The future of MOOCs

The beginning of a new year, and it’s time I wrote about MOOCs again. Or at least commented on output from a couple of seasoned and respected commentators, George Siemens and David Kernohan,

George Siemens created the first MOOC in 2008, and in an article this week entitled  “The attack on our higher education system — and why we should welcome it” on the TED blog website he talks about where MOOCs are now.

“As 2013 drew to a conclusion, the 18-month intoxicating hype machine produced the inevitable headache. The open vistas of a bright future where MOOC providers moved from success to success were replaced with a fatigued resignation that MOOCs were appearing to take their place in a lineage of many, many failed predictions of educational transformation. Move aside radio instruction and VCR teaching. Make room for MOOCs.

So what happened?

For one thing, the MOOC hypesters were wrong. They discovered, on the backs, or within the wallets, of their VC partners, that knowledge building is a complex integrated system with multiple facets. The linear nature of MOOC solutions to the perceived problems of higher education (better instructional software and greater numbers of learners) failed to account for knowledge building as an integrated social, economic and cultural activity of society. Suggestions of MOOCs replacing universities began to seem quaint and childlike.”

I don”t like to say “told you so”, because plenty of better informed thinkers than I were saying this last year too.

Indeed, Siemens goes on to say:

“The hype of 2012 must be counter-balanced with equally passionate hype decrying the failure of MOOCs!

Watching this conversation unfold, I am struck by the range of errors and misunderstanding within both camps.”

So that’s me told.

Siemens says that MOOCs are here to stay, and proposes a number of changes to expect:

“learners really need has diversified over the past several decades as the knowledge economy has expanded. Universities have not kept pace with learner needs and MOOCs have caused a much needed stir — a period of reflection and self-assessment. To date, higher education has largely failed to learn the lessons of participatory culture, distributed and fragmented value systems and networked learning. MOOCs have forced a serious assessment of the idea of a university and how education should be related to and supportive of the society in which it exists.”

The developments will be in:

  • corporate MOOcs, for recruitment, marketing and CRM
  • technological changes to allow MOOC providers to offer the facilities that other learning management system vendors provide
  • MOOCs will become more global – we already have FutureLearn in the UK
  • MOOCs will include ideas around personalising the learning experience

A key challenge will still be about accreditation of learning – universities are currently good at this, but as content becomes increasingly open, and teaching becomes open, the issue of awarding credit becomes significant, especially when we consider internal and external regulatory frameworks.

David Kernohan of JISC, writing on Followers of the Apocalypse also looks at the future of MOOCs.

He also shows that the early expectations are proving unattainable:

“All those millions of dollars that venture capitalists have invested come with the expectation of financial return – or, at the very least, sustainability. But despite moderately-huge (on a social media scale) user numbers, financial returns are proving harder to come by.

Most of the major xMOOC platforms now appear to be moving (at greater or lesser speed) towards a corporate training model rather than directly replacing traditional Higher Education.”

Kernohan is positive about the benefits of open education (noting that “open” needs to be carefully defined, as it means a range of things right now)

“An open class occurs where a traditional course delivered to paying students for credit is shared with the wider world – in that anyone can have access to the content and assessment that traditional students have, and discussion between students inside and outside the classroom is promoted and encouraged.

An open course offers the paying learner the best of both worlds – the structure, support and accreditation of traditional HE, plus the global network and enormous range of resources offered online. And for open learners, it is a chance to experience the reality of class-based teaching and to build strong relationships with students and staff in an institution.”

He also provides links to some great resources on the hype around MOOCs  and on sustainable online learning in institutions – it’s worth reading his blog and these related articles.

So for us at Staffordshire University – what could this mean?

I personally would not be recommending anyone to be rushing out to create a MOOC per se. Unless of course you have a significant amount of money in your budget and are prepared to spend it with no guarantee of return.

However, there are areas to learn from, and some of them are tiny things which could make a big difference to our learners:

  • creating short online video lectures (Coursera model) to provide revision opportunities
  • using online peer assessment for formative testing – a core part of most MOOC offers, but available in Blackboard and could provide great feedback to students
  • analyzsing the data on what our learners do while using Blackboard, to find out what works and what doesn’t
  • exploring the connectivist pedagogy used in #edcmooc and in early work by Siemens, as this could be a good model for much of our postgraduate  provision and also to support enquiry based learning (a Staffordshire Graduate attribute) at undergraduate levels
  • begin able to provide enhanced support to learners at our overseas partners, especially as we move to increasing staff and student mobility as part of the Staffordshire Global award
  • developing a better understanding of how we could use open resources and open learning to better support out existing students on and off campus