technology, course design, or other educational specialties to help with the design of their courses. They are hiring a lot of programmers.[17]


So the key question is not how to keep the internet out of the classroom, but how to balance the truly remarkable and untested potentials of digital technology with the crucial element of engagement and actual interaction. We need to keep the score at: Baby 1, Bathwater 0.


From MOOCs to DOCCs


One of the most promising visions of online education is spear-headed by my colleague and Dean of the School of Media at the New School, Anne Balsamo. Together with her collaborative partners, Balsamo has launched FemTechNet, which is not a MOOC but a DOCC (Distributed Online Collaborative Course). Inseparable from ‘the long histories of feminist engagements with technology and cultural innovation,’ this instance of digital innovation inhabits the massive gaps which the Silicon Boy’s club’s obsession with the ‘massive’ itself creates. This not only ‘disrupts’ the e-masculinist assumptions about genius, history, and technology (cf. the worship of Steve Jobs), but also acts as a progressive reminder that the medium is the message. In an interview with the appropriately named journal of gender, new media, and technology, Ada, Balsamo states:


We see our mission and process as feminist in that size is not of importance, whereas collaboration, experimentation, power sharing and a DIY ethic take center stage. Our project uses technology to enable interdisciplinary and international conversations while privileging situated diversity and networked agency.[18]


This means that a dialogic approach is valued more highly than the asymmetrical ‘speaking from on high’ apparatus that Nietzsche held such contempt for (all the while finding mountain tops from which to make his own uber-masculine pronouncements).




Unlike a MOOC, where the instructors and course experts are centralised at a single institution (i.e., Stanford, Harvard, MIT), in this DOCC, students from across the globe enroll ‘at large’ to learn (access the knowledge) from the center. The ‘Dialogues in Feminism and Technology’ DOCC is built on the notion that not only the students but also the teachers/instructors/experts, as well as the institutional infrastructures for granting ‘credit’ or supporting a learning community, are all distributed across the globe. Even though Alex and Anne serve as the coordinators of the ‘Dialogues in Feminism and Technology’ DOCC, they are neither the instructors nor the main learning designers. The teachers are those who arrange to offer a nodal class for students enrolled in their educational institutions. The teachers are those who agree to offer ‘independent studies,’ ‘directed reading experiences,’ or extra credit for those students who seek credit for participating in the DOCC. The teachers are those who sign on as ‘at-large’ learners, who want to engage in the material offered as part of the course. The teachers are those who ‘drop in’ as informal learners because they are interested in a particular topic on the course schedule. The teachers are also the students. Everyone is a participant in a massively distributed work of feminist innovation.[19]


One fascinating innovation with FemTechNet is the attempt to redefine and articulate new ‘learning objects’, so that subjectivity itself – the sovereign fetish of Enlightenment pedagogy – is understood as embedded within socio-technical networks. In other words, this is not a fable about reconnecting with human roots in the face of alienating technologies, but better appreciating how our new electronic tools shape our sense of self, and the possible valences that affords (whether this be to form an alliance with other people, or institutions, or catalytic things).


Massively Oppressive Offline Courses


The question remains open, however, as to what extent access is restricted to students who have already jumped through the financial hoops necessary to enter the system of recognised accreditation. After all, higher education is, on the whole, prohibitively expensive, especially in the land of the free. Senator Elizabeth Warren, for instance, has been very active at trying to shame the federal government for its policy of giving corporations all sorts of tax breaks and zero-interest loans, while profiting to the tune of 51 billion dollars on the backs of student loans.[20] This is simply ‘obscene’, as she puts it, where young citizens graduate with crushing debt that can take a lifetime to erase. Some of that cost could feasibly be off-set by the institutions themselves, who, in some cases, are currently hiring upper-level administrators at around eight times (!) the rate of faculty.[21] But a lot of it is built in to the tax structures and priorities of the country, whereby bombs outweigh books by a million-to-one.


Academe does indeed harbor some ugly secrets, but these are not necessarily the ones routinely demonised in the press (i.e., tenured ‘dead wood’ professors), but rather what Jay calls


massively oppressive on-campus courses that squeeze the most tuition dollars out of students with the minimal return on investment, and the least respect for just arrangements of academic labor.[22]


The digital snake oil peddled by Coursera and Udacity is not an alternative, but an intensification of this myopic logic. So called indyMOOCs – non-profit ventures like edX, that include local meet-ups – seem more balanced, but still raise the same thorny questions about approach and logistics. Meanwhile, the students themselves continue to work two jobs and one unpaid internship, while studying full-time, and also trying to ‘enjoy’ being in their early 20s (as the advertising for products they can’t afford exhort them to do).


Return of the MOOC?


As I write, there is a sense among the professoriate that the MOOC monster has been somewhat stung, if not slayed. Like the dreaded creature in any horror movie worth its salt, however, a return is inevitable – especially when the protagonists least expect it. (For instance, just this morning the publically-funded New York Public Library announced that it would foot the bill for instructors to guide smaller groups in person through some of Coursera’s proprietary massive online courses, ‘as part of its own public-service mission.’)[23] But even if MOOCs as currently conceived and implemented do die, we are left with the same economic ‘realities’, and the same narrow circuits of thinking, which connect the sinister dots along the continuum between pedagogic distraction and destruction: ‘assessment’ (whereby more funds are allocated to ‘assess’ an educational initiative than to staff or mount it), ‘data’ (in which the quantative enjoys its ultimate triumph over more subtle and potentially revealing modes of interpretation), and ‘learning outcomes’ (where professors are forced to stuff the warm gelatinous sculptures of their conceptual edifice into the cold Tupperware boxes of mythical categorical clarity). Not to mention once again, the unethical minefield of soaring tuition rates, crushing student debt, a demoralised army of adjuncts, and the increasing adoption of automatic grading machines (surely the most tangible sign that we have tipped somewhere along the line into a dystopian situation: as if Kafka and Orwell were joint-appointed the Global Ministers for Education).


The sense that professors lost a war that they didn’t even know had been declared is increasingly difficult to shake off. Yet with FemTechNet and other such initiatives and counter-offensives, there is room for cautious optimism. It is not through rejecting technology, but by being mindful of its dangers, and strategic with its potentials, that the committed stewards of higher education can avoid being herded into the slaughterhouse.  


            *                      *                      *


At the end of last semester, I received a wonderful email from a student, who said – with only a touch of irony – that she would never have written such an outstanding final paper if it weren’t for my ‘sense of disappointment’, which she apparently felt all too palpably while we were discussing an early draft. This made me smile, as it perfectly captured the way that subtle interpersonal signals, including or especially body language, can inspire people to reach the proverbial next level. After all, no one wrote a great paper because they wanted to impress Wikipedia.



Dominic Pettman is Chair of Liberal Studies, New School for Social Research, and Professor of Culture & Media, Eugene Lang College. His most recent books are Human Error: Species-Being and Media Machines (Minnesota, 2011), Look at the Bunny: Totem, Taboo, Technology (Zero Books, 2013), and In Divisible Cities (Dead Letter Office / Punctum Press, 2013).   




[1] Quoted in Friedrich Kittler’s Discourse Networks 1800/1900, p. 18. Moreover, in the Portable Nietzsche translation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche appears as a prophet who even foresaw the iPad: ‘Companions, the creator seeks, not corpses, not herds and believers. Fellow creators, the creator seeks – those who write new values on new tablets.’ (136).


[2] For a recent example of the popular discourse around the loaded question of whether a college education is ‘worth it,’ see The Economist’s online editorial column of 5 April 2014,


[4] Shay David, ‘Academia 3.0: The Convergence of Mobile and Video Technology’, Huffington Post, 14 March 2013,


[5] Tamar Lewin, ‘California Bill Seeks Campus Credit for Online Study’, The New York Times online, 12 March 2013),


[6] Ibid.


[7] Gregory Jay, ‘MOOCs: A Cautionary Note’, Thinking C21, 13 March 2013,


[8] Jonathan Marks, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Disruption?’ Inside HigherEd, 5 October 2012,


[9] Tressie McMillan, ‘The Audacity: Thrun Learns a Lesson and Students Pay’, 19 November 2013,


[10] Ezekiel J. Emanuel, ‘Online education: MOOCs taken by educated few’, Nature 503, 342, 21 November 2013,


[11] From Udacity’s website: ‘effective May 16, we will stop offering free non-identity-verified certificates. The courseware will still be available, so you can still learn for free. But you can’t get our credentials unless you give us a chance to find out who you are and vouch for your skills.’ (Posted 16 April 2014).


[12] P. Kerim Friedman, ‘The First MOOC Was a Book’, Savage Minds: Notes and Queries in Anthropology, 13 December 2012,


[13] Which is not to downplay gratitude due to many Deans around the world fighting against the tide, balancing challenging pragmatics with good politics. Not least, the high-profile case of Dean Robert Buckingham, of the University of Saskatchewan, who was recently stripped of tenure and fired for his sceptical comments regarding the restructuring and rebranding of his institution (only to be promptly reinstated following the subsequent outcry).


[14] Ian Bogost, ‘MOOCs are Marketing’, 18 July 2012,


[15] Ibid.


[16] Richard Grusin, ‘20 Things the Matter with MOOCs’, Ragman’s Circles, 12 March 2013,


[17] Doug Holton, ‘What’s the “Problem” with MOOCS?’ EdTechDev, 4 May 2012,


[18] Alexandra Juhasz & Anne Balsamo, ‘An Idea Whose Time is Here: FemTechNet – A Distributed Online Collaborative Course (DOCC)’, in Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, 15 November 2012,


[19] Ibid.


[20]  See ‘Life and Debt: Interview with Andrew Ross’, Los Angeles Review of Books, 30 March 2014,


[21]  John Hechinger, ‘The Troubling Dean-to-Professor Ratio’, Bloomberg Business Week, 21 November 2012,

See also Benjamin Ginsburg, ‘Administrators Ate My Tuition’, Washington Monthly, September/October, 2011,


[22] Gregory Jay, ‘MOOCs: A Cautionary Note’, op. cit.


[23] Steve Kolowich, ‘N.Y. Public Library Plans Face-to-Face “Classes” for MOOC Students’, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 30 April 2014,



Aesthetic Education Expanded is a series of 12 articles commissioned and edited by Benedict Seymour for Mute Magazine. Published in collaboration with, Kontrapunkt, Multimedia Institute, and Berliner Gazette, it is funded by the European Commission. A central site with all contributions to the project can be found here: 

The series looks at the contemporary afterlife of the project of ‘aesthetic education’ initiated in the 19th century, from the violent imperatives of training and ‘lifelong learning’ imposed by capitalism in crisis to informal projects of resistance against neoliberal pedagogy and authoritarian repression.

Expanding the scope of the aesthetic in the tradition of Karl Marx to include everything from anti-austerity riots and poetry to alternative and self-instituted knowledge dissemination, the series encompasses artistic, theoretical and empirical investigations into the current state of mankind’s bad education.

Aesthetic Education Expanded attempts to open up an understanding of what is being done within and against capital’s massive assault on thought and action, whether in reading groups or on the streets of a world torn between self-cannibalisation and revolt.