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.

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.

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

Is there a Future for e-textbooks in Online Courses?

What is the future of Digital Textbooks in U.S. education? After I participated in a webinar on Friday, by this same title sponsored by MBS textbooks, though enlightening, it dawned on me that we [educators] have been asking all the wrong questions about e-textbooks. Instead of when and if [will we incorporate e-texbooks], how [will we include them], we should be asking why and what. What tools and resources will support the learning objectives? What will be relevant and meaningful to students?  What are the needs of the learners? Why should we choose a given textbook?

Before getting caught up in the slick, attractive and enhanced world of interactive e-textbooks, it’s a perfect opportunity to stop and…

Reframe the Textbook Discussion
The discussion needs to be re-framed in the context of the course instructional design process. Let me explain. During a recent re-design of two general education online courses, I revisited the instructional design model I usually follow, the Dick, Carey and Carey ISD. This model reminded me that the textbook is an instructional tool in the big picture strategy —- it is not the driver of the course, it supports the course objectives.

The AHAH moment!
I began to rethink the textbook conundrum, AHAH! Maybe the textbook as we know it may not even be necessary! It [the textbook] might not be the right instructional ‘tool’ for the course in the first place. A radical thought for some? — I am not suggesting to rule out textbooks as viable options (whether hard copy or digital), but we need to ask —- is this e-textbook (from one of the major textbook publishers) the only option? It might be … might. There is a plethora of resources available to educators on the Web, many at little or no cost. We have choices for instructional resources that we did not have forty, thirty or even ten years ago. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Education is transforming, and morphing in response to shifts in digital products and resources, and information consumption patterns. Course instructors and designers  have the opportunity to take charge and assess their current learning strategy, students and choice of [instructional] materials.

Start with the Instructional Design Process
Let’s take a step back and review the foundations of a course design. I am a fan of Instructional design models, because it gives me a framework when designing or re-designing courses (online or not). As mentioned my model of choice  is Dick and Carey’s Systems Approach model of instruction. The model is based on Gagne’s domains of learning. The instructor, learners, materials, teaching activities learning and performance environments interact to bring about the desired learning outcomes, whether for online courses or other.

Dick, Carey and Carey Instructional Design Model

Side note: it is not until stage 7 (of 9 stages) that selecting instructional materials, which includes text books, even happens.  This model is one of many – though each follows similar patterns in course development.

Assessing the best Instructional Tools (textbooks, digital learning objects etc)
What better time than now, in 2012 on the brink of major educational transformation to revisit the building blocks in our courses to assess what the best instructional materials, assessment methods, and tools will most effectively support learning outcomes. Analyzing the learner, and how he or she learns is another essential step, as the learning context has changed:

  • Learning is social
  • The learner, more than ever before has access to tools to construct knowledge
  • Learning is anytime, anywhere

Since the context of learning has changed, so should the instructional tools.

Open and Free: Course Instructional Materials Options

The [no] textbook challenge!
To wrap up – I am not suggesting we disregard the college publishers textbooks or e-textbooks, digital options and tools as viable options. Not at all, but I am suggesting that educators:
1. Use a sound instructional model as a guide when designing or re-designing online courses
2. Consider, then select the best tool to fit the needs of students and course objectives
3. Consider options – research what resources and tools are available

Check back later this week for my no-textbook challenge. I’m redesigning two online general education courses, US Government and English Literature.  My goal is to find alternatives to the current textbooks used by using OER and other tools, that will cost the student not more than $20.

Keep Learning 🙂

Is SOPA and PIPA a threat to ‘open’?

Wikipedia: black-out for 24 hours on January 18, 2012

Updated Post: 4:45 pm I hadn’t heard of SOPA and PIPA until I tried to use my trusty quick reference source Wikipedia. No go today my friends – for 24 hours, which started today at midnight, Wikipedia’s English encyclopedia will be under a ‘black-out’ period, in protest of proposed government legislation SOPA and PIPA.  Wiki’s blackout is a powerful method to raise public awareness of the potential implications of giving government control over web domains from foreign countries committing copyright infringement. Though seemly a legitimate intention, I can see why there is apprehension with Big Brother’s [potential] ability to intervene.

According to Wikipedia’s learn more link,  “SOPA and PIPA are badly drafted legislation that won’t be effective at their stated goal (to stop copyright infringement), and will cause serious damage to the free and open Internet. They put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites.”  Ok, what might  this mean for Wikipedia? For example, in its current form, SOPA would require Wikipedia to actively monitor every site we link to, to ensure it doesn’t host infringing content. Any link to an infringing site could put us in jeopardy of being forced offline.” All right, so now I can see where this is going…hmmm

Google: Their position...

Google’s Take
I have yet to read the wording of the proposed legislation, so I went to see what Google thinks – and no surprise, they are not for it either – they encourage the public to learn more – and contact their local representatives to protest. Vimeo has a pretty good video  that outlines the overall concept of these two proposals. Click the pic below to watch.

Vimeo: Protect IP / SOPA Breaks the Internet

The blog Watts up with That? has a list legislators outlining who supports what. This will be interesting to follow – if you feel strongly about this issue (either way) – I encourage you to get informed and then be vocal about what you think is right. I know I will 🙂