Blog Archives

George Siemen’s reflects on an up and down year for MOOCs

George Siemen’s offers a calm and rational review of the our current place on the MOOC hype cycle. Here are some highlights I took from his post:

the complex challenges that society faces can only be met through a learning architecture that emphasizes knowledge generation over knowledge duplication…

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…

Fact of the matter is, MOOCs are here to stay, in some form or other…

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…

Content is increasingly open. Teaching has become more open, due partially to the rise of MOOCs. Credentialing, however, remains locked and closed…

I recommend that if you are interested in MOOCs and open education you should read this post and reflect on the progress made in the past 12 months and now on whether all this progress will be lost in the face of the first obstacles and set backs. I dearly hope not!

The DIY MBA is here, now who is going to award the degree?

It seems the future is already here with students now in a position to assemble a degree syllabus out of free MOOC courses offered by higher education institutions. This article An MBA For Under A Grand? Seriously! describes one such student who has taken a very proactive approach and is completing an MBA’s worth of studying over 2-3 years at little or no cost.

The questions raised by this new approach to higher education are many, but for those seeking to use the end product of education (certification and grade) in recruitment, questions of particular relevance are:

  • Will employers recognise this study without a degree certificate from a recognised University?
  • How does an employer or institution validate that such courses have been completed and at what level of performance.
  • Are there education institutions willing to recognise the completion of such open courses from a variety of providers in the awarding of a conventional degree?

It seems there is an opportunity for a recognised university with a solid reputation to take on a role of quality assurance for open courses and award equivalent credits and even degrees where appropriate. Plus this is a service which could be offered at a cost which the student is likely to be happy to pay.  Its going to be interesting to see who is first to step up to the plate…


The MOOC hype cycle… the trough of disillusionment looms

Following hot on the heels of the news of Udacity’s change in direction, the commentators are now rushing to declare that MOOCs are dead. With perfect timing a survey is published that shows most participants in Coursera’s xMOOC courses already had a graduate degree further undermining the premise of expanding quality education extolled as a benefit of the MOOC model.

This all appears to be a glass half empty perspective which coincides with the start of the download slope of the hype cycle. I wonder how long it will take for MOOCs to become part of the wall paper of education… i.e. reach the plateau of productivity part of the hype cycle graph above. An extremely useful model with particular benefits and limitations which does offer the potential for greatly lowering the barriers of access to education.

The alternative interpretation of the same survey data is that of the 34,779 Coursera students surveyed, 20% (that is just short of 7000) didn’t have a graduate degree. That is a significant penetration into a population that conventionally do not get access to university level education. To reinforce the success of Coursera courses in widening access see the graphic below:

Coursera Map Oct 2013

This map is published by Kris Olds and is the participation data from Oct 2013. This gives an indication of just how global the reach is, despite the requirement for access to the internet and the largely graduate level nature of the courses provided.

I’m looking forward to the MOOC hype cycle moving on so we can all get on with our jobs and use the MOOC model when and where it is appropriate without being either lauded or criticised for the choice.

Udacity changes track

The big news this week in open learning is the change in direction for one of the largest advocates of open degree type courses Udacity. A profile of Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun published by Fast Company highlights the recognised problem of low completion rates in MOOC type open courses as being the reason behind Udacity’s switch in emphasis towards corporate sponsored technical and vocational training. However it does seem more likely that business models driven by company investors are behind this new strategy. Other points raised in this article:

  • Improving the quality of the course materials, interactivity, pedagogy etc did not appear to affect the low completion rates.
  • Open on-line courses were not a good fit for disadvantaged students outside the university system

The type of students recruited by open free MOOC type courses (they are generally already well educated) and the low completion rates of those enrolled are both valid issues. However when courses are free and open the commitment to completion is low and many enrolled students will do so for reasons other than certification and completion. I know this because I am currently participating in an open course on Global Health run on the Coursera platform by the University of Geneva and I have no intention of completing the course formally. Instead for me this course is an opportunity to be exposed to new ideas and perspectives which I am using to reflect on our Physiopedia project.

The implications of Udacity’s actions… I think over the coming year we may see other players in this market who are driven by the the bottom line also change focus as short term business models founder. Those that are driven by the desire to educate more widely and openly should not and hopefully will not give up on the MOOC model because in terms of learning it works and has global reach.

Tips for organizing a MOOC

Thanks to Michael Rowe for highlighting this blog post on 6 steps to organising a MOOC. This provides a great overview for those embarking on running their first MOOC. While we can’t claim to have the level of experience of Dr Muller, we do have our own top tips based on our experience of running a mini-cMOOC this summer:

  • Finding/recruiting collaborators is key… they will help share the sometimes painful burden of providing the 24-7 support that holds the course together.
  • Keep it simple both on platforms/technologies used and tasks assigned, so students can concentrate on the content and sharing/collaborating rather than struggling with using multiple systems and assignments.
  • Don’t assume you have to use a closed or paid for platform. The free and easy to use was perfect for us. Using Google hangouts or Skype would probably satisfy most synchronous needs, but bear in mind with a global cohort synchronous activities would almost always exclude some participants.

Interpreting your cMOOC network…

Following our cMOOC course this summer I was very interested in this article that shows how emerging networks can be interpreted in many ways. Perhaps more important than the networks is the identification of the members who act as connectors between the groups. We certainly saw this behaviour by some participants in our cohort and their contribution appeared to be absolutely key to the success of the course for all involved.