What’s Next for Education? Answer: Follow-the-Learner

follow-the-leader-sign-620x250Most readers are likely familiar with the childhood game follow-the-leader. The ‘leader’ would lead doing various antics while the ‘followers’ would mimic the leaders’ every move. Players who failed to follow risked elimination from the game, typically an insignificant consequence from what I remember. It’s not unlike what’s happened in higher education in the last two years with the MOOC phenomenon. A handful of elite institutions began to offer Massive Open Online Courses [MOOCs] taught by the best-of-the-best faculty, for free to the world, and the me-too race began. Now there are over 119 institutions worldwide offering MOOCs via for-profit and not-for-profit MOOC providers (Haggard, 2013). It’s apparent that many institutions that played follow-the-leader, weren’t quite sure why they were in the game in the first place.

I attended several conference sessions in 2012 where I had opportunities to pose the question “why are you offering your MOOC[s]?” to institutional representatives—typical responses were ‘to promote the institution brand’ and/or to ‘participate and experiment’.  It turns out that much was for naught given that most learners enrolled in the MOOCs [known as xMOOCs which differ significantly from the initial constructivist MOOCs] were not the university’s target market in the first place. The majority of learners [typically 90%, if not more] didn’t complete the courses, and were in fact quite well-educated, holding at the very least an undergraduate degree. Reasons for taking the courses varied, but usually learners cited ‘personal interest’ or to ‘upgrade skills’ (Haggard, 2013). Yet higher education administrators [and the media] viewed MOOCs as panacea for its woes, despite reports emerging early on from various institutions with insights into student demographics.  As readers might remember San Jose State University tried the MOOC format for undergraduate courses with Udacity that failed quite spectacularly. This was just one of several efforts by various institutions to use xMOOCs for undergraduate education. Thousands of hours [and dollars] later, many institutions are entering into 2014 wondering what do we do now?  The answer lies with the learners.

The pressure is greater now than ever before for higher education to reform in some way—cut class sizes, reduce tuition fees, reduce administrative costs, attract students, etc. Numerous US colleges and universities are entering the New Year with varying degrees of angst. According to the report The financially sustainable university by Bain & Company, one in three colleges and universities are spending more than they can afford; these schools are financially unsustainable.

Leading change is challenging in any organization. But in higher education, it’s markedly more difficult. If the stakes weren’t so high, incremental improvements might be enough. But they aren’t, and that’s become abundantly clear. Change is needed, and it’s needed now. (Denneen & Dretle)

As the Bain report infers it’s time to stop following and start leading—time for a bold, fresh approach. Addressing finances is one facet, but a proactive plan that meets learners where they are is critical for long-term viability. That bold approach begins with understanding the learner; how they learn, communicate and interact in our digital culture. We need to look to learners’ actions, and behaviours—examine and analyze potential, existing and target students. It’s not uncommon for education decision makers, administrators and/or leaders seeking to reform education in some way, to implement strategies or plans that don’t take into consideration behaviours patterns and actions of the students they ultimately serve. 

Why Study Learner Behaviours
The approach I’m suggesting, considering behaviors, is similar to Clay Shirky’s instructive description of a scenario coined the Milkshake Mistake in his book Cognitive Surplus. Shirky describes how the fast food chain McDonald’s hired researchers to determine how to increase sales of its milkshakes by examining the shake characteristics, sweetness, thickness, flavors, etc. to appeal to customers. Yet one marketer chose a unique approach; he started by examining customer behaviours— when customers purchased milkshakes and why—essentially asking the question “what job did the customers hire [buy] the milkshake for?” [Shirky, p 12-13].  It turns out researchers were missing an opportunity for innovation by focusing on the product [milkshake], assuming that everything important was implicit in the attributes of the milkshake.

Researchers missed examining the behaviours and actions of the customers, i.e. how, why, and for what purpose was the product used [which turned out to be a for a quick, easy breakfast food to consume during the commute to work]. The key takeaway here is not to focus on a solution before examining the problem one is trying to solve. We can apply this analogy to the recent phenomenon with xMOOCs.  Institutional leaders of public higher education, the media, even state officials, focused on the how the product, xMOOCs, could solve a problem within higher education given its mass appeal and ability to reach thousands of learners. Yet what were the behaviours of the majority of students? What did the student ‘hire’ the MOOC to do? What we know now, as mentioned already, is that the majority of learners completing MOOCs were not potential or existing students of post-secondary education.  Unfortunately, numerous institutions and stakeholders viewed xMOOCs as a solution, creating policies and programs to solve a complex problem with a complex product.  An example of the Milkshake Mistake in action.

Four Learner Patterns of 2013 
Below I’ve identified four student behaviours patterns of 2013 that appear significant when considered in conjunction with several reports and predictions of societal, technological and even political events and trends. Considering one report or trend in isolation, for instance the Bain report mentioned above, does not provide scope for a thorough analysis. Yet when synthesizing student behaviour patterns, advancements in digital infrastructure, trends in education, shifts in cultural norms for instance, there is potential to be proactive rather than reactive, anticipate what the future may hold for education and plan accordingly.

I’ll highlight another valuable resource before moving to learner behaviours of 2013, which is a series of reports, collectively called The Shift Index published by Deloitte’s Center for the Edge. It provides further insights about learner behaviours, even though it’s geared to non-education sectors. Updated each year, the indices seek to help leaders understand and take advantage of the changes around them.  An excerpt:

The world around us is changing. Long-term trends, driven by public policy and the exponential rate of change in the digital infrastructure, are fundamentally altering the global business [education] environment. We initially respond to these changes by working harder within existing institutions and practices. The result is diminishing performance and mounting stress. Until we understand the nature of those changes and evolve our institutions and practices accordingly, we won’t be able to effectively harness new capabilities and turn stress into success.  Report 4, The Shift Index

1. Learners acting as savvy consumers. During the last few years’ business has changed its model, shifting from a product-centric framework to a customer-centric one. The End of Business as Usual by Brian Solis describes how customers, with their constant access to abundant information flows transformed how organizations conduct business. This same transformation is now affecting education institutions as students drive change, and influence the traditional model of education. The model is morphing to a learner-centric one as students behave more like customers, and savvy ones too. They shop schools—compare facilities, residence halls and cafeterias. As tuition prices become more transparent and comparison-shopping is encouraged—yet again students are in the role of customer with access to numerous tools and sites that facilitate ‘shopping’.

Students are also balking at buying textbooks, discouraged by hefty price tags. Renting is becoming increasingly attractive to students as is buying used books and comparison-shopping through online sites.  In some instances, students are choosing to do without.

2. Learners connected to friends, peers and information anytime, anywhere. And it’s not just learners that are connected, it’s the majority of the population in numerous countries, not just the United States. Constant access to flows of data, information, and people is facilitated not just by mobile devices connected to the internet, but by applications [phone apps], social and other innovative platforms. The traditional boundary between work, school and life is rapidly dissolving.  The next generation of learners, will not only expect to use devices and applications in and out of school, but won’t know any other way.  And, the Internet of Things, we’ve just started hearing about, is not too far off.

Seventy-one percent of students in Grades 3–5 use the Internet from home to help with schoolwork; and within that same cohort, 40 percent have smart phone access, and 41 percent have tablet access. gettingsmart.com

3. Students are value conscious – avoiding private, four-year institutions and seeking alternatives.  Post secondary age students are avoiding high sticker price of private four-year institutions. From 2010 through 2012, freshman enrollment declined at U.S. private four-year schools by ten percent. The trend continued into 2013, enrollment was down at for-profit, private education institutions. The increased transparency of college costs, and the media’s emphasis on the cost and value of college likely influenced students.

Students also appear receptive to, and eager to explore alternative types of higher education. An example is Quest University, a new concept institution that far exceeded enrollment expectations last year with increasing student demand (read more here from a recent blog post).  Another type, founded by a college drop-out, Dale Stephens is the UnCollege experience, encouraging students to seek alternative and diverse higher education experiences. Stephens also wrote a book, Hacking your Education, which appears highly regarded if one considers the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads as a benchmark.

4. Learners are customizing their learning paths, by choosing courses from various institutions, creating their own digital transcripts—essentially becoming untethered to any one institution. Badges, another form of credentialing is a route some learners are following, as well as gathering certificates from various MOOC platforms, such as Signature Track with Coursera or others through Alison.com.  New platforms are satisfying student needs for recording and showcasing their learning accomplishments with sites such as Degreed.com, and others including Linked In. Another term for this concept is personalized learning, we will likely hear more of personalized learning in 2014.

Conclusion
Following-the-learner is a concept that seems counter-intuitive. Yet I’m convinced that in order for education institutions to remain viable and relevant in the future it is essential to analyze its learners, behaviours, and actions, in conjunction with an analysis of societal and cultural trends and events. The traditional method of education needs to change, and has changed with the technological developments and digital infrastructure available, yet it’s apparent we need to focus on learners, and not technology to solve education problems and challenges. Though there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for each institution, there is a solution that lies within its learners.

Further Reading

‘The List’ for Educators: How to Find Almost Anything in Less than Three Clicks

3433081165_93315c9243_z ‘The List’ that provides educational resources at the finger tips—no searching, in less than three clicks—find instructive, rich content for instructional or personal use.

Something fresh, a collection of links that will direct readers to sites brimming with quality content in a breadth of disciplines. While participating in the MOOC over the past two weeks, Open Educational Resources 12 [OER] and reviewing comments from educators from various sources, I realized that finding open education resources is not only time-consuming, but can be a daunting task. Where does one begin? Even though numerous platforms are striving to streamline the search process for educators, it is a challenge. Resources are often buried deep, may take at least five clicks [if not more] to unearth something relevant. It can feel like being lost in a labyrinth of content.

Once it became apparent that numerous educators have similar challenges, time and a starting point for locating resources, I decided to create a list of links, categorized and organized in such a way that finding a tool, resource or content source is simple, easy and [hopefully] productive. With an upcoming break for the holidays, I hope you might have time to explore and locate at least one resource to incorporate into an online or face-to-face class, find something to spark an idea for instruction, or even for your personal and professional development. Enjoy!

How-to-Find: Movie Clips, Full length Movies, or Instructional Videos

  • MOVIECLIPS: Over 12,000 movie clips, to search for, find, view, discuss and share scenes from favorite movies. MOVIECLIPS has made movies searchable by actor, title, genre, occasion, action, mood, character, theme, setting, prop, and even dialogue. Also, clips are ‘legal’ and free to every user.

    Reel of Film

    Source: Free Images.co.uk

  • Khan Academy: Some educators are not fans of Khan academy [not sure why], yet the collection is an excellent supplemental resource to direct K-12 and college level students to for ‘extra’ help with key concepts, in math, science, U.S. government, finance and more. We use Khan academy as a resource in our college level math  and US Government courses. Feedback from students is very positive.
  • 500 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Westerns. The collection is divided into the following categories: Comedy & Drama; Film Noir, Horror & Hitchcock; Westerns & John Wayne; Silent Films; Documentaries, and Animation.

How-to Find:  e-Books or Audio Books

  • 375 Free e-books [Open Culture]: Download to Kindle, iPad, iPhone and Nook:  An excellent list of books, mostly Literature Classics, i.e. Chaucer, Tolstoy, Austen, Dewey and more.
    6555466069_3246e8b54e_z

    Open, by opensourceway, Flickr

    Open, by opensourceway

  • 450 Free audio books:  [Open Culture] Download hundreds of free audio books, mostly classics to your MP3 player or computer. Includes great works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
  • 160 Free Textbooks: [Open Culture] Open textbooks written by knowledgable scholars are a relatively new phenomenon. Below, find a meta list of 150 Free Textbooks, and check back often for new additions.
  • Project Gutenberg is the first online collection of free electronic books. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg continues to maintain the site, and continues to build the database. There are over 40,000 free e-books to download.

How-to Find: Open Access Journals

  • Directory of Open Access Journal. Free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals, covering a breadth of subjects and in six languages. Click on subject of interest, next click to expand subject tree.
  • Education Research Global Observatory ERGO is a project on the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. As a signatory to the Budapest Open Access Initiative, ERGO is dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of open access scholarship in education
  • Educational Technology Journals provided by Northern Illinois University, Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. Comprehensive collection of links to journals pertaining to educational technology and online learning.

How-to Find an Image: Photos or Illustrations

  • Humanline.com, just launched this tremendous site of high-quality, free images related to civilization’s history, art and science. An educator’s dream! Excellent site.
  • Microsoft Office Online provides downloadable clip art, photos, illustrations and even sound clips for free. Though the selection is somewhat limited, there are several excellent choices.

    MP900443345

    Source: Microsoft Office Online

  • Open ClipArt is the largest collaborative community that creates, shares and remixes clip art. All clip art is released to the public domain and may be used in any project for free with no restrictions.
  • Free Images.co.uk is a  high quality resource of digital stock photographic images for use by all. All images in the collection are free to use on websites, printed materials and anywhere you need photos for illustration and design use.

How-to Find Open Courses

  • The No Excuse List: A list of free courses available on the Internet from a vast list of providers by subject area.
  • The Open University: The first university to offer courses that we now are calling MOOCs. Incorporated by Royal Charter, an exempt charity in England & Wales and a charity registered in Scotland. Open University offers many short courses, including teacher skills training.

How-to Find: A Resource Using Google Search in 60 seconds by educator David Wiley

Related Reading

Photo Credits: Magnifying, by Clover_1, Flickr  & Open, by opensourceway, Flickr

One Big Happy Family of OPEN – How to Get Faculty to Embrace Open Educational Resources

6555466069_3246e8b54e_zGetting faculty to embrace open education resources takes more than directing them to a good search platform. In this post I suggest a two-pronged strategy to help faculty embrace ‘openness’.

I joined a Micro MOOC this week, LOER12 [Learning Open Education Resources] and discovered that the scope of open education resources (OER) is far beyond what I imagined; the number of dedicated educators and researchers working worldwide to expand, promote, and collaborate to advance the OER movement is extensive. One such group Evidence Hub for Open Education aims to promote and build a community of educators globally that work on Open Education initiatives that collaborate and build a collective memory. One project currently underway is OER mapping of institutional initiatives, an effort to track OER projects worldwide, a starting point for coordinating research efforts. The research in ‘open is a worthy one. Educators working on this project are eager to move open education forward, enhance the impact it has on teaching and learning, and determine its effectiveness.

And there is progress with OER, as evidenced by institutions implementing OER initiatives, such as University of Michigan with its Open.Michigan, an initiative that encourages faculty and students to share their educational resources and research with the global learning community. In the government sector, numerous states in the U.S. see OER resources as an opportunity to lower costs in the cash strapped education system. In California, legislation was signed last month that will provide college students text books at no cost, by way of openly licensed digital textbooks in three higher education systems.

What does it mean to Educators?
But, what do open educational resources mean to educators and institutions who have yet to implement OER initiatives? Should we as educators, be involved in adopting OER, even make a concerted effort to do so? What about higher education institutions? Without hesitation, I say yes and yes. Open education resources are more than digital text books, they have the potential to provide quality, diverse, media-rich courses, content and/or research materials that have the potential to transform education. It’s helpful to view OER not as stand-alone components, but as part of a bigger picture. OER overlaps with MOOCs, with competency based learning with learning analytics and other initiatives emerging in higher education. All are part of the ‘open’ movement.

800px-Global_Open_Educational_Resources_Logo.svg‘Open’ as a  Movement
The open movement is influencing all aspects of education. MOOCs are examples of open learning, defined as an approach that seeks to remove all unnecessary barriers to learning. And then there is open source, software applications open for use and improvement, for example the learning platform Moodle. There’s open data and even open access which gives unrestricted access via the Internet to peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles. It’s one big happy family of open, that when working together, functions as a collaborative system. Open is changing how we educate, how learners learn and how instructors teach.

So back to the question, how can we encourage faculty, and educators to embrace open as a movement, including OER? I suggest a two-pronged approach.  First, for educators the concept of open needs to presented from a professional development standpoint— promoting OER ‘training’ as personal development that becomes part of the educator’s personal learning network. This is not all my idea, but advice from Stephen Downes, co-founder of the concept of the MOOC. In a post I published recently Why Tech Training for Faculty is a Waste of Time, I suggested that when training faculty in using the LMS platform Moodle, the focus should not be exclusive to the technical aspects, but include the why, and address pedagogical training. Stephen Downes commented suggesting that training of faculty be approached from a development perspective.

I think it [training in LMS] should be tied to learning. When I teach people about technology, my focus is on how they can use it for their own professional development. The application of that learning to the classroom will follow. (OlDaily, Downes, 2012)

Personal Learning Network
If an educator [or learner] views and uses open education materials as a means to enrich  their own personal learning, or to develop a skill set, or in the case of an instructor enhance his or her teaching, motivation is triggered. The educator then wants to learn how to use the resources, is motivated to search for content that meets his or her course needs. Furthermore, the educator will invest the time needed to find the resources, as he or she is vested and interested in learning. In a report released recently Growing the Curriculum: Open Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education (Allen & Seaman, 2012), several  barriers to adoption of OER were mentioned by faculty including, [lack of] time to learn and use OER (59%), and difficulty in searching. Though there is validity to these issues, in the bigger picture it is about the mindset of the individual and the institution.

Institutional Culture
The second critical part to increasing the adoption rate of open is consideration of the culture within the institution. The survey mentioned above listed ‘lack of support for non-local curriculum’ as another barrier. This speaks to the culture that the faculty works within, which must have the conditions necessary to support the adoption and implementation of OER. If the culture is open to change, conducive to experimenting and learning, to creating and sharing, the chances of success with the concept of open are increased. Though this is not to say that individuals cannot be champions of openness. It is possible, that champions can influence others, though alone they cannot change the entire culture of an institution without support from leadership.

Closing Thoughts
Times of change can create feelings of excitement, maybe even fear yet the rewards can be great. Adopting a culture of ‘openness’ requires a new mindset for teaching and learning. Incorporating OER as discussed here requires a different approach, one that supports educators in creating their own personal development, where each can determine how OER can be used to fit his or her own teaching and learning needs. Educators can become highly motivated through this kind of professional development, and combined with a supportive institutional culture, one that creates conditions for  learning in the open, a win-win situation ensues for students, instructors, the institution and the Community of Open Learning.

Photo Credits: Open, by opensourceway, Flickr, and Open Education Resources, by Jonathasmello, licensed under Creative Commons

How to Create Excellent Courses with Open Education Resources

What are Open Education Resources (OER)?  Where does one find open resources and under what conditions can educators use them? If you don’t have an answer to one or more of these questions, you are not alone. In fact you’re in good company. Thousands of educators across the United States, academic leaders and faculty, were surveyed for a study on open educational resources, Growing the Curriculum: Open Education Resources in Higher Education, (Allen & Seaman, 2012). Though respondents demonstrated a moderate level of awareness of OER, many were unclear on what even qualified as an open education resource. The uncertainty around OER is understandable given its newness, yet is a missed opportunity for educators.

In this post I’ll first define open educational resources and describe how educators can find and use high quality, robust content sources to enhance instruction. I am an avid user of OER. I frequently use OER materials as supplemental content to enhance the general education courses I develop with faculty for our institution’s online program. I’ve also used OER when creating enrichment programs for K-12 programming, and during research as a graduate student. There is a wealth of high quality content, available and accessible at our fingertips.

Definition of Open Education Resources (OER)
Open Educational Resources abbreviated as OER, are openly formatted and licensed documents and media accessed on the Web that are useful for teaching, learning, education, assessment and research that anyone can openly use and reuse, without charge. It’s not surprising many are confused about what OER really are, as this term is similar to open education, which refers to educational organizations that seek to eliminate barriers to entry. There is also open source, which generally refers to a [software] program or application where the source code is available to the public for use and/or modification from its original design.

The three terms all refer to distinct concepts, though the word ‘open’ is the operative word, but open does not have the same meaning as ‘free’. Open in these contexts’ refers to a level of collaboration, and is associated with an object, application or program that is accessible with few barriers. The level of ownership is also included in the term, where the creator [owner] is not working under a model of proprietorship but rather chooses the level of sharing he or she is comfortable with through a license. Usage guidelines are straightforward and I’ll review the different types in the next post.

OER Materials: Examples
OER can be video clips, interactive maps or timelines, e-textbooks, self-contained multi-media lesson units, and even complete courses. I use open resources as supplements to existing courses, and have eliminated the use of text books in two of our fifteen courses using OER. I’ll review two examples of open educational resources below, and conclude with where to find similar resources.

A screen shot of the DNA – Double Helix Game. Click the image go to the game.

1) The DNA Double Helix Game: This resource is used as a supplement to a module within a biology course. The game is used as an application activity, which students complete after they finish the assigned reading The Discovery of the Molecular Structure of DNA – The Double Helix. The game overview page provides information of what students need to know before beginning. The purpose of this activity is to reinforce key concepts by engaging the student in a low stakes activity (it is not graded, and can be completed as many times as the student chooses). This is an example of using an OER as a supplemental or even optional resource.

2)  World Literature: Bhagavad Gita. This resource is comprehensive, with numerous options for educational purposes. The first step to using any OER effectively is to identify the learning objectives of the specific unit or lesson. I will use a three-credit World Literature course that I am working on now for this example. I started by reviewing the instructional plan for this module, of which the Bhagavad Gita is one of the two topics. The objectives of the module [topic] are, 1) Identify three universal themes within the Bhagavad Gita, 2) Describe how the themes apply to current culture.

World Literature Resource from learner.org

Given there is much to choose from within this resource, I determine which content items will fit the needs, then select application activities, which will prompt the student to apply and use higher order thinking skills [which supports objective #2].  For our course, the student will read the Bhagavad Gita, watch a 20 minute prerecorded video of our professor discussing background of the story and introducing the themes. From this resource for content sources, we will 1) have students read the Background and Language sections under the READ tab, 2) review the timeline and map section under the EXPLORE tab, and 3) watch the slide show and listen to expert talk about each.

For the application activity, we want students to apply the content, use critical thinking skills and demonstrate they can meet the learning objectives for this module. For this module, there will be two activities, the first will be a graded discussion forum, where students will be required to respond to a question chosen from the Discussion Prompt section using two paragraphs. We will include one more activity, an assignment where the student will be required to describe and discuss the central themes, as well describing with examples how themes apply to today’s culture.

Where to Find OER
An excellent place to search for OER content is through OER commons, (I found the above sources through OER). It is platform that is open, you do not need to sign up to find content, but if you create an account you will be able to save content into personalized folders. There is a short learning curve to figuring out how to conduct a search. Though the site is easy to use, you can narrow the search by discipline, and grade level, primary, secondary and post-secondary.  Do be prepared to spend some time reviewing what your search turns up, there is a full and complete collection. Help is available through the OER help search tool. This video provides a quick overview of how to search using OER.

Conclusion
What meant to be a short overview, ended up being longer than I’d hoped. But learning how to use OER is important, and the time invested in learning how to incorporate open education resources is time well spent given the potential enhancements to student learning. In my next post I’ll review more options for sourcing OER, provide an overview of the restrictions so you can use OER with confidence, and discuss the potential barriers to using OER.

Resources and Related Reading
OER Commons, http://www.oercommons.org/
Babson Report on OER in US Higher Education, by Phil Hill, e-literate

The tangled Web of Online Learning….explained

Oh… the tangled web we weave…literally. With all the courses and options available for online learning – i.e. fully online courses taken for credit, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), open source videos through Kahn Academy and the likes, and though enriching [and beautiful in visual terms as per images in this post], the potential to get caught and entangled is great. In this post I’ll discuss the various ‘strands’ of online learning, in an attempt to clarify where each fit into the evolving and dynamic web we call ‘online education’.

The purpose for writing this post is to clarify ‘online learning’ [for my own benefit as much as for others], as I’ve found myself clarifying in discussions at my workplace the various types of online learning that are readily available on the Web in the context of our own online program. As I’ve written about previously, education is no longer a static model, but fluid and almost organic in nature, and being able to define goals, purposes and assessment is ongoing.

Though several bloggers I follow have already created excellent posts about this very topic, [with detailed, descriptive charts - please refer to the resources section for links], I’ve outlined a [less complex] version below where I’ve categorized online learning into four areas. By doing so, I hope to help educators select and use a learning ‘strand’ more effectively, as it is the characteristics of the online learning [program/tool] that dictate how the learning will be applied by the student, and be of most benefit. The criteria I used for categorizing the types of learning are as follows…

1) The overall goal/purpose of the learning

2) How the learning is assessed or measured

3) learner motivation

Criteria  – explained
I chose the three criteria [above] after much deliberation – each provides a viewpoint for differentiating and comparing online learning. For instance, #1 the goal of learning determines how the learning will be used and applied, i.e. towards a degree, for personal growth or for learning a concept to support a skill set. Next, #2 the assessment or measurement component differs greatly within online learning, which helps in the classification and it often dictates how the learning is designed and structured – for example does the learner assess the value of the learning or is it the instructor‘s role to measure student learning? Does it count towards an accreditation, or provide a knowledge for the learner to master a skill or concept? Finally, #3 learner motivation, which is indicative of how a student approaches and participates in the online learning – the student’s level of motivation to engage and take charge of his or her learning. An example is a student participating in a MOOC [Massive Open Online Course] who is highly motivated to learn for the sake of personal development or growth, versus a student taking a required course for credit which he or she has to take (motivation is potentially low). The four categories below:

‘Social’ (title text center of image) and ‘Learning’ are soon to be interchangeable terms

I. Online Courses for credit - Courses which are a means to an end, the goal being earn credit towards a degree, students are extrinsically motivated. Assessment is usually formalized, traditional (professor or course instructor evaluating student learning). Examples: Penn State World Campus, Liberty University, Straighter Line, Minerva Project [in development].

II. Online Courses – not for Credit / MOOCs -
Students participate and choose to learn about a topic, usually defining their own goals and objectives for the course. Learning is for personal development and/or improvement, in other words the student is highly motivated, driven by intrinsic factors. Assessment is non-traditional, either self or peer-reviewed. Examples: Cousera, MIT Opencourseware, Udacity.

III. Online courses/resources for Professional Development – Courses which are for a specific skill set, vocational in nature and for professional development in the workplace (purpose). In this case students are intrinsically motivated, seeking learning as a lifelong learner. Examples: P2P University, Stanford Center for Professional Development, Code Academy, Harvard Business [online courses in specific skills for managerial roles], iTunesU [university].

IV. Open source: online video resources where ‘learning’ is really tools to supplement face-to-face or online courses at all levels  K-12 through to college, in the form of videos or vodcasts. The purpose for this type of online learning is not to provide a complete learning experience, but to be part of the instructional strategy, an instructional tool. Examples: Kahn Academy, TedED, Academic Earth, Lecture Fox.

Online learning takes many forms, serves many purposes and goals. ‘Change’ is now synonymous with education, and for educators keeping abreast of developments and new programs is a challenge. Though I view this challenge as a positive, it’s exciting. I am sure the content of this post will be outdated within 6 to 12 months, however no doubt I’ll then be discussing, debating and writing about it, along with my fellow educators and bloggers.

Resources:
Online education catalogue [beta], Wisdemy [includes several  descriptive, detailed charts comparing non-profit, for-profit and other providers of online learning].

Online Education – a snapshot, CatherineCronin [downloadable table of online learning providers, though some information requires updating it is a useful tool].

The Language of MOOCs, Hack Education

Related Post: MOOC Mythbuster, Onlinelearninginsights

Photo Credits: Social Web, Matthew Burpee’s Photo Stream, Flickr

MOOC Mythbuster – What MOOCs are and what they aren’t

“Welcome to the college education revolution. Big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary.” Thomas Friedman, Come the Revolution,  NYT

Mr. Friedman is right – and though he doesn’t mention MOOCs directly in the article, the ‘revolution’ he is speaking of is in the near future with the launch of  edX and Coursera by the Ivy Universities. This past week I’ve been following a number of blog posts and articles about MOOCs, Massive Open and Online Courses, of which Coursera’s model is based upon [edX I predict will be something different], yet there’s been much speculation, misconceptions, exaggerations and misinformation. It’s time to clear the air – in this post I’ll define what MOOCs are and are not, what the skeptics are saying, and I’ll conclude the post with an attempt to clarify the differences (and similarities), between MOOCs, online courses for credit, and traditional face-to-face courses.

Recent headlines read, Will MOOC’s provide SuperStar Teaching?, or Playing the role of the MOOC Skeptic: 7 Concerns, and Then who do we Shoot?  What’s going on here is an illustration of the clash, the collision between learning theories which may be viewed as a threat to traditional higher-ed learning – and Glader at Wired Academic says it this way, “Carey sees MOOCs setting up a power struggle between the two coasts of knowledge power – the West Coast, Silicon Valley-based tech sector and the DC to Boston corridor of Ivy League and elite colleges” (Glader, 2012). Wow, time to roll up the sleeves…

How MOOCs Work
First, let’s break down what’s really going on before we don the fighting gloves – the traditional model of higher education is being challenged – the ‘course’ where the professor lectures, delivers the content, student uses a textbook, complete assignments and is assessed -  is at the crux of the matter.  Note however, that MOOCs include similar core components of the traditional ‘course’, there are three as outlined by Stephen Downes, [educator, researcher and founder of the MOOCs] in his essay, Introducing my Work (2012, p 35) which are:

1. Open Content
2. Open Instruction
3. Open Assessment

You may notice the similarities between what Downes outlines and traditional education: content, instruction, assessment, yet its the word OPEN that differentiates how a student participating in a Massive Open Online Courses goes about learning. The other fundamental difference is the presupposition on how learning happens, and the pedagogy that goes along with it.

Origins of the MOOC
MOOCs are a vehicle for learning and are based on a theory of open education and how people learn – a theory called connectivism as coined by Stephen Downes.  Downes launched the first MOOC  in 2008 with George Siemens (Downes, 2012) and MOOCs are based upon their extensive research on how people learn, and upon the premise that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks. Downes describes his learning theory further in his e-book,

“I have expressed my (very unoriginal) theory of pedagogy very simply: to teach is to model and
demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect. Both teaching and learning consist of talking
about and of doing. Theorizing and practicing. Abstracting and making concrete.”

Lees hier hoe je een MOOC kunt opzetten! Massi...

How MOOCs work
For MOOCs to be successful, certain conditions have to be in place. One fundamental is the motivation of the learner, where the learner actively participates because he or she wants to learn and thus constructs knowledge based upon his or her input and activity/engagement in the course. Learning, in other words is not passive. I’ve excerpted instructions to students from Stephen Downes book, delivered at the beginning of a MOOC:

“This type of course is called a connectivist course and is based upon four types of activities.”

1. Aggregate: [students engage with content at this phase - lectures from experts, daily content links provided through course news letter, reading content on Web]
2. Remix: [students are encouraged to dialogue with peers and communicate about content and what they are learning, either through blogs, discussion boards or chat]
3. Re-purpose: [students construct or create knowledge]
4. Feed Forward- [students are encouraged to publish what they learned through blogs, or any other 'open' venue, in other words 'share' their knowledge]

The Myths debunked…
When reviewing the slew of recent blog posts and articles, it appears that numerous authors are seeing the MOOC as one dimensional, as a mode of delivering the lecture [content] and that’s it, without considering the other components involved in the learning process – the interaction, the communication etc.. We see an example of this in Glader’s article, “He [professor] compares online teaching to hosting a TV show rather than a classroom, which functions more like a play..“,  or this misconception as reported in Inside Higher Ed’s article on the 7 concerns of MOOCs, 1. Education Requires Dialogue: Massively open online courses are wonderful things, but they should not be confused with a higher education.” (Kim, 2012).  With all due respect to Mr. Kim, he’s got it wrong – the point of MOOCs is the dialogue, the interaction the construction of knowledge and re-purposing and ‘feeding forward’. This is where learning lives and breathes.

See below for the chart I put together which attempts to clarify the differences between MOOCs, Online Course and traditional f2f courses for college credit.

I hope this sheds a small bit of light what MOOC’s are and are not.  More to unfold over the next few weeks and months, stay tuned.

Resources:
Come the Revolution, Thomas Friedman, The New York Times

Connectivism and Connected Knowledge, [e-book for download] Stephen Downes Web

Will MOOCS Promote SuperStar Teaching over Stuperstar Research at Princeton and other Ivy universities? Paul Glader, Wired Academic

Playing the Role of the MOOC Skeptic: 7 Concerns, Joshua Kim, Inside Higher Ed

Then who do we Shoot?  More or Less Bunk, Blog

Why Socrates and Open Education should be Friends

 Is there value in studying Socrates?

Some suggest we should ditch the study of Humanities altogether, others are supportive, some just plain indifferent and scholars like Stanley Fish suggest that the study of humanities has no intrinsic value at all. Though we’ve all heard that the study of humanities is valuable for something, I happen to wholeheartedly agree, and there’s convincing research that supports this point of view — that cross-disciplinary study is of value. Most  recently a study conducted at Harvard University found that,

“The further the problem [to be solved] from the solver’s expertise, the more likely they are to solve it,” K.R. Lakhini, Harvard Professor. [More on this later].

As the announcements of new online learning ventures multiply, though exciting, I am concerned that the possibility of the fading emphasis of studying such works as  Plato’s Cave,  Soren Kierkegaard’s Journals, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, and on and on we could go. What I am referring to is the study of humanities. I’m all for much needed reform – an accessible and relevant model for Higher Ed is needed, and I’ve written about promising initiatives recently. However, there appears to be an abundance of mathematics, and science topics within the open learning resources and open online universities, and it’s more than a little scant on the arts, history, literary studies and languages.

If you peruse through Kahn Academy‘s over 3,200 video lectures [all quite excellent] – you’ll find the majority are related to math and science, (granted they are working on expanding the humanities side, and have even partnered with SmartArt), – or how about Udacity (granted the founder S. Thrun is a math genius), or MIT OpenCourseWare (granted it’s a Computer Science school) , and Open Lectures [granted newly launched]. Yet there are the bright spots, Cousera, [one of the newest open university course platforms] has a category devoted to Humanities and Social Sciences, (though only 5 courses so far), and Open Yale Courses which appears to offer a robust selection of history, art and language courses. Encouraging.

Why study Humanities?
Though really, should we bother following the historic path of educating students in the Arts, History, Literature and such? Yes I believe so — and not just to produce a well-informed, literate, highly functioning citizen who makes solid contribution to his or her society, but because people who study a breadth of topics, and who have many interests are better problem solvers when they do. And, we have an abundance of problems that need solving.

An interesting study done recently as mentioned, at Harvard Business School’s InnoCentive (similar to a ‘think tank’) by Professor Lakhani, analyzed hundreds of scientific problems posted by companies that for whatever reason had failed to solve. Lakhni found InnoCentive’s network solved nearly 30 percent of the problems, and that the more diverse the interests of the solvers, the more likely the problem was to be solved. Also fascinating – the study found that expertise [held by the problem solver] in the field of the problem, actually hurt a solver’s chances. (Ronsenberg, 2012).

The Practical Side
This post points alludes to a broader topic which I won’t get into here, but mention briefly, is the purpose of higher education to become an educated individual who can think critically with breadth and depth, which may mean studying within various disciplines, OR is the purpose of higher education to focus on a vocational track and that leads to a specific job path and career? I’d like to say both – but they can be at cross purposes for a young college student. On this same vein, the Wall Street Journal reported this past week  in For most graduates a grueling job hunt Awaits, that the top 5 majors companies are hiring from this year are engineering, business, accounting, computer science, while [sadly] the majors being least hired were from social studies, humanities, agriculture, health science and education (Weber and Korn, 2012).

However, we DO need the scientists and engineers, and those that study social sciences, education and others, and within these groups the innovators, problem solvers, critical thinkers and risk takers to solve the problems at hand just as we have with every crisis that has presented itself in years of past.

In summary, I suggest we study humanities to…

  1. be creative problem solvers.
  2. be informed of history, the parallels to current problems in order to contribute to solutions that are relevant using sound knowledge and rationale.
  3. be able to think with depth and breadth, ask questions, think critically.

I hope we can work towards an OPEN and Online education model that offers humanities, science, mathematics, communication and the Arts that will educate a to produce a bright, informed and intellectual problem-solver.

Further Reading:
Prizes with an Eye towards the Future, Tina Rosenberg, The Opinionater
Why Colleges Don’t Teach the Federalist Papers, Peter Berkowitz, WSJ
Will the Humanities save Us? Stanley Fish, The Opinionater
Why are the Humanities important? Stanford University

Education Mega Trends – Collaboration, Mobile and Openess…

“By 2014, the number of cell phones will surpass the number of people on the planet”

This afternoon I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Larry Johnson, CEO of New Media Consortium speak at the Campus Technology Forum – his keynote address, Reflections: The Horizon Project at Ten-Musings on Technology, How It Connects Us, and What It Means in Our Lives, was a refreshing perspective on how educators can adapt to changes in technology. The most significant points Dr. Johnson shared today:

Openness:  We are moving towards a world of openness where open content, data, resources, will be accessible. It will be a world of transparency. And…

….[openness] used to be a trend, but it is now moving towards a value –

Mobile: The Internet is becoming a mobile network. The introductory quote is telling, currently the cell phone penetration in households globally exceeds even homes with electricity. Not only in 2014 will cell phone penetration exceed 1:1, but…

….96% of cell phones worldwide will have a least one basic Web browser -

Collaborative: The world is increasingly collaborative, employers are looking for employees that can collaborate not only with peers within their own companies, but globally. It goes beyond knowing how to connect on the Web, but having awareness of cultural nuances and differences.

What does this mean for educators?
The benchmark moves with every generation – Dr. Johnson illustrated his point by describing technological tools used by four generations of ‘learners’, each being the ‘leader’ in his own time – his father building radios, himself writing software programs with punch cards, his 27-year old son interacting with life through social media and a mobile device, and his 2 year old grandson with his own iPad which he mastered before he could talk. What can we do as educators? It goes beyond being  ‘adaptable’, it’s about relating to learners in their own world, meeting them there. This is not just about adapting to the tools – it’s how  we reach and teach learners – with the curriculum, the content so they [students] can use the tools that they use everyday. Which means that we as educators need to adapt our pedagogy to morph accordingly — think of the toddlers of today using iPads seamlessly – soon enough we’ll be teaching those learners.

What is the New Media Consortium?
The New Media Consortium (NMC), is a non-profit, global organization, that provides leading edge research on the latest technology and applications for K12 and Higher Education institutions in order that educators can deliver relevant, meaningful learning. A must read for educators is the Horizon Report, part of the Horizon Project which features a series of reports across education disciplines giving insight into the technologies that are most likely to make a significant impact across three time horizons – immediate, short-term and long-term.

Related Articles:
Moving Beyond Technology, Campus Technology

Photo Credit: By Gustavo Devito, Flickr