Saturday, November 02, 2013

MOOCs – the flipped University?

MOOCs are a phenomenon, a wake-up call for Higher Education and wake-up calls, create a sense of urgency, the first step in the process of change. Here are ten MOOC flips that explain why they may be turning traditional Higher Education on its head.
1. Flip from supply to demand
As George Siemens says, MOOCs are “a supply response to a demand problem”. They have tapped into an immense amount of frustration in that the system has remained immune to change, closed, inward looking and increasingly expensive. A global flood of learners has turned up for courses on every imaginable topic. All sorts of people, from high school kids, parents, alumni, people in the developed world to the retired, have signed up in their millions. Lifelong learning has, at last, surfaced and been made visible. This demand is not going away, it will only get bigger.
2. Flip from offline to online
Like Lady Gaga, MOOCs are a ‘phenomenon’. They came from nowhere, well almost but mostly from online learning, OER and pioneers like Siemens, Downes and Khan. We should be glad of this ‘phenomenon’ effect because I can think of only a handful of examples of similar educational ‘phenomena’ – Open University, Google search, Wikipedia and YouTube. All of these have been flips from offline to online.
3. Flip from horizontal to vertical
Suddenly, we have VOOKs (Vocational MOOCs), HOOKs (High School MOOCs) and African MOOCs. MOOCs have gone viral and spread downwards into and upwards into workplace and lifelong learning. Rather than staying within the horizontal band of higher education, traditionally based on the 18 year old undergraduate, they have flipped out of the horizontal to a vertical model.
4. Flips teaching to learning
You can’t choose your teachers at school or University but you can with MOOCs. The focus on MOOCs is not on the teacher or lecture but the learner, who chooses what course they want to do, when to start, when to watch lectures and formative work, and whether they want certification or not. They are fundamentally more leaner-centric.
5. Flips assessment
MOOC assessment is flipped in several senses. First, peer assessment flips tutor only assessment to learners assessing each others work. Second, many do MOOCs without any interest in paper certification, reversing the universal certification in the old system - it’s learning for the sake of learning. Third, you don’t need to be assessed on one day a year in a physical location within the University. You can choose when and by what method, either online through services such as ProctorU or at centres around the world through Pearson VUE.
6. Flip the standards
MOOCs have little to fear from being benchmarked against traditional campus-based courses. The online experience need not be inferior and may, in many cases, be  superior to such courses. As Siemens said, let's flip this and “hold classrooms and lectures to same standards as online!” On costs – they’re cheaper,traditional courses expensive. On numbers – they’re massive, traditional courses tiny. On access – many are available to start at any time, not once a year. On interaction with others – many have structured peer-to- peer contact, lively forums, social media offshoots and physical meetups.
7. Flips drop-out to drop-in
Drop-out in MOOCs is not the problem people imagine – it’s a category mistake, taking the old-school concept of high-school drop-out or University drop-out. and applying it wrongly in this new domain. I’m just amazed that millions have dropped in! let’s celebrate the fact that tens, even hundreds of thousands turn up for these experiences before pointing the finger. I have stopped in some MOOCs, I’ve also stopped in lots of things – that’s life. I’ve rightly stopped reading some books and watching some movies. Stopping is rational, continuing with a course you don't like for months or years is not.
8. Flips criticism
Before they’ve had a chance to breathe, sections of academia have tried to throttle the infant at birth. They have failed of course. The fact that MOOCs have been such a gadfly is as sure a sign as any that they are having impact. Let’s flip this. The immediate criticisms, on drop-out, pedagogy, inclusion, human contact, assessment and monetisation express a deeper fear, that these things may not be so great in offline Higher Education. The pedagogy is varied and evolving experience is richer than most people imagine and, above all, people like them and use them.
9. Flip from inward to outward
MOOCs are not only the outward facing democratisation of education but internally a facilitator for change and internal improvement. They hold a mirror up to Higher Education and force us all to ask more searching problems about the purpose, methods and costs. In this sense MOOCs have flipped from inward to outward delivery then flipped back into internal catalysts for change.
10. Flipped University
For the first time in 1000 years we have flipped education to delivers quality education to massive numbers, at low cost, that people want and enjoy. And what’s the response by the curmudgeons? Not in my back yard. It’s intellectual nimbyism. The reason MOOCs have succeeded, when so many smaller, even funded initiatives by and within Universities have not, is that it boldly flips the model. Inward looking attitudes have turned outwards, internal courses have flipped into external courses, the 18-year old undergraduate has been flipped into lifelong learners. The agricultural calendar has been flipped into anywhere, anytime. The offline only model has been flipped into the online model. The extortionate costs have been flipped to zero at point of delivery. What’s not to like here?
You might assume from above that I’m being critical of Universities. Well, to a degree, as they have their serious deficiencies in pedagogy, some poor teaching and high costs. In fact I want more and better Higher Education, not a system premised on scarcity and elitism. Like the flipped classroom, MOOCs may be the best thing that’s happened to Higher Education in the last two hundred years. It may encourage growth in higher education, based, not on the paper chase for degrees, the cramming, the poor teaching and primitive assessment but to a newer model, where students are drawn from a wider world and can try and take courses when they want from where they want. Are we in not the learning game? Can’t we celebrate access and low costs for learners? AMEN to the MOOC!


June said...

This was very well put. Agree!

Peter Westerhof said...

Already known facts, but concisely put together, thus offering a clear view on the discussion.

Flipping the Business Model should be added. After all, it was astounding how fast parties tried to corner the market in order to earn a buck or two. Entirely disregarding the 'flipped learner'.
A simple solution might be the model used in IT-training and certificates :
1. DIY learning for free
2. specialized training for a fee.
3. 1 & 2 pay the same for the same examination to earn the creditation.

John Rogers said...

Goodness me, has Illich's "Deschooling Society" finally arrived forty years late? Bring it on!