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MOOCs: where to from here?

This article originally appeared in Training & Development magazine February 2014 Vol 41 No 1, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development.
It has been reproduced with permission from the editor.

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MOOCs: where to from here?

  1. 1. TECHNOLOGY & RESOURCES MOOCs: Where to from here? Anne Bartlett Bragg The commentary about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has been unavoidable during 2013! We have been bombarded with opinions, reviews, and research studies published across all areas of academia, special edition journals, books, ebooks, educational media, mainstream media, online educational weblogs, and social networks. Meanwhile, some authors have starting referring to Gartner’s hype cycle, suggesting that we are at a point of MOOC burnout! So why read yet another article on MOOCs? The commentary divides into three general perspectives: the good, the bad, and the ugly. To cut through the hype, I will attempt to present the differing perspectives and apply these to the organisational learning context of 2014 and ask the question: where to from here? The good presents the disruption of the higher education model from a perspective that sees the democratisation of content that has been previously unattainable except to the educated elite, to one where access is freely open to everyone (with an internet connection). There is no doubt that MOOCs are causing waves in the higher education context where the debate can be loosely grouped into two contrasting approaches. The tension can be viewed as an economic model versus a pedagogical approach. Firstly, the xMOOC which represents consortia, such as EdX, Coursera, and Udacity that appear to be following a traditional publishing model, providing quality content, albeit delivered free and online in a semi-structured format that is reminiscent of the early eLearning initiatives to produce content at scale.The xMOOC can also be aligned with a behaviourist approach to learning, where instruction is divided into small manageable chunks of information, frequently delivered in video lecture style formats and supported by multiple-choice assessment used to provide feedback on performance. Some offerings include discussion forums; others provide very little opportunity to engage with others. The second approach, claimed by the founders of the MOOC concept, is the cMOOC, associated with George Siemens’ (2005) Connectivism theory, described as learner-centred, collaborative and based on learning through relationships and connections. These numbers indicate the desire for quality content, curated into course materials by current academics or experts in their field. The bad present a perspective that laments the loss of sound educational principles. A model that some opponents claim the xMOOC is reifying the traditional educational notions of expert as teacher, semester long subjects, and prioritising content over sound adult learning principles such as motivation, relevance, support and social connections. The ugly are concerned about the numbers – the economic viability of the model and focus on the unsustainability of the current situation. They forecast the recent pivot (or change in direction) by Udacity late in 2013 highlights the need for a business model that supports return on investment. Udacity have just released their new approach –a ‘full course experience’ | 20 | FEB 2014 | TRAINING & DEVELOPMENT – limited admission (no more massive), selection criteria (not exactly open), and a fee-based structure with certification. What are the numbers telling us? FutureLearn, a UK-based consortium, had more than 20,000 enrolments from 154 countries within 24 hours of launching in September 2013. While reports from the US-based consortia indicated that 80 percent of people enrolling already have an undergraduate degree and are studying to update or extend their professional knowledge. These numbers indicate the desire for quality content, curated into course materials by current academics or experts in their field. But, enrolments are only part of the picture. Contrast these with the drop rates, which are quoted at being between 80-90 percent. What’s the problem here? A number of recent studies have reviewed the experience of learners and the results indicate the variation in approaches by different MOOC providers and subject lecturers. Dropouts reported lack of interaction with others, being overwhelmed by the number of other people, and the quantity of content relating to weekly expectations, essentially they were not engaged in the learning. Those who successfully completed their MOOC had enjoyed the interactions with others beyond their typical network of contacts, the engagement with new content, and the expertise or enthusiasm of the lecturer.
  2. 2. TECHNOLOGY & RESOURCES Certification and qualifications Very few current MOOCs offer credit or recognition for subject completion. Even at a minimal cost to gain a certificate of assessment, the transferability to any other university is unlikely to be accepted. This may not be an issue for organisations who could be more focused on the currency of knowledge than university credits, but for learners wanting to gain recognition and pathways to future university studies it becomes problematic. MOOCs in organisational learning: the possibilities and the pitfalls Organisations are being attracted to MOOCs – some state the opportunity for free or low cost content from reputable universities, others mention the variety of courses available which they would not have the resources or skills to design and deliver themselves. However, the contrasts previously mentioned between learner experiences pose a challenge for organisational learning contexts, yet the opportunity to augment existing professional development programs is appealing. But first, learning and development practitioners need to understand the possibilities–and the pitfalls. Pitfall: Managing your daily workload and completing a MOOC is akin to earlier initiatives delivered by distance or eLearning programs. We are expecting learners to be self-directed and reflective, when most of our organisations’ learning environments do not support this approach with protected learning time presenting one of the greatest challenges. Possibility: To legitimise the integration of MOOC participation, consider creating guidelines and support frameworks with learners and their managers. This could include use of the organisation’s LMS, intranet or an alternative social platform. Pitfall: Assessment and certification. If a selected MOOC does not offer any kind of assessment or certification for completion, how will you accredit or recognise your learners’ achievements. Possibility: Online learning has afforded us with opportunities to rethink how we deliver content and provide opportunities across diverse contexts and learners. Yet our approaches to accreditation and assessment practices have barely changed and do not complement the new learning methodologies. Two questions to consider when adding MOOCs to your portfolio of options: • How important is accreditation to your organisation? • What type of accreditation is important to learners These can form the basis of an approach that may allow you to integrate alternative activities to demonstrate learning achievements from participation in a MOOC. Embracing MOOCs as part of your professional development strategy could be valuable. Tips for learning and development • Enrol and complete a MOOC yourself – preferably one that you are considering for your organisation – before you expect your learners to successfully navigate the challenges. • Thoroughly investigate what the MOOC provider is offering: what online platform is being used to deliver content, what are the time commitments expected from learners, what opportunities for interaction are there (with other learners and/or the lecturer), what assessment (if any) is being offered? • Create peer-learning opportunities in the workplace by organising groups of learners to participate and importantly support completion. Where to from here? Embracing MOOCs as part of your professional development strategy could be valuable. Relying on them as a core offering is irresponsible. The level of instability in the current marketplace is still playing out while providers determine the economic and logistical viability. Being aware that courses available today may not continue to be offered should be a critical planning factor. In a recent interview, George Siemens predicts that in 12 months we’ll be talking about something different, but still asking the same questions: How do we teach in a digital networked environment? And how do we manage – track, measure and assess learning provided by a university but being completed outside the formal institutional environment? What will evolve from the current MOOC landscape is unclear, but what we do acknowledge is that MOOCs matter – whether you choose to join the debates, participate online or prefer to be a bystander. MOOCs have stirred up a substantial amount of attention towards the higher education models offered by universities and embraced our insatiable appetite for access to knowledge. All of these issues are important characteristics to enable innovation and change in the learning and development landscape. Now, it is over to you to take advantage of the opportunities and leverage the circumstances while they’re still readily available. Further references: MOOC yourself – Set up your own MOOC for Business, NonProfits, and Informal Communities by Inge de Waard au/2013/04/my-ebook-on-mooc-and-how-to-set-upmooc.html MOOC Research Hub: • Provide incentives for learners to share their learning within the workplace – enhancing transferability and recognition for MOOC participation. • Consider a social learning approach by utilising platforms like Yammer or SocialCast to support groups of learners in the organisation. • Facilitate de-briefing sessions – this can also be achieved using a social learning approach as above. Anne Bartlett Bragg specialises in the creation of innovative communication and learning networks with social technologies. She is constantly challenging organisations to reframe their models of learning, communication, service design, and workforce engagement. She has recently completed her PhD addressing the use of blogs in learning. Contact via: TRAINING & DEVELOPMENT | FEB 2014 | 21 |