Tuesday, January 12, 2016

10 reasons why 2015 is the year of the MOOC

2012 was heralded, largely by people who had never taken any, as the year of the MOOC. 2013 was heralded, largely by people who hadn’t taken any, as the year MOOCs died, 2014 saw realism emerge with a swing towards real demand (vocational) demand and 2015 finished as what Stuart Sutherland called “the actual Year of the MOOC”. Here are his reasons for this last statement:
1. MOOCs are not massive, demand is massive
Stuart’s first point is spot on. As MOOCs have adjusted to demand, they’ve got smaller, better and adjusted to learner, not teacher design. With over 400 delivered, 35 million enrolments and 18 million in 2015, more that any previous year, MOOCs are not going away. We’re still taking them and still making them.
2. MOOC learners motivated by desire to learn
I made this point in this report on the first six Edinburgh Coursera MOOCs. The great majority of MOOC takers are not there because they want certification or accreditation, they really do want to learn. That’s why completion is not such a big deal. Sure large numbers enrol, take a peek, then drop out, that’s because they are window shopping, again a point I made when this whole thing started, It’s OK to drop-out, what’s astonishing is the number of people who drop-in. Stuart recommends a report from Southampton “Liberatinglearning: experiences of MOOCs”. It really is worth a read.
3. Large numbers of secondary school students are taking MOOCs
This is heartening. In Stuart’s work on MOOCs in healthcare, the second largest audience, after Doctors and nurses, was (surprisingly) School students. He is keen that we tap into this market for students who are looking at different careers and subjects, while still at school. This ‘look-see’ role of MOOCs could well positively influence the choice young people make, preventing wrong choices and opening up new ones. Futurelearn and other providers have even provided, in a timely fashion just before University choices are made, courses on College readiness and Try out newsubjects/careers, Writing applications for university and Preparing forUniversity. An average of 11k students signed-up.
5. Huge number of educators taking MOOCs
Often taken as a weakness, Stuart rightly points out that this is a strength. First MOOCs have been marketed at this audience, many other target audiences simply don’t know they exist – that’s changing as the big providers market out towards vocational learning. Lots of these educators are the ‘look-see’ people, which is great, as they are the early adopters and influencers, who will take MOOCs and other forms of online learning forward. An interesting side effect is MOOCs targeted at educators. A good example is the Blended learning MOOC I defined and put forward in 2013, that has now been delivered via Futurelearn.
6. MOOCs are stepping stones
The straw man, that MOOCs will destroy HE, has been put to bed. This was always a tiny number of journalists and people new to the game that made this claim – that’s why the claim became a bit of a piñata. MOOCs are just one species of online learning. Stuart mentioned Citizens Maths, another project I’m proud to have helped fund, put forward by Seb Schmoller, a really informed practitioner and commentator on MOOCs. MOOCs, having swung towards vocational subjects and really are being taken for solid reasons. Coursera’s survey of MOOCers showed two main types; The Career Builder and The Education Seeker. That’s helpful, as it starts to untangle the types of audiences out there. This is NOT about the 18 year-old undergraduate. It’s much more important than that.
7.  Research focusing on learner experience
We’ve had ‘lectures’ for 2500 years since Plato’s Academy – it is still the dominant pedagogy in Higher Education, yet as Sir John Daniels showed in the talk before Stuart, there’s “very little evidence to support f2f teaching therefore substitute for cheaper, scalable digital options… research shows that f2f is NOT superior to online teaching, which is also true of synchronous f2f”. Stuart put forward the interesting idea that a MOOC shape is emerging around highly analytical and integrated learning. Interestingly, the ‘social’ side of MOOCs may be overplayed. The evidence suggests that social participation is not as strong as some suggest and that the quality of social is often quite weak. Fascinating.
He pointed us to this report ‘Engaged learning in MOOCs: a study using the UK Engagement Survey’. An HEA Engagement Survey was used on two Southampton MOOCs. Participants felt engaged in the intellectual process of forming understanding, making connections with previous knowledge and experience, and exploring knowledge actively, creatively and critically. An addition finding was that persistent learners engaged, regardless of prior educational attainment.
8. Jury is out on MOOC learning design
Stuart is right here but I think this is due to it being relatively embryonic and the limits of design expertise in HE, as well as platform restrictions. MOOCs still have to deliver real engagement in terms of learning by doing and actual problem solving. This is often substituted by ‘chat’ and ‘peer assessment’. However, in my experience, in the vocational MOOCs on coding, and other similar subjects, this is coming of age. Stuart pointed us toward this paper Instructionalquality of MassiveOpen Online Courses (MOOCs) by Anoush Margaryan  et al.
9. MOOCs offer value for real needs
MOOCs have certainly provided education beyond boundaries and borders. They have reached out to satisfy a demand for higher education beyond the campus model, which is high cost and still based on scarcity. He quotes the Ebola Virus MOOC from Alison and participation from many countries giving diversity within MOOC cohorts. This is a big advantage in an educational experience.
10. Dementia MOOC
Stuart gave a reasonable and level headed analysis of where we had got to on MOOCs by the end of 2015 then ended by mentioning one fascinating MOOC. Let me tell you about this MOOC as it shows how things have progressed. It is the Dementia MOOC by the University of derby. I like this example, as it’s focused, shows the big boys how it should be done and illustrates the sort of progress that’s being made. First it is low budget but high on design. As Syed Munib Hadi, Head of the Academic Innovation hub said, “it all started with a focus on learning not teaching’” In fact, the teaching and many frontline people who were shown on video in this MOOC, is exemplary, as it all seems so real. Syed is right in saying that this is all about the learners, and he has the proof,  with a 35.48% completion rate. That’s impressive. As Syed reminded us, “remember that the UK Higher Education system has a 16% drop out rate in the first year”. They kept the course to six weeks as “we don’t take short course seriously in HE, so MOOCs are filling the gap and they’re getting shorter.” Badges worked with six badges for each of six sections, and an ovell badge for completion, this rewards those who don’t want to do all content, as well as those who see completion as a goal.

This was an honest and level-headed presentation by someone who not only studies MOOC but also designs, develops and delivers MOOCs. It was Stuart who helped me define the Blended learning MOOC delivered by Futurelearn. His comments were astute and free from that strand of irrational skepticism one often finds, even in the HE edtech community.


Unknown said...

You make some really good points. The one thing I would add to the list is that MOOCs, while free to the learner, still cost money to produce and run (sometimes quite a bit) and the jury is still out on a sustainable revenue model for many (most?) providers. Personally, I'm going to hold off declaring a "year of MOOCs" until there is clarity on the monetization in a sustainable way.

Andy Tedd said...

Very interesting Donald - particularly the identification of certain audiences

There is a fundamental problem with the term 'massive' IMO - massive is the enemy of good design.

A much better understanding of different groups needs will lead to better products, which will then find wider audiences by virtue of bring good.

Building them around 'communities of purpose' seems like the way to get the kind of learner buy-in which will be necessary to establish a credible peer assessment process which can be ratified in a way which will make them look good on someone's CV.


Donald Clark said...

The average academic teaches at most a few hundred students a year, often very many less. This means just a few thousand over their entire lifetime. So the word 'massive' is still, I suppose, relatively useful, if we're exceeding that in a single course. But I agree that focus on practices is useful. This, I think, is exactly what is happening. The Dementia MOOC is a good example. To be honest, I'm not sure that this has much to do with the traditional University system at all. It's ploughing its own furrow. If we wait for Universities and the regulatory bodies to come up with accreditaion we'll be waiting forever. The desig issue is slightly different. I think that has more to do with the platforms and adjuct tools/MOOCs are still quite primitive because the platforms are shallow and the courses they reflect are often much more fragmented and scrappy than people imagine. Is it, in a sense, exposing hte weaknesses of existing courses, rather than MOOC courses in themselves?