Gianpiero Petriglieri, Why I'm Skeptical About MOOCs | The Wall Street Journal

In a recent post on the Wall Street Journal, Gianpiero Petriglieri (associate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, and director of their Management Acceleration Programme for emerging leaders) discusses some of the potential perils and downfalls of the MOOC movement.

His key point:

"As extensions of and enticements towards education MOOCs may be very useful. As alternatives, or more precisely as surrogates, they are utterly inadequate."

Read the full post:


The fact that MOOCs are popular MIGHT be that the de-funding of education in the West has hit a backlash. People have decided they want a more dimensional life to replace the incessant reductive mindset of a society trying to become some sort of robotic efficiency machine. The focus of the xMOOC community does indeed seem to be a desire to distribute some of the richest features of our culture but runs up against the openly declared "value" that everything be cost-effective as if that was the only quality necessary to claim progress. A society that assumes education is just another service to trim can't really be expected to do better.

After thinking a bit... I wonder if the sticking point is in the fact that MOOCs are being presented as "alternatives" by the very same people who run the dominant model? A single individual can challenge themselves in a very different way than a public institution with a reputation to protect and we might now be seeing the results of image protection over a genuine urge to be experimental.

Part of the reason new ideas seem to appear more from new players in a domain comes from the lower consequences for taking risks. So maybe the "problem with MOOCs" is their being constrained by traditions that institutions rightfully adhere to and they should be set loose outside the definitions and expectations bound to anything known as Education. Connectivist MOOCs at least started out in the more open fields of experimentation beyond the walls. My sense is they were mis-named as a challenge or alternative to education as we know it and became loaded with baggage long before they had a chance to demonstrate anything.

Thanks, this was one of the best articles on MOOCs yet.


Thanks for your comment. I think you raise a good point about change from within - that it is limited by the structures and paradigms that have made education what it currently is. I do think there are many innovators within the education system - and HASTAC is full of them - but it's interesting to think what MOOCs or online education might look like if championed by those outside the system. 

Meanwhile, FemTechNet is creating its DOCC and HASTAC is asking that people join our distributed course, The History and Future of Higher Ed, in part to try to welcome new people and groups to the table to think freely about what we can change and what will shape the future of education.

Keep commenting!


Thanks Hilary,

Be interesting to identify sources of most sustainable change by their location. As an educational "outsider" I might be less constrained by known limitations but unrealistically confident in things that won't work--or become lasting. From the inside I might be too involved in loyalties or investment in my practice to even speculate beyond tiny steps.

I only have a few years at the edge of education (and a history of fitting poorly into it) so I might be trying to resolve a different "problem" than an insider. To me, the greatest driver of change is a willingness to step outside roles we inhabit and try to move forward--or even recover something we've lost.

In reflective practice, there may not be an inside or an outside, just us. Will keep an eye out for the higher ed course.


1.- ONLINE is around for 20 years.   1,300 not known colleges provide credits and degrees with online. They charge $ 1,500 per course. 7 million students ( that is 39 percent  of total ) are following online courses mainly by for profit schools. So far there are not many people skeptical about them . Now there are onlines ( MOOCs ) by elite universities at low fees ( time being free ) but no degrees yet, and Mr Petriglieri says "  I am skeptical about MOOCs  "  That is not right . I do not agree with that at all . 

Hi Muvaffak,

Do you see MOOCs as an exploitation of people's need for education? I wonder if there is a way to accomodate the need for recognized qualifications that can be distributed at lower cost than online though?

It is odd that we need skilled people and then make the skills hard to access. Maybe if we saw these skills as social needs rather than individual advantages we'd be more likely to fund education from the common wealth they build?

Can be hard to seperate education from the logics of economics these days. Can that be our problem?