Education with No Strings Attached

Education with No Strings Attached


It sounds wrong but all too often this is what we really want in life. We want relationships with no commitment. We want those cute little creatures called babies with none of the responsibility; and we want jobs where, instead of pulling a sicky and feel guilty doing it,  we can just call the boss and say “sorry, I don’t feel like coming in today! …click”. In other words, we want deals where we can enjoy trying as much as we like without ever having to commit to buying. I believe that no-strings-attached is a notion that more of us than we probably think secretly (or openly) entertains across different aspects of our lives.

Education is no exception. We want all the learning with hopefully none of the restrictions (e.g. time, place, fixed curriculum or payment to name a few). If you don’t believe me, think of a time when you did a paper you thought was unnecessary just to top up your credits to finally get that degree; or when you had to get out of bed at ungodly hour in the morning to be at a lecture you didn’t particularly care about; or when you paid an unjustifiable sum of money for a ‘branded’ degree from a prestigious university. These are all examples of restrictions and we simply don’t like them and we would not think twice about breaking free from them any day we get a chance to. These are simply just the fat that comes with the goodies, the noise that ruins a good melody and the side-effects to a helpful medication.

Advanced Warning: a silly story ahead, advance with caution. As soon as you get bored of reading it, please skip all the way down to the apology section. Thanks


I was having these thoughts as my mind started to wander off and have a dream – a dream about an education with no strings attached: no fat, no noise and no side-effects. In my dream, it’s a nice sunny day and I decide to go to Harvard University to spend the day there (what a nerd!). I arrive at the campus and just get in – no exclusivity no questions asked. I’m in, on Harvard grounds, hallelujah.

As I wander about on this ‘prestigious’ land, I think of all the great minds on this campus, great teachers from every walk of life offering wonderful insights right this moment in all those classes and lecture theaters around me and I’m just a few meters away from all of them. How exciting! “If only I could have a chance to attend some of these lectures”, I say to myself. I’m not exactly sure what I want to learn about (there’s a fairly wide range of things I’m interested in) so it would be great to be able to attend a few lectures by each of those great teachers in the fields I’m interested in before making a decision on who I want to study with and what I want to specialize in (if at all).

Soon enough it hits me! It’s a dream so of course I can wander in and out of Harvard classes as I want to. So I do and in the two hours that follow I check out about 10 different classes for 6 different topics. Man! What a great feeling to be able to I walk freely out of every class or lecture and right into another with absolutely no obligations as if I was a ghost or a fly on the wall.

In my dream, I decide that it wasn’t enough having the fly-on-wall access to Harvard courses. I still had to physically be there and some of these lectures just take place at the same time as other important things in my life, such as my favourite TV show – F.R.I.E.N.D.S (very sophisticated!). So I decide to extend the limits of my dream yet again by giving myself the ability to schedule my favorite lectures after I’ve watched my show, put the kids to sleep, made myself a nice cup a coffee and ONLY at nights when I feel like it after all. I didn’t stop there! I also made it ok to to pause a lecture, cancel and/or reschedule at any point.

In my dream I also feel confident that during the lecture, the teacher wouldn’t mind to come and teach me in my bedroom while I’m in bed (It’s just winter and my bleming toes are freezing. Who wants to be at their study desk on these cold winter nights!). I’m sure he/she also wouldn’t mind my dress code either (hmm I’m not going to go there .. lol)

Now let me review what I got to so far with my HE dream. Ok so I now have a list of Harvard professors waiting to teach me a wide range of topics any time I feel like it and possibly while I’m sitting/lying in my bed in my .. ahem (never mind!) and willing to stop whenever I tell them to and/or reschedule if need be. Ok now that sounds really cool! A dream really worth dreaming of!


But as this all sounds just way too good to be true, I decide to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming … ouch .. I’m not dreaming. I was checking out the Harvard MOOC I had recently signed up to on Coursera! Oh the feeling when dreams come true! 🙂

Ok this (quite frankly) very cheesy, long-winded story was ‘inspired’ (yea right?!) by Martin Weller’s blogpost  If education were free, what would MOOCs be? You might have noticed that in my cheesy dream I didn’t wish for the service to be free of charge. That’s because quite honestly I wouldn’t mind paying a bit for it. It’s true that my Harvard MOOC happens to come at a price tag of $0 (which is great of course) but I would happily paid a bit for such royal learning service. So my humble response to Martin’s question is that MOOCs certainly offer much more than a price tag of $0 and as such making education free, in my opinion, would do very little to affect MOOCs – let alone get rid of them. The value proposition offered by MOOCs is simply much greater than the monetary savings (more on that in a future blog post).


Apologies if this wasn’t the kind of “academic reflection” you expected to read. But that’s just what you get when you ‘free’ education:  a lot of “insignificant” contributions – just like this post! Had this been a formal academic course, I would have thought twice before publishing this post. “Would I get the marks for it?”, “would it just sound silly?”, or “would it make me sound like I’m trying to be smart but really got nothing?”. All these question would have come to my mind and quite possibly made me decide against hitting that publish button. But simply none of none of that matters in a MOOC context, not in my view at least. At last, the long-tail concept is beginning to affect e-learning and as a result silly contributions like this one can now find a comfortable place

More on that and the concept of long-tail contributions in MOOCs in a following post soon – don’t hold me to it though, no string attached please 🙂

Thanks for reading


2 thoughts on “Education with No Strings Attached

  1. Interesting read!

    You make an important point about how open online courses offer the freedom for learners to reflect on issues which would not be considered formal “academic” responses. That’s got to be good for learning.

    Minor note — remember to tag your blog posts with “SP4Ed” so we can harvest them for the feed.

    Looking forward to reading your next post.

    • Thanks, Wayne. And yes I agree that this should enrich the learning environment which makes me wonder what sort of impact such practice might have on our views of what we consider “academic” in the future.

      Post is now tagged. Thanks for the note.

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