The purpose of education is in large part linked to its standing as a social science. Philosophers dating back to Socrates have linked education to a purpose beyond the individual, one where accrual of facts and training in skills is not the outcome or objective for the individual nor society; rather, a deeper relationship with thought and reason is necessary for the development of each person and in turn their community. This is at the heart of much great philosophy: luminaries such as Locke, Milton, Rousseau, Hume and others saw education as a continuation of society through means greater than memory recall and skilled competencies. The education discipline is built upon this theory and is at the heart of its mission: through pedagogy and methodology education can foster the growth of our culture through each person.
This is not the methodology from which most outside interests view education. Rather than endeavoring to improve the practice, their stated goal is to solve education, noting that education is in crisis and its survival requires tautological changes to the status quo. This is the rallying cry most recently seen around the movement of massive open online courses (MOOCs), where a cavalcade of venture capitalists, politicians, computer scientists and media pundits have chosen to define education through analytics and instrumentation, the MOOC representing an opportunity to democratize education on a global level while at the same time undercutting the cost behemoth of a contemporary higher education. This argument reads like a win-win, but in reality the MOOC as a learning system has underperformed traditional models and shows no large-scale cost benefit to education providers. At this point, the MOOC as an instrument is a failure. However, the MOOC as a landscape-altering educational phenomenon is a fascinating success, in large part due to shifting the definition of education away from its historical roots to a skills-based, instrumentally-defined exercise.