I appreciate your noting the complexity of this issue…I’m seeing more of that in the literature; George Veletsianos hit on as much in his speech at Sloan’s ET4Online Conference. Problem is, the narrative around MOOCs engages simplicity at the core of this “disruptive technology.” Whether it’s a TED talk, a Friedman op-ed, or even an article in Nature (though the article was not peer reviewed), the narrative sells the existing system as bloated and out-of-touch, with these easy fixes a group of people in a shared hallway conceptualized thanks to Sal Khan. Such narrative is becoming reality when legislation engages ed-tech entrepreneurship to the extent of accreditation.
That said, I disagree with Downes (and I feel like I must be missing something, because my Twitter is full of “here here” about his blog). Distance education has always been about providing scalable education to the masses…from correspondence to radio/tv to Internet and now the facilitated MOOC. To equate the cMOOC to the subversion that broke the institution’s back seems wide-eyed. Reading the early lit on the xMOOC, it’s referred to as distributed learning, a term harkened in the 1990s, and only gets the MOOC monicker months later after Siemens himself linked the two on his blog. The early writings of Thrun (and to an extent Ng and Koller) don’t treat the cMOOC at all, like they didn’t even know it existed. The xMOOC is a direct descendent of smart machines, complex systems and the science of AI/Machine Learning, not pedagogy and distance education and connectivism. It’s a stepbrother, commonalities shared because of the shared sociocultural period.