Posthumanism and the MOOC: opening the subject of digital education

Research paper by Jeremy Knox

Indexed on: 25 Feb '16Published on: 25 Feb '16Published in: Studies in Philosophy and Education


As the most prominent initiative in the open education movement, the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is often claimed to disrupt established educational models through the use of innovative technologies that overcome geographic and economic barriers to higher education. However, this paper suggests that the MOOC project, as a typical example of initiatives in this field, fails to engage with a theory of the subject. As such, uncritical and problematic forms of humanism tend to be assumed in the promotion and delivery of these courses: the expectation of rational and self-directing individuals, with a universal desire for education. This fundamental orthodoxy limits both the understanding of technology and the possibilities for a concept of ‘openness’ in education. Given the global scale of the MOOC, and its high-profile associations with elite universities, the need for critical alternatives is pressing. In this paper I draw on critical posthumanism—an umbrella term for a range of philosophical and theoretical positions—for two purposes. Firstly and principally as a perspective through which to critique the educational reliance on humanism that is maintained in the project of the MOOC, and secondly to suggest alternative frameworks for thinking about the intermingling of humans and technologies in education. Space and time are considered as the two principal sites with which technological change is realised, and the promotion of the MOOC is shown to mask spatial and temporal conditions through adherence to an underlying humanist framework.