Prince Adam harnesses the power of learning online source: giphy

To continue the thematic grounding of this blog-series on online pedagogies, ie. 1980s cultural references, the above image of He-Man (or rather Prince Adam turning into He-Man) from the animated TV-series ‘He-Man and the Masters of the Universe‘ encapsulates many of the reflections related to openness and Massive Open Online Courses that I have after the week “Topic 2: Open Learning – sharing and openness”

For people like Prince Adam, the universe of (massive) online education is open to magical possibilities and alternative realities not least because he is a male, white and, not least – a prince. He can operate in various intersections of these identities – prince-male; male-white; prince-white, which enable him to access the open powers of the universe [for full disclosure: He also has twin sister She-Ra, who is also pretty powerful since she has access to two of these attributes]. He has the power because of historical materialism. He is apparently the leader of the resistance but he spends most of his time re-storing social order rather than re-imagining it. His learning is based on a prophesy (that seems highly proprietary and exclusive) of an oracle that ‘telepathically’ tells him how to behave. And of course, the context that He-Man exists in is one where his access to the secret knowledge around the Power of Greyskull, and his very own discursive existence are aimed at selling more material commodities. This is pretty much my experience and current view on MOOCs, it’s a pretty open domain for he-men and she-ras.

To put this analogy into practice, I am currently the lead educator in a MOOC which had around 2000 students from 120 countries, it deals with a global topic, sustainable development, and is supposed to frame the issue from various perspectives. While on paper the MOOC has an impressive representation of students from around the globe, during the run of the course I was constantly reminded of three particular hierarchies of access that are present in MOOCs (following Bali and Sharma 2017): economic, language, and epistemological. Taking a ‘free course’ is not really free: Your ability to do so is dependent on access to digital infrastructures (half of the world’s population lack access to Internet) – our MOOC offers transcriptions of all videos, but these challenges remain. Additionally students should have access to time as a resource, MOOCs are usually not part of a curriculum and do not lead to traditional degree, people do it on their “spare” time – and we know that the access to time as a resource follows traditional lines of class and gender (eg. juggling carework with online studies). I can see these lines in the student composition and activity levels. If you want credentials for taking the course you need to pay, having the possibility to take the course out of “curiosity of learning” or “life-long learning” is a suitably upper-middle class pastime.

The question of language is also ever present, and I could see it working in combination with epistemological hierarchies in our MOOC. One question is about the process of who is given voice, this relates to readings/faculty/talking-heads (often with emphasis on content above context) but also whose voices are amplified and heard among the students. I found myself time after time in the MOOC “pinning”/highlighting posts from students who were extremely well-read, extremely articulate, and extremely good in English. You might glance at the names of students to legitimize to yourself that you are selecting “diverse” voices, but then when you press the profiles of these students you see a pattern: “CFO of YY”, “postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University”, “special envoy at the UN”… and the it hits you, the “collaborate energy” you feel is just a bunch of prince adams turning into he-men, and you are probably one of them – or at the very least you are the oracle locked up in your tower.

The Oracle, source: giphy

Lastly, I’ll end this blog post in the words of Skeletor:

““The productive question that might then be asked, is not what the elite educational institution can do for a universal population in deficit, but how the diversity of global participation can change the very idea of the university”

…no, not really that was Knox (2016, 313)


  • Bali, M. A., & Sharma, S. (2017). Envisioning post-colonial MOOCs: Critiques and ways forward. In Massive Open Online Courses and Higher Education (pp. 26-44). Routledge.
  • Margolis, E. (Ed.). (2001). The hidden curriculum in higher education. Psychology Press.
  • Fougère, M., Solitander, N., & Young, S. (2014). Exploring and exposing values in management education: Problematizing final vocabularies in order to enhance moral imagination. Journal of Business Ethics, 120(2), 175-187.
  • Giroux, H. A. (2015). Public intellectuals against the neoliberal university. Qualitative inquiry—past, present, and future: A critical reader, 194-221.
  • Margolis, E. (Ed.). (2001). The hidden curriculum in higher education. Psychology Press.
  • Rambe, P., & Moeti, M. (2017). Disrupting and democratising higher education provision or entrenching academic elitism: towards a model of MOOCs adoption at African universities. Educational Technology Research and Development, 65(3), 631-651.
He-men and other observations around the enclosures of open online learning