Sunday, December 22, 2013

MOOCs: Adoption curve explains a lot

Online not offline
Much as Higher Education would like to think it has a monopoly on learning, it is merely one in many, many layers in the learning cake. There is no monolithic MOOC audience. MOOCs are and will become increasingly varied in terms of audience, subjects and pedagogy. This is the big difference between institutional audiences and online audiences. It’s similar to the fractional distillation that has taken place as TV viewers move from scheduled programmes, to catch-up, to on-demand, to boxed sets. MOOCs are not campus courses, they’re online and subject to the behavioural habits of online learners, not the campus. There’s a big difference.
Adoption curve
A more analytic approach is to use the work of Rogers and recognize that disruptive innovation is first used by ‘innovators, then ‘early adopters’, before moving into the early majority. It should not surprise us in the least that the innovators and early adopters are highly educated, with high social and financial status, time and close contact with the innovators and the channels they use. Note that these early adopters are not young tecchies but older people who are immersed in education. The first wave of MOOCs were made by Universities and the innovators and early adopters, naturally inhabit that space. Now that MOOCs are being created and marketed beyond the early adoption phase into the early and late majority, we will see, and already do see, different audience profiles emerging. What you don’t do is condemn an innovation before it has had exposure to the early majority. Things take time.

Comparisons odious if not odd
A second factor, emphasized by George Siemens and others but seemingly ignored by many, is the simple fact that most MOOCs are ‘open’ in the sense that one can sign up in seconds. This means that there’s not much at stake in terms of commitment. Compare this to an expensive University course, where you will have spent most of your life at school working towards that goal, literally moved into new accommodation, possibly in a far-off place, where you know almost no one. On top of this you’ve paid a large sum of money for tuition, as well as more money on materials, travel, accommodation and living expenses.
So, when you use the term drop-out, it suddenly becomes inappropriate. With online, you don’t hear about drop-outs from Wikipedia or YouTube, even long-format games. With lifelong learners completion is not always the goal or even desirable and the comparison starts to wane. Indeed, to compare MOOC registration and course completion with University course registration and course completion is almost absurd. The comparison is, if not odious, certainly odd.
Even bad comparisons work
But let’s suppose you stick with the comparison. Look at drop-out rates in the US, as the famous Harvard study did (2012) to show that nearly half of America’s college students drop out before receiving a degree. The study found that only 56% of students in America’s colleges and universities graduate within six years, while only 29% of students in two-year programs complete their degrees within three years. High costs and crippling student loans are having an effect. In countries where there is a large and well-developed college and University system, this tends to be true. In for-profit colleges, the problem is even worse. More than three-quarters of for-profit students fail to earn a degree after six years, according to a 2011 report. All of a sudden, when you clean out the window shoppers from the MOOC completion data, the comparison is not half bad.
What is ‘Massive’?
So let’s re-evaluate what ‘massive’ means here? We know that registrations have been massive in terms of the total number of students registered, in the tens, and sometimes hundreds of thousands. But this top line figure is a measure of innovator and early adopter curiosity, interest, window shoppers, lurkers and learners. It is a heady fuel mixture of people who are just browsing to serious completers. So let’s try to unpack this early adopter data.
Online habits
We know a lot about online behavior, where the majority consume, a minority comment and an even smaller minority create. As rules of thumb we have the 90:9:1 or 89:10:1 principles, where only 1% create content, 9% comment and 90% lurk. Web masters and marketing people use analytics to look at bounce rate, page views and other metrics matched against goals to measure the success of their online efforts. With MOOCs it is likely that something more akin to these online habits and the Pareto principle is at work, with 20% of people accounting for 80% of the active learning. In fact MOOC completion rates, if that’s your goal are better than this.
Early adoption phase
The problem we face with MOOCs is exacerbated by the fact that we are still in the early adoption phase where curiosity and window shopping are still key drivers skewing the data. Early adopters tend to be those who are well-educated and well-versed in online activity. It will take time before the real numbers ‘settle’ into patterns that reveal real patterns of use. However, even at this early stage, we can try to identify sub-sets within the data. With MOOCs it is important to unpack the total registration number to reveal the true intent and behaviours of those who register.
Non-active and Active learners
A useful distinction is between ‘active’ and ‘non-active’ learners, namely those who have gone beyond the opening of the course and show that they intend to persevere. Note that this does not necessarily mean complete. One could apply a simple criterion here, of those who persevere beyond a certain point in the course to show active participation and intent. This could be those who go beyond the first video, first assessment and further. I’d suggest that one needs to go further, and do a fair amount in their first visit with at least one active, repeat visit.
Non-active learners
These include three types:
1. Curious
2. Checkers
3. Toe dippers
1. Curious
They have no intention of carrying on or completing the course and are just plain curious. They are curious to see what a MOOC is, how easy it is to sign up. This group will diminish rapidly, when their curiosity is exhausted and MOOCs become mainstream.
2. Checkers
They may be looking at a whole range of courses on different subjects, a range of courses on the same subject, researching, writing a journalistic piece on, aggregating MOOCs on a website. They are there with intent but that intent has nothing to do with completion or certification.
3. Window shoppers
By far the largest group may be more than curious and register to try out the MOOC. They will be taking a temperature check in terms of the experience being too shallow/deep, easy/difficult, boring/engaging, irrelevant/relevant, to the point/long winded, esoteric/practical, didactic/open, poor quality/good quality and so on. They are still in judgment mode. As they are there without any financial or any other type of commitment, they are happy to simply have a peek.
Active learners
This include three types:
1. Lifelong learners
2. Completers
3. Certification chasers
1. Lifelong learners
These are learners who are likely to already have a degree or track record in learning at an academic level. They are largely learning for the sale of learning and less interested in certification, even completion, taking what they want from the course, not being concerned about stopping. They are usually professionals with full time jobs, who find it difficult to stick to the timetabled regime of many MOOCs, especially Coursera. Even within this group we see ‘episodic’ and ‘binge’ learners. Episodic learners are busy and find it difficult to follow the standard undergraduate, week-by-week model. The course is either too fast or too slow for their needs. The binge learners has a few times when he/she can indulge in a deep bout of learning and doesn’t have the time to do it as regularly as the course demands. We are already seeing data that shows how overlong courses tend to work less well online and a move towards smaller or mini-MOOCs.
2. Completers
This group have a natural tendency to see things through to completion. They don’t necessarily want accreditation and are happy with a Statement or Certificate of completion.
3. Certification chasers
These are likely to be younger learners who need certification to get into a course or job. They may also be looking to enhance or change career.
This appropriate segmentation of the data makes a big difference to the reported numbers. For example, the six Coursera MOOCs run by the University of Edinburgh had 308,000 registrations with Statements of Completion. When, however, the identified the ‘Active’ learners, the figure was 21%.
Decent analysis of MOOC learner data needs to avid the trap of seeing visitors as a monolithic lump. It is much more like web analytics where one is matching visitors against goals, and different visitors have different goals.

It is reasonable to expect, that when MOOCs evolve they will become shorter and more engaging.  I don’t see MOOCs as having to necessarily mimic the cohort campus model. If anything they will become less timetabled and more asynchronous, as this fits what we already know about what happens when offline phenomena go online. They shift towards on-demand, anywhere, anytime access. MOOCs are already morphing towards massive audiences well beyond the 18-year-old undergraduate model, into corporates, not-for-profits, lifelong learners, CPD, vocational and other areas of learning. HE is for a few years, learning is for life.

Monday, December 16, 2013

MOOCs How ‘open’ are they? (7 dimensions)

A MOOC is open in several senses of the word but by far the most important is the idea that they are OPEN IN SPIRIT, not open in any technical sense but open in a moral sense. This means a genuine attempt to open up education to all through open access, low cost, online delivery. Access to powerful, and free at the point of access, educational tools and resources is available through Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and a myriad of other online resources. The Open Educational Resources movement also provided the ground from which MOOCs could sprout. More specifically, the Khan Academy came along with more structured video-based learning experiences. All of this was, from the learner’s point of view, open in the sense of being accessible and free.
7 dimensions of openness
But openness has several other dimensions relevant to MOOCs: 
1. Open access
2. Open structure
3. Open educational resources
4. Open collaboration
5. Open accreditation
6. Open source code
7. Open data

1. Open access - cost really matters
The original intention was open in the sense of access i.e. anyone could simply sign up without prior qualifications. This signaled a moral agenda about opening up education for all, freeing it from scarcity and high cost, towards a model of abundance and no cost. Cost is a big issue. There’s no such thing as a free munch (m for MOOC) but education wants to be free and this is a vital condition for universal, global access. The cost is being reduced to cents/pence per learners that is a great achievement.
2. Open structure - don't copy synchronous, semester model
Many, not all, MOOCs are still tethered to the HE 6/8/10 week semester with a start date, end date, timetable and timed weekly releases of content. As the market progresses and we see that the '18 year old undergraduate' is not the audience but busy people with jobs and so on - lifelong learners. The courses are getting more asynchronous, available anytime and shorter. Coursera is still restrictive, delivered at set times, Udacity less so and EdX does have archived courses. This is good for access. Another access issue is functionality on devices, some platforms are excellent, some appalling.
3. Open educational resources
The degree to which you can reuse, repurpose MOOCs and MOOC content is interesting. Many of the video resources on some platforms are on YouTube, similarly with other media shared-resources. Coursera is the least open with no open licensed content available. Udacity uses YouTube to host its videos and allows reuse under Creative Commons. EdX is more explicit stating that they hope to do much more in terms of open content.
4. Open collaboration
Almost all MOOCs offer forums of one description or another but this is still quite weak. What learners have been doing is spilling out into social media and physical meetups. Interestingly the data from the six Edinburgh Coursera MOOCs showed relatively low forum use (15%) but there can be no doubt that this is a dimension in openness. One could, and some do, argue that learner created content is another dimension of openness but let’s tuck it in here for the moment.
5. Open accreditation
MOOCs assess and therefore accredit on a number of levels from statements of completion (fine for most), certificates of distinction, through to online and offline proctored exams. It is important not to be too hung up on closure through certification and accreditation, as the majority of lifelong learners appear not to want even certification. Nevertheless, openness of accreditation would be desirable, perhaps through OpenBadges and freeing others to accredit.
6. Open source code
EdX have become a major player in MOOCland by making the code open source. This encourages participation, lowers costs and stimulates innovation. Openness in this sense may give them market advantage, especially as it’s in line with the spirit of openness I mentioned earlier. LINK
7. Open data
The University of Edinburgh (LINK) have published data from their six MOOC experiment and the Gates Foundation (LINK) are funding research into MOC data. But the degree to which data is harvested and disseminated is quite sparse. This is not an ‘open data’ environment (yet). Questions still need to be asked about who owns what data and what happens to that data after it is collected. At the moment we have lots of bare number stats about registration, who did what, when people stopped (a category mistake called drop-out) and so on, but as many platforms are not gathering meaningful data about the learners, even age, background and so on, entrance and exit surveys are still being done. Some interesting research is starting around harvesting qualitative data from social media such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook from MOOC users. How open is MOOC data – not very.
Let’s push at the door to see how open MOOCs can be. While it is important to be realistic on costs, ownership and data protection, we need to see how far we can take open access, structure, resources, collaboration, accreditation, code and data. Note that complete openness is not always a virtue. It is largely a matter of degree. The schema above could be used to score MOOCs on ‘openness’ but it is more important to move forward and accept that the MOOC landscape will have many players with many different models. To repeat what was said at the start, it is important to hold true to the spirit of openness, while allowing different models to flourish. To achieve this we must rise above the simple public v private, dropout v dropin, xMOOC v cMOOC dualisms. Let’s not skewer ourselves on the horns of false dilemmas just as the show is getting on the road.

Friday, December 13, 2013

MOOCs: Education (not information) wants to be free

They say that information wants to be free. Actually, that is wrong, information (data) should not always be free. Privacy matters. Sustainable business models matter. Ownership of data matters. Education, however, does want to be free. Like health, it is a human right. This is the real gift that the web offers, to free us from the tyranny of time, place and above all, learning that is bound up in institutions.
I’m fine with good institutions; schools, colleges and universities but when they start to act as if that’s the only place that real learning takes place, I’m not so fine. Scarcity in education is not a virtue, neither is restricted access, unnecessary expense, loans and debt. The western model of scarce, elite, expensive institutional learning is starting to creak. If we really want a step change in education, we should make it free, or at least as cheap as possible. This does not mean simply ballooning the public debt. We know what happens when we simply displace debt to the state. We need to make it more efficient and therefore cheaper.
That’s exactly what’s happened with Google, Wikipedia, YouTube and many other useful resources. They’re free and they’re popular. Abundance is what we need and that means low cost. As with all successful learning tools and experiences on the web – make is free and compelling and they will come.
We have to get out of the model built on scarcity towards the democritisation, decentralisation and disintermediation of learning – the Napsterisation of learning. MOOCs, for me, are a way of reframing learning around this idea, seeing it as a right, something that is free (at least affordable), open and not locked up paces where people charge you extortionate sums for entry. We know that this means a shift from high cost, low occupancy buildings to online.
I’ve heard a number of arguments against education being free, none of which convince me. The first is that people won’t value it unless we charge them money. No, education should be like love and sex, something you want, enjoy and don’t have to pay for. We don’t need to build campuses as that’s where people learn. They’re far too big as they are thank you very much. Stop constructing buildings and focus on constructing minds. Never have there been so many teachers in so many institutions, yet teachers are not a necessary condition for learning. It may very well be the case that we need less teachers, just as ATMs meant less bank tellers, online booking less travel agents, online shopping less shop assistants, spreadheets, less accountants, word processors less typists and so on. We have to be realistic and accept the fact that the world has changed and that this change is irreversible.
We have had a phenomenal rise in the number of teachers since the introduction of universal and compulsory schooling, a huge increase in academic teachers due to the massification of higher education and a massive rise in the number of trainers post second world war. The fact that turkeys do not vote for Christmas, does not negate the fact that most people love Christmas and want to eat turkey.
One 'O' in the word MOOC means more to me than any other and that's Open. The spirit of openess is a moral, not technical issue. It means open access and that means free or at least very cheap. MOOCs are one, and only one, way of achieving that goal.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

10 big reasons for rise of corporate MOOCs

Seems odd – a corporate MOOC, if only for the primary problem of them being ‘Open’. Corporate training is often built as closed, bespoke product, as companies want competitive edge. What’s the point of using stuff that everyone can use – we want to be better. For this reason, much corporate online learning will remain in-house and this will continue. However there are lots of other opportunities for MOOCs:
1. Customer learning
Google has an excellent ‘search’ MOOC and there’s every incentive for intangible software and tangible product vendors to help customers use their stuff. SAP and many others are using MOOCs to train customers on how to use their software, especially new products. Just as most have shifted their advertising and training budgets online, so they have shifted their marketing budgets online. MOOCs may well turn out to be a valuable marketing tool, giving you authentic edge over your competitors. Help customers learn how to use your product and you develop a closer relationship with them and keep them.
2. SME training
Governments have always struggled to deal with the SME market as the SME eye is on sales, marketing, product, delivery and cash - not learning. MOOCs may well be a solution to this problem. There’s already a flood of good, business training on MOOCs. The main benefit is that MOOCs are free, non-bureaucratic, immediately accessible, therefore a boon for cash strapped, small businesses. A more specific species of SME training is supplier training. Large international corporates are competent at training, and well resourced, but they often have problems with suppliers and the vast supplier chain that feeds them. These are largely SMEs with limited resources and low levels of training activity. Having this training online gives a multinational organisation reach. MOOCs certainly have a role here.
3. Internal training
There is already evidence that organisations are looking at MOOC platforms as an alternative to the traditional, expensive LMS. They are attracted by low cost, agile and scalable nature of these platforms in terms of their coding structure (Django, Python, Ruby on rails etc.), where the rendering and representation is kept separate from the logic and interactions. This is in contrast to the monolithic code and limited single database use of traditional LMS vendors. They are also looking at some of the innovations that the MOOCosphere is coming up with in terms of peer assessment, online assessment and pedagogy. Christian Kuhna of Adidas, understands this stuff and sees MOOCs as an opportunity for both employees and customers. “We want to integrate the great stuff on the internet into our learning offerings”, he said, as well as for use by a wider audiences, such as customers and suppliers.
4. External resources in blended learning
Internal courses can be expensive to build and deliver and now that there are hundreds of ‘free’ MOOCs out there it makes sense to use and integrate them into your training. This is especially true of business, finance and IT, where MOOCs can be seen by corporates as part of a sophisticated off- and online blend. The blended MOOC is a real option for corporates, where they have the resources to deliver other components internally with face-to-face, tutor support and so on, to balance out the purely online nature of the MOOC.
5. Flipped classroom
This model is a more specific example of blended learning, where the MOOC becomes that which you study at home for the knowledge and exposition and the internal training gets you to practice and adapt that knowledge, within your organisation. This gives you free external training and internal relevance and competitive edge. One can easily see a cohort of people within an organisation starting a MOOC and moving forward together with mutual support to achieve real learning.
6. Continuous Professional development
This has long been a problem in organisations and often a responsibility that has been long abandoned to the employee. MOOCs can redress that balance, as they are free, or at least very low cost, allowing organisations to recommend and encourage their use for CPD. Rather than relying on over-priced courses from the Chartered Institutes of X, Y and Z, you can point people towards better, more relevant and recent learning in MOOCs by known, inspirational experts, that are hot off the shelf.
7. Recruitment
MOOCs are already being used in recruitment, with high performing students being recommended, especially to tech companies. The whole talent management process may become infused with MOOC activity, with MOOCs already being taken seriously by employers, who see such learners as having initiative, self-motivation and competences. I’d love to see MOOCs crop up on CVs and the recent tie up with LinkedIn should accelerate this process.
8. Entrepreneurship
This is an interesting one, as there’s already a good supply, and high demand, for quality, entrepreneurship MOOCs at all levels. This is a good sign. I always wince when I hear of ‘Entrepreneurship’ degree courses., usually run by people who have never sold anything on eBay, never mind started or run a business. Similarly with ‘leadership’, so often taught by those who have never led anything other than a course.
9. Sponsorship
Corporates, such as Google and AT&T, already see the value of sponsoring MOOCs. It can be part of their social responsibility push, or simple marketing. Being associated with a free educational resource may well fit high-end brands, especially high end consultancies and tech companies.
10. Certification not the issue
Rolls Royce spend £40 million on training a year but only £2 million on certified training. That’s why the ‘certification’ argument doesn’t really matter that much in this market. Organisations want skills and competences, not bits of paper. This is often a message lost on education providers. It is also a good reason for MOOCs being more relevant, unshackled by the obsession with paper certification.
LMS integration
There is the issue of LMS integration. Companies want data that proves efficacy and competence and want it through their LMS. This is merely a technical hurdle over which most MOOC platform vendors are already jumping. Tin Can promises to provide an interoperability standard way beyond that of SCORM.
When you consider the rationale for corporate MOOCs, Udacity’s move in that direction doesn’t seem so surprising. They have forged a relationship with Google, Autodesk, and other tech companies and this is fine. EdX is being used by the steel manufacturer Tenaris in its Tenaris University to deliver learning to 27,000 employees. Udemy and others already serve this market. McAfee use MOOCs for sales training, essentially a flipped classroom model. MOOCs are no longer just an HE issue.
Once an innovative digital genie escapes from the bottle, all sorts of people want to see what it can offer, and corporates are no slouches when it comes to innovation, especially when that innovation offers very low costs, quick access and global, online reach.
Try this experiment if you work in training. Just click on each of these links and make a list of any of the courses you think would be useful to your organisation. I think you’ll be surprised.