When governments try to understand open learning platforms

In the Chronicle of Higher Education this morning, Katherine Mangan raised the alarm: Minnesota has informed Coursera it is outlawed. From the article:

Coursera offers free, online courses to people around the world, but if you live in Minnesota, company officials are urging you to log off or head for the border.

The state’s Office of Higher Education has informed the popular provider of massive open online courses, or MOOC’s, that Coursera is unwelcome in the state because it never got permission to operate there.

It seems to me that the entire issue is moot. Coursera is not a university, and does not award university credit. Furthermore, attempts to limit Minnesotans’ access to alternative learning platforms could violate fundamental rights to association and assembly.

As we’ve seen the rapid growth of phenomena such as Coursera, MITx, Stanford’s d.school, Khan Academy, unschooling and uncollege movements, education leaders across the PreK-21 spectrum are scrambling to figure out “what’s next.” Policy makers and university leaders are at a loss of how to confront futures that may be radically different than what we enjoyed in the past, and they’re scrambling to find answers. This crisis, as I view it, is reflected in the drama President Sullivan experienced at the University of Virginia, MIT’s one-month blitz to find a new president, and even the University of Wisconsin’s scramble to develop a “Flexible Degree” program.

I think that we can expect these institutions to make more mis-steps as they try to understand the new learning landscape and their roles. This includes new ideas, language, and platforms where degrees may not be the end goal for learners. The unfortunate reality is that most policy leaders are playing catchup, not leading.