The Presumption of the Technocrats, Redux

In a review titled “The End of College? Not So Fast,” published by the Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday, Donald E. Heller provides a very thoughtful and substantive critique of Kevin Carey’s The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere.

You may recall that I discussed Blaine Grateman’s review of this book for the New Republic in a post titled “The Presumption of the Technocrats” []

Heller’s review provides a nice complement to Grateman’s review and to my post. Indeed, it is all the more noteworthy because Carey has been a regular contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Here are several of the early paragraphs:

“In his new book, The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere, Kevin Carey lays out a dystopian future for American higher education as we know it. Colleges and universities will cease to exist, with the exception of perhaps “15 to 50” of them, and will be replaced by the “University of Everywhere,” which will provide “abundant and free” educational resources that for centuries have been locked up in the monopoly enjoyed by universities. The reasons for this revolution? Carey ascribes his predictions largely to the availability of massive open online courses and the coming revolution in badging, or microcredentials. . . .

“While this future sounds plausible at first glance, Carey’s book requires the reader to make a leap of faith. A key assumption is that learning via a MOOC is equivalent to a traditional bachelor’s-degree program. Woven throughout the book is a description of Carey’s experience as a student in the MITx MOOC ‘Introduction to Biology: the Secret of Life.’ As Carey describes it, ‘As an undergraduate political science and graduate public policy major who studied education policy for a living, I wanted something completely outside of my expertise, so that the experience was as close to that of a newly enrolled student as possible.’

“And this is where his argument for the learning effectiveness of MOOCs begins to disintegrate. He claims that because he had no background in biology, his experience is equivalent to that of a young person interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree, the type of student who in Carey’s future will, instead of attending a traditional college, sit through MOOCs and accumulate badges instead of credit hours. But Carey, who is director of the education-policy program at New America and a contributing writer to The Chronicle, is not that young person; he is in his mid-40s with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, and roughly 20 years working in the education-policy arena. To think that someone almost three decades younger, with only a high-school diploma (or perhaps even less education) could motivate himself to complete a large number of MOOCs is naïve, and is not borne out by the evidence.”

The full review can be found at:

In their main points, the reviews of Carey’s book are consistent with another of my recent posts, “Why Is the Future of the University Never a University? [].


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