For those of you who haven’t clued in yet, the end of the world is here. It’s not over yet, but it is coming fast. You may have missed this however because like most people you may be waiting for death, destruction, and mayhem to signal the shift, but that’s not necessarily going to happen. If you’re not distracted by the New Age consumer frenzy, or the Hollywood obsession with anything violent and abusive, you can see it coming a mile away and no where more clearly than in revolutionary transformation of education now hurtling post-secondary institutions into a brave new world of global education. The buzzword is of course MOOC (Massive Open Online Classroom). A MOOC, made possible by creation of the WWW just over a decade ago, is basically technology driven education for the masses. It is a way to lower the cost of delivering (we hope) quality education, while smashing the boundaries of post-secondary education, and throwing it open to the world at large. It represents, in my opinion, not so much a pedagogical or staffing shift (although jobs in post secondary institutions are going to expand in the next decade) but a market shift, a massive, revolutionary, end-of-game change. For the first time ever in the history of the world post-secondary education is becoming accessible to billions. Potential post-secondary students from around the world are standing waiting expectantly as the exclusive walls preventing access to this world’s Ivy hallways are smashed. In a few years anybody with a smart-phone (and even the poorest of the poor will have a smartphone in a few years) will be able to better themselves through access to higher levels of education.
And if that doesn’t sound like an end-of-the world game changing move to you, then your coma may be terminal.
Think about it.
Up until only a few decades ago most of the world was unable to access the types of higher levels of education developed in Western societies. Living in shacks and shanty towns without even running water, daily existence was problematic. We in the West have it better of course, but the high cost of delivering post-secondary courses, and the debt load associated with even a four year degree, meant mostly only the middle and upper classes went to school. But that’s changing. No longer dependent on questionable resources of the Internet, people of all ages, shapes, colors, and class can do what anybody else can do and get an education. And that is going to change the world, and it is going to bring revolution the likes of which we have never seen before.
It might sound like hyperbole to you, but it’s not. What we are witnessing here is the total emancipation of information, and that is significant because the emancipation of information (even in miniscule dribbles) has always preceded, and subsequently driven, previous social, political, and economic revolutions. The scientific revolution occurred as information became emancipated from the institutional control exerted by the Churches. French and English revolutions resulted as printing emancipated information from the ruling classes. Change has been slow since then but now technology has advanced again bringing not an incremental change to the flow of information, but a revolutionary one. You can, if you like, put drones in the air above the free people of this Earth, point guns, and squeeze them economically to try and halt it, but you can’t stop this revolution from occurring. It is driven by the very logic (markets, and profits, and capital, oh my) that it will eventually transform. You can see the revolutionary fervor building already, fueled by the myths and mythology of advanced capitalist existence. Not wanting to be ground into competitive dust, post-secondary institutions are leaping to develop their own MOOCs.(1, 2), expanding access, and opening the doors. In a few years student million, and then billions, will begin applying the new knowledge to improving themselves and their lives and this will lead to change, change, change on a scale previously unimaginable. And if that’s invoking Hobbseian imagery of savagery and destruction, chill out. The majority of the people on this earth are good and they want to do is live a happy and content life and now, for the first time every, they have that opportunity.
Of course, things are going to change. Employment is post secondary education is going to have to expand, for example. You can’t go from serving a few thousand students to serving a few hundred thousand students on the back of job cuts (something the Alberta Government in Canada doesn’t seem to understand). You’re going to need more instructors, more support, and more variety (technological experts, media experts, recording experts, etc.). The economy is going to change as well. Economies right now are based on the accumulation of wealth and power via mechanisms of debt and profit (in Sociology we call it Capitalism) and that system is going to crumble. Bringing higher education to the masses is going to make them aware of the possibilities and they are going to want energy (i.e. money) to actuate those possibilities. They’ll realize the nature of the system and when they do the Occupy Wall Street movement will look like a bunch of kids banging some drums to get big daddy’s attention. Demands for political and economic change are going to grow and grow over the next decade or so and the emancipatory deployment of drones isn’t going to stop that. In fact, violence won’t do you any good primarily because the scope and scale of the violence needed to “put down” the revolution that’s coming will destroy the planet, and too many powerful people now have a stake in planetary perpetuity to allow that to happen.
So what are we going to do? Well I suppose the ball is in the court of the rich and powerful now. They can continue to struggle to hold on to power, privilege, and wealth in the face of a rising evolutionary tide, or they can quit their games and free the energy like we are freeing the information. Sound outrageous, implausible, even utopian. Some of the richest men in the world, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and that weird looking guy from Virgin records, have already committed to freeing their energy. Of course, as I understand it they are going to wait until they are dead but that’s only a minor flaw in their thinking. It is only a matter of time before others with money and power make the connection and do it in within their life time. Of course, that won’t be enough. Changes in the economy, the blanket release of global debt, economic controls to avoid disproportionate accumulation of wealth, and a dramatic expansion of authentic human services (psychology to heal the damage, sociology to understand the system, social work to train us how to be human, etc.) will be needed. But that’s OK. We’ve got the money and resources to do it because not only is information freer then ever, but energy (i.e. money) has never been more ubiquitous and available. Of course, it’s not a Zeitgeist solution here. We don’t need more technology What we need is new thinking, new economies, and new politics. And just for the record, we won’t get that with violence. Rich or poor, black or white, male or female, we’ve all got a part to play in the (dare I say it) utopian unfolding that awaits us. We can move forward together or we can move forward not at all. The choice, as cliche as it may sound, is yours.
Mike Sosteric (Dr. S.)