What are MOOC projects for?

Thank you all for the quality of your contributions to the discussion on MOOC funding. Tony asks a central question: what are MOOC projects for? Let me give my own point of view (and my motivation) on this.

It is true that, for the time being, Universities have mostly seen MOOCs as a way of raising their profile and ranking in an increasingly competitive environment. But I believe that we are undergoing a revolution in the way knowledge is disseminated (similar to the printing revolution initiated by Gutenberg) and this revolution means a new role for Universities, or maybe a new type of University.

In parallel, our world has become the global village foreseen by Marshall McLuhan. This struck me last November when the tragic events that took place in my own neighborhood in Paris were immediately known throughout the world and a wave of sympathy almost instantaneously lighted monuments all over the planet in blue, white and red.

In this context, Universities must make their own revolution. For centuries, they were reserved to the happy few, nationals (apart from a few world class universities) with a good curriculum, and in the age range between 18 and 25. Now they should address the whole world, with learners of all ages, diverse origins and cultures, diverse backgrounds and training.

There is clearly a market for that, and some private entities have started investing into this potentially fruitful market. Why should we bother? Because we are dealing with education and training, and thus with our own future as the human race. And because trusting this task only to cost-driven entities will necessarily lead to uniformity and formatting.

Now, you may rightfully think that Universities have also played their roles in formatting people in a certain way. This is why they need to do their own revolution. Why is this necessary? Because, in order to solve the huge problems of our global village, we need a diversity of talents , whether they are to be found in the suburbs of Rio, Capetown or Chongqing, the City of London, the villages of India or Silicon Valley.

But why should Universities get involved in this revolution? That, I understood from MOOC learners. Last spring, we released the French version of Gravity! At the end of the course, we received many thanks and congratulations from the learners. And one message was coming through: “nowadays, we are flooded with information, we have to digest it but no one asks us to think. This is what you did. It may be painful at times, but, in the end, it feels so good!” Now, isn’t that a splendid goal for the University of tomorrow to make people think? And who else could be trusted with such a mission?

Pierre Binétruy


  • Dhruba Sen

    Could not agree with you more. Also it is important that we are encroaching a ‘Knowledge based economy’ and it is increasingly important that all of us need to expand our knowledge even in fields that are not our specialisation.

  • Peter Gehrke

    While I fully support what you are saying, Pierre, I would like to add another aspect – the justification of resources. I have a lot of sympathy for less educated people who struggle to make ends meet and therefore question the rationale of spending millions or sometimes billions of tax payer money for space missions or expensive scientific installations like the CERN. MOOCs are an exellent means to allow them to participate in the beauty and excitement of modern science without the need of transgressing the gates of an Alma Mater.

    Furthermore MOOCs make great use of English as the lingua franca of our times and the fact that it is – other than Latin in the past – also open to the non scientific population. This way science can bridge differences of culture, geography, age, gender, and convictions and bring people together who otherwise would never have met.

    • Pierre Binétruy

      Dear Peter,
      I fully agree with you. indeed, this is one of my personal motivations. being involved in a very costly project (the eLISA mission cost is more than 1 billion euros) over a long period of time, I feel that it is my duty to give everyone who is interested, the means to understand the importance of the mission science, and to follow all along the excitement of this adventure.

  • Barbara Harrison

    I agree with your earlier correspondent who commented that “You ask us to think.” So often as an older person I find the world swirling by me. I would like to make some contribution to the world in what I realize is the finite amount of time left to me. Cash I do NOT have; experience and the ability to sometimes make connections that you youngsters are unaware of I DO have.

  • tom smith

    Your comments are so pertinent and correct. The global dissemination of knowledge is more achievable now than at any time. The more we can encourage people to think and not just digest data and information, the more likely we are to steer a path away from our headlong rush towards chaos. This very announcement encapsulates our universe and our place in it. We have, by intellect and dedication, endeavoured to tease out the detection of gravitational waves, and our planet is ravaged by environmental and social challenges such as our species has never encountered before. We need future generations to be ‘clued up’ and maybe the Knowledge Economy has a chance.

  • Sameer sk

    Since the beginning of the course, I have observed the great dedication and devotion of the team towards their work.
    In today’s world, everybody’s more interested in their personal benefits than the betterment of the society. Even the governments spend most of the money on things like missiles and other arms, which only contribute to bringing war and destruction to the civilization. Astrophysicists are one of the few people working for the progress of our civilization.. Pierre and his team is an excellent example of these noble souls.
    I whole heartedly salute Pierre and his team for all their effort!

  • Ajay Henry

    Just as CERN made the internet available for free to share data across the globe, MOOC’s are disseminating understanding of complex ideas. A true revolution to advance the fabric of human knowledge.

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