Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Combining x-MOOCs and Connectivism

Over at the Harvard Business Review's blog network, a recent article "A New Use for MOOCs - Real World Problem Solving"  by Zafrin Nurmohamed, Nabeel Gillani, and Michael Lenox describes the course Foundations of Business Strategy offered on the Coursera platform from the Darden Biz School at the University of Virginia. The course combines lessons in business strategy with real-world problem solving. 

Using an application called Coursolve, the professors connected course students with small and large business organizations. The final project required students to work with their business partners to solve real world problems. 72 % of the businesses involved students in their currently most pressing and challenging problems.

The take-away from this example is that x-MOOCs, frequently critiqued for relying exclusively on the outdated broadcast model of instruction, can selectively use at least some elements of connectivist learning. The connections are not merely one-to-one connections between students and their business organizations. The MOOC itself, through Coursolve, locates business partners through something like a crowdsourcing app. Meanwhile, in their final reports the students will inevitably make use not merely of course materials but the universe of knowledge and expertise on the web.

One concern with this arrangement is that the businesses are making free use of student labor. However, unlike the predatory internships that have recently been uncovered, the project work in this course is a genuine learning experience in a quasi-academic setting.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

MOOC Mania

William Hammond at Public Service Europe offers some reflections on MOOCs that are worth pondering. Here are his main points (in italics) followed by my comments:

1. MOOC platforms have now grown sufficiently in size and influence to have caught the attention of policy makers. 

This trend indicates that we may start to see some regulation or standardization of the use of MOOC certificates. Policy makers and administrative leaders hate uncertainty. They already feel the need to end MOOC mania. We may already be seeing the beginning of the end of wild experimentation and wild speculation about the place of MOOCs in the higher education landscape.

2. MOOCS are regressing to older and arguably outmoded structural designs. The first MOOCs were guided by connectivist and constructivist principles; experienced scholars provided overall structures but much of the course content was then generated by the learners themselves, using sophisticated digital tools and web 2.0 software applications. These so-called "c-MOOCs" were organized learning communities. But the new MOOCs that have gained so much attention have reverted to the broadcast model using materials - lectures, videos, texts - from existing courses to achieve pre-determined learning goals.

Despite the presumed values and habits and networking capabilities of the so-called net generation, these new so-called "x-MOOCs" still look like "real" courses from "real" colleges. The take-away is that the big MOOC platforms like edX and Coursera, despite their professed interest in improving educational methods, may actually be setting back the shift to an open connectivist and constructivist teaching-learning paradigm.

3. Many participants in large platform MOOCs are highly educated people including those possessing advanced degrees. The popularity of MOOCs may reflect the growing demand for low-cost/no-cost cutting edge learning in today's knowledge economies. 

This demographic fact may reflect an important shift from front-loaded higher education for standard professional 'qualification'  to on-going or life-long education for ever-shifting narrowly defined occupational niche identities.

4. Employers may now be starting to pay attention to MOOCs as qualifications. 

Employers may now find that a package of MOOCs in cutting edge areas of knowledge and skill tells them more about whether a job applicant can perform a narrowly defined work task than a diploma.  Diplomas represent a standard level of general professional knowledge but say nothing about specific cutting edge capabilities.

5. Prospects for the long term impact of MOOCs depend on whether universities will accept MOOC certificates for credit and thus reduce the overall cost of earning a degree. 

Here I must respectfully disagree. Regardless of how universities adjust, it is inevitable that organizations will emerge to aggregate MOOCs into packages that can stand as diploma equivalents or have some comparable meaning to employers. ACE, an organization that certifies courses as credit-worthy, has already certified several MOOCs as worthy of college credit, so the main problem will not be MOOC quality. MOOCs will be sustainable to the extent that employers recognize them as qualifications, and they will do so to the extent that using MOOCs as filters lowers their transaction (search, assessment and training) costs. College diplomas served this function in the age of slowly changing professional knowledge workers. MOOCs may play a similar or parallel role in the age of rapidly shifting tasks requiring rapidly up-graded capabilities.

How do you see these trends? Please add your comments below.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Slowing the Train to MOOCville

Over at Inside Higher Education, Ry Rivard reports that many hgher education leaders, and even MOOC founders, are having second thoughts about the spread of MOOCs.

He notes that Dan Greenstein at the Gates Foundation, which has generously funded MOOC development, now "wonders aloud whether MOOCs are a viable thing or just a passing fad." Greenstein adds that Higher Education is now suffering from "innovation exhaustion" and that MOOCs are part of the problem. He worries that we have skipped a step in the development process - providing a solution before defining the problem. He suggests that before going further we need to figure out where higher education is heading, and where we want it to be in 10 or 20 years.

I do not agree with Greenstein. The problem has been building for a couple of decades. (Greenstein must know this). There is a screaming need for low cost and constantly updated opportunities for learning and knowledge acquisition in today's global knowledge economy. Young people all over the world seek this access. Meanwhile, college education has priced itself out of the market, creating a nasty polarity between haves and have nots. And employers continue to use the college diploma as a filter, to lower their transaction costs in acquiring knowledge workers, forcing more and more young people to go deeply into debt to purchase diplomas which may "qualify" them for employment but do not provide the capabilities required for work success. So no-cost flexible up-to-date education with low-cost certificates of mastery - which inevitably will in one way or another be used as job filters - solves this pressing problem well. And that explains the hundreds of thousands of students from every nation on the globe registering for MOOCs.

In the rapidly changing and complex knowledge economy it is impossible to say what "we" want for higher education in 10 or 20 years, or what we should expect higher education arrangements to be. From the middle ages until the civil war, colleges and universities changed little. Despite the increasingly loud calls for practical education in agriculture, engineering and commerce, the colleges refused to sully themselves with such "trivial" matters. But then brand new institutions emerged: engineering colleges like MIT and RPI, graduate research institutions like Johns Hopkins, and the land grant colleges. In the twenty years following Charles Eliott's ascent to the presidency of Harvard in 1869,  American higher education changed beyond recognition. The entrenched insiders, the "we," talked about "innovation exhaustion" and got rolled over. If change had waited for them to figure out what they wanted for higher education ten or twenty years ahead, it would never have taken place. Instead new men for a new time (wasn't that what Creon announced at the beginning of Antigone) took the lead.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

MOOC Developments in June 2013 - Globalization + NGO Partnerships

Welcome to Moocville Blog.

I will be offering periodic reports on major developments in the world of MOOCs. Today I want to talk about two such developments in June 2013.


 The first is the globalization of the MOOC phenomenon. MOOCS have been associated in the public mind with the large US platforms: edX, Coursera and Edacity in particular. Indeed, many commentators have claimed that MOOCs are an effort by US educational entrepreneurs to dominate the future of higher education globally. Well if that was ever the intent, no such luck!

MOOCs are growing in all regions of the world. Examples include Verduca in Latin America, iversity in (Europe) Germany, Schoo in Japan, WorldWideEd in Canada, and others in Australia and elsewhere.

 The MOOC phenomeonon is now entirely global and spreading. By the end of next year MOOCs will be as familiar to knowledge seekers as universities are today. Many millions of learners will have had some experience with MOOCs, and they will spread the world. The positives and negatives of the MOOC experience will become clear, and the MOOC platforms will respond with better MOOCs.

 The big question is where will higher education move from there. How will other institutions adjust to this change in education?

 One possible answer is found in my second story, the recent partnership of edX with the IMF. Like many NGOs, the IMF is a producer of high quality courseware for their employees and members. IMF courses on International Finance have been enjoyed by central bankers and policy makers in IMF member states.

Now many of these courses will be available free to the general public. In 2013 a few of these courses will be available on the edX platform. By next year, several of them will be available for free to anyone seeking training in International banking. If that floats your boat, these may be just the thing you were looking for.

 The importance of this development should be clear. The boundary between higher education organizations and NGOs is beginning to blur. Of course the IMF doesn't offer an MBA and their courses are not for university credit. Most members of their current audience are chuck full if university diplomas.

 But the IMF, like so many other NGOs, is a storehouse of information products which can be re-purposed as courseware. So when higher education aggregator organizations emerge, as they are certain to, they will without doubt be packaging these NGO courses along with MOOCs from University sponsors to create degree -equivalent qualifications.

 Why would employers pay any attention to these? Well, the diploma is used as a job filter to lower transaction costs. The degree equivalent qualification will serve the same purpose, and maybe better. Tell me, Mr. employer, would you prefer a qualification backed by 30 or 40 MOOC certificates from the world's leading universities, or a diploma from Pugwash State U? Which one will display more initiative, self-direction, and cutting edge knowledge?