Need-to-Know News: 8 Cutting-edge Tech Trends, MOOCs in 2016, Engaging Sites Featuring Books-of-the-Year

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

MOOC-newsIf you are looking for some light reading over the holidays or ideas for some good reads for yourself or others, look no further. I’ve rounded up some articles of interest and a couple of good websites that feature books-of-the year in an interactive and creative format.

1. HBR Tech Review: Eight Trends to Watch
An article in this month’s Harvard Business Review “8 Tech Trends to Watch in 2016” written by CEO and founder of an international digital strategy firm, is not your average trends-to-watch for article. It’s cutting edge stuff. Of the eight tech trends only one, blockchain was somewhat familiar (used by Bitcoin, it’s a complex transaction system that enables buyers and sellers to engage in “trustless” transactions). The article describes up-and-coming technology such as drone lanes, glitches and algorithmic personality detection. Fascinating stuff.

Insight: The education sector isn’t always on the cutting edge of technology, as we’ve seen with MOOCs, e.g. an innovative delivery system delivering education via traditional methods, yet there is potential in some of the technologies mentioned for application to education. For instance algorithmic personality detection might be used for student services such as career planning and academic support, bots as personal tutors, and augmented knowledge also known as digital telepathy which may make us question ‘what is learning’?

2. MOOCs: (Not just) From a European Perspective
The open journal, International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning (IRRODL) features a special issue this November with it’s a collection of papers that explore the MOOC phenomenon from the perspective of the higher education community in Europe. Though the majority of papers focus on the European perspective, a handful address themes universal to the MOOC phenomenon such as open access and course design.

The paper “MOOCs and the claim of education for all: A disillusion by empirical data explores the controversial claim that MOOCs are vehicles that democratize education, which as we know now, hasn’t quite panned out. The excerpt below summarizes the paper:

Despite the hope for more equal access to education through MOOCs, the empirical data show (section 4) that MOOCs potentially reinforce inequality. In this article we will give a theoretical background to explain why MOOCs are mostly used by more highly educated people (section 2) and stimulate a discussion on if and how MOOCs can contribute to equal access to education promoted by Open Educational Resources. (Rohs & Ganz, 2015).

Another, “Dimensions of Openness: Beyond the Course as an Open Format in Online Education” argues that openness in education via MOOCs should not only be viewed as opening access to existing resources and courses for a broader audience, but as the removal of barriers for interaction and exchange (Dalsgarrd & Thestrup, 2015).

Another paper with universal applicability is “Theories and Applications of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs): The Case for Hybrid Design“. This paper outlines a hybrid design model and discusses appropriate application as well the significant design challenges specific to MOOCs.

Insight: The term MOOCs now covers a breadth of education programs that are not always open, massive or meet the definition of a course (with a start and end date). The articles in this special issue are a good representation of the current themes. Though I go further and suggest that 2016 will be the year of the MOOC reckoning, as alluded to in a recent post on the Ed Techie blog, “2016 – The year of MOOC hard questions”.

3. Nifty Sites featuring Books-of-the-Year
I came across a couple of engaging, interactive sites by NPR, The Guardian and The Globe and Mail featuring best books of 2015 in various categories. These sites go beyond the traditional, static webpage; they invite the user to engage with the content.  We’ll likely be seeing more of this interactive home page format in 2016, as according to Fast Company this is the new look of webpages.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 2.08.47 PM
NPR’s Book Concierge features an interactive site where you can filter by genre, read highlights, and look at NPR’s Best-Book lists for each year starting in 2008

Closing Thoughts
Speaking of books, I’ll be publishing “Seven Must-Read Education Books for 2016” by the end of the year. Stay tuned. Following that I’ll also share my views in a post on the ed tech trends that will affect education in 2016.

Happy Holidays to all and thanks for reading and making Online Learning Insights happen by your continued reading and sharing!



6 thoughts on “Need-to-Know News: 8 Cutting-edge Tech Trends, MOOCs in 2016, Engaging Sites Featuring Books-of-the-Year

  1. The IRRODL paper leaves me confused, and a slight bit frustrated. Questions I have include:
    – has there been any increase in “equal access to education” through MOOCs that would not have occurred without them, or is there another model that is more promising in providing equal access.
    – as is typical of such articles, the IRRODL paper notes the paucity of data in forming conclusions, but the concluding perspective is very much that the glass is half empty and not half full.
    – from my experience, I see the problem less as access to technology – the developing countries have dramatically increased same in the past five years and will continue to do so. PEW data indicate that internet access, while varying by income level, ethnicity, etc. etc. is perhaps one of the most democratic aspects of life today in the US ( World data, while certainly not as robust in developing countries, shows dramatic increase in access as well (can’t put my hands on that PEW data right off).
    – What is true is that of the 45 graduate students I had in classes at the University of Memphis this past semester, only 4 had ever even heard of MOOCs before and only 2 had taken a course. If this knowledge of even the existence of MOOCs is so low even in the academically privileged sectors of the US, how much less might we expect that information to be available in the third world?
    – Two questions – How much of this uneven access is a marketing issue on the availability of MOOCs? Also, I have graduate students who are horrible writers and there is no technical writing course option for them on our campus. I have pointed them to a handful of MOOCs on writing, especially those offered by Most of the students I have recommended to take the free courses have not done so. Whereas, they have the access, they are not taking advantage of that access. So, can equal access be gauged by the demographics of who is registering for the course, or who has access but have chosen not to register?

    My bottom line thinking is that MOOCs have been around for maybe five years now. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was polio eradicated after only five years of vaccinations. The IRRODL report alone is a criticism of the MOOCs on access without an alternative or proposals on how to improve. That will be the more interesting paper.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Robert,

      You bring up several salient points about the paper “MOOCs and the claim of education for all: A disillusion by empirical data” in the IRRODL issue. One of the paper’s shortcomings as you identified, is its failure to address how ‘MOOCs can become an instrument for education for all’, which is articulated in the abstract. That being said, despite its negative slant, it does highlight how MOOCs, in their current form, have failed to reach the developing nations, but misses the point as to why this is true, which is not solely an Internet access issue. Other data highlights where the opportunities lie.

      In working with a client on MOOCs for Coursera, I’ve seen significant opportunities; one is to make the content and activities more accessible to those in developing nations. Like you said, Internet access is increasing, and is not the barrier as mentioned in the paper, but format is. Bandwidth is low for developing nations — many MOOC courses fail to address this and continue to include large files for video (to download and even stream) and PDFs. This makes content inaccessible to many, despite having Internet access. Another issue is MOOC providers failure to adapt MOOCs for mobile access so that developing nations CAN access MOOCs — as Pew research indicates (of which you reference), mobile device ownership in emerging nations is significant, yet providers are slow to adapt and respond. One more significant factor is failure to leverage platforms for collaborating and communicating to reach more participants– Facebook for instance is the number #1 platform accessed by adults world wide including developing nations There is more opportunity for course providers to explore how Facebook can be leveraged to reach more adults worldwide.

      But again, MOOCs are new and there is still tremendous opportunity for them to grow–for MOOC providers to explore options and extend their reach. There is great potential in MOOCs, and one paper in the IRRODL issue does highlight this, specifically “Opportunities and Threats of the MOOC Movement for Higher Education: The European Perspective”. The strengths and weaknesses outlined are applicable to not only European higher ed; e.g. strengths include, MOOCs as accelerators for online learning, reaching new target groups and platform for collaboration.

      I see the papers in the IRRODL issue as having more value collectively for higher ed decision-makers. Especially those involved in making decisions about online learning and MOOCs who would benefit from reading the two papers mentioned here, as well as “A Strategic Response to MOOCs: How One European University is Approaching the Challenge” [].

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments Robert and the excellent discussion.

      Liked by 1 person

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