The MORU as Precursor to the MOOC

MOOCs are all the rage right now—academics generally upset or unimpressed and disruptors generally optimistic.

What intrigues me is how familiar the kook-aid (sorry, typo) Kool-aid tastes. The latest technology becomes the mechanism to democratize learning, to bring the best college and university lectures to the underprivileged, and to expand learning to hundreds of thousands of students. The 20th century is littered with such failed schemes. Educational utopia seems as distant at every other post-lapsarian paradise.

Browsing the Popular Science archive, I stumbled across this example: “Professor-Inventor Predicts ‘Radio Universities’.”


Professor Pupin from Colombia University foresaw a “Radio Extension University” poised to disrupt the educational landscape. Once the loudspeaker was perfected, Pupin predicted that “a great university like Colombia, equipped with a powerful broadcasting station for distributing to a knowledge-hungry people some of the vast store of authoritative knowledge accumulated by its great professors and teachers” will broadcast lectures to scores of halls and public meeting places equipped with radio receivers and powerful loudspeakers. The “internationally famous professor, in his classroom, is delivering a lecture on some fascinating new chapter of, say, natural science” that is broadcast to perhaps 100,000 people who have “paid 10¢ for the privilege, first of hearing the lecture by radio, then of submitting answers in a written examination covering the rudiments of the subject.”

Not only does Professor Pupin think this model will provide a university education to those otherwise denied such opportunities, he suspects that soon houses where some “ingenious youth has installed a homemade radio outfit with a loudspeaker” listens to a lecture and then takes a written exam “mailed to him from the university.”

If Professor Pupin’s MORU had succeeded, we wouldn’t now be hearing so much about MOOCs.

One reply on “The MORU as Precursor to the MOOC”

“kook-aid” : I love it.

That said, I love the free iTunes courses, and for many years now I’ve been an avid consumer of all sorts of podcasts.

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