Need-to-Know-News: Micro-Credentialing Movement in Higher Ed & Active Learning Trumps Lectures

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.

credit1) The Micro-credential Movement in Higher Ed
The latest trend in higher education is micro-credentialing, the non-traditional education path where students gain skill sets in a specific area and receive a credential. Case in point, Udacity announced this week a new nanodegree (Udacity defines nanodegrees as ‘curriculums designed to help you become job-ready)’— the Android nanodegree in partnership with Google. Another example—Penn State’s College of Business also launched this week an online bootcamp course, ‘Supply Chain Leadership Academy’, to educate “supply chain leaders of tomorrow in leadership and best practices in holistic supply chain management”.

The micro-credentialing trend is driven by business entities that have a real (or perceived) workforce skill gap, where jobs can’t be filled due to lack of qualified applicants. Google reports it has thousands of jobs to fill given a dearth of qualified applicants. The Linux Foundation, also offering a certificate course in partnership with edX, reports it has over 50,000 open jobs.

MOOC providers and select higher education institutions are leveraging the apparent skills gap, using their platforms to build their online program offerings with credentialing options for a fee. A good idea. The target market is not traditional higher education students, but non-traditional students that are already in the workforce and are looking to further their careers and/or switch career paths. Alison.com is a platform offered credentialing in specific skill sets long before MOOC providers began doing so. Though Alison’s business model is different from MOOC providers such as Coursera or edX. Students aren’t the revenue source but advertisers, featured on the platform, are.

Sampling of micro-credential programs and associated fees:

  • edX’s Linux System Administration Essentials course, “This Linux course is for those just starting their career in IT as well as professionals with experience on other operating systems who want to add Linux to their portfolio”. Fee: $399
  • Stanford Online, Professional Certificates, “Our professional certificates offer short, focused courses that give you tools and techniques you can apply right away“. Fee: $1295 per online course; required number of courses vary by certificate.
  • Udacity’s Nanodegree – “All the course content is free online, but the $200 per month pays for the non-scaleable parts of the degree: project grading, feedback, instructor mentorship, assistance and a final certification”. Option to receive reimbursement of 50% of tuition upon completion.
  • Digital Literacy & IT Skills Diploma Courses, Alison.com. Free with option to pay nominal fee for paper certificate delivered via mail.
  • Coursera’s Specializations – “Master a skill with a targeted sequence of courses”. Fee: $95 per course, with a fee for the ‘capstone project’, e.g. Business Foundations Specialization = $595 for four courses and capstone project.
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Screenshot of recent email from Coursera announcing upcoming Specialization certificates. ‘Specializations’ consist of a two or more courses on focused area.

Insight: This non-traditional student population, which micro-credentials target, is an emerging market and such options are a boon to working or unemployed adults seeking skill development. It’s a positive development in higher education. Employers appear receptive to micro-credentials. However, micro-credentialing is favorable provided the programs provide quality learning resulting in tangible, applicable skill sets. The majority of the credentials require not only a financial investment, but a significant investment of students’ time and energy. It’s buyer-beware; credentials do not guarantee a job, though the courses backed by business entities likely have higher placement rates than those without a business affiliation.

2) The Case for Active Learning over Lectures*
This is not new news, but worthy of review—evidence that performance of students engaging in classes that primarily offer active learning is improved over classes involving primarily lectures. A significant study on active learning was released last year; it provides compelling evidence on active learning benefits specific to STEM subjects in higher education (Freeman, et al., 2014). Researchers conducted a meta-analyses of 225 studies in published and unpublished literature that documented student performance in courses with at least some active learning versus traditional lecturing.  Though intuitively we might know that active learning is more effective for learning, there’s now solid evidence to back it up:

The data reported here indicate that active learning increases examination performance by just under half a SD and that lecturing increases failure rates by 55%. The heterogeneity analyses indicate that (i) these increases in achievement hold across all of the STEM disciplines and occur in all class sizes, course types, and course levels; and (ii) active learning is particularly beneficial in small classes and at increasing performance on concept inventories.

Implications: Is the lecture dead? Absolutely not, but to increase student learning, retention and success, involving students in active application of concepts should be the norm not the exception. However, implementing active learning is challenging for many educations, and especially for online courses, yet it can be done with deliberate, thoughtful development of a course learning strategy. Below are links with suggestions and examples of active learning applications. One of my favorite examples of active learning, is an online literature instructor Laura Gibbs, who creates assignments using online platforms—blogging platforms, Pinterest, etc. where students engage with content, each other and the Internet community.

References:

Feature Image: by GotCredit on Flickr

Need-to-Know-News: Harvard & MIT Evaluate MOOCs, ‘Lean Forward’ the New approach to Online Collaboration & Why LinkedIn Buying Lynda.com is Good for Higher Ed

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.

MP9004055001)  Harvard and MIT Evaluate MOOCs’ Impact
Harvard and MIT recently released a report evaluating the impact of their MOOCs offered on edX’s platform (Ho et al., 2015). The report uses data over a two-year period across 69 MOOCs and includes analysis on participation levels, student demographics, profile of certificate seekers, completion rates and more. It’s a worthwhile read for educators involved in planning or the delivery of xMOOCs. Three key takeaways:

1.  Participation* across eleven MOOCs offered for a second time declined by 43% from the first to second version. Of five courses offered for a third time, participation numbers remained essentially the same.  The one exception was for the Introduction to Computer Science MOOC, which doubled in size from the first to second version.

*Participation determined by number of enrolled students that accessed MOOC content at least once.

2. Computer Science MOOCs attracted four times as many participants as courses in three other categories. The four categories: 1) Computer Science, 2) Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, 3) Humanities, History, Religion, Design, and Education, and 4) Government, and Health and Social Sciences.

3. Demographics of participants are consistent with earlier reports of MOOC participants: educated with at least a bachelor’s degree, male, and in their late twenties to mid-thirties. The paper reported revealed a slight shift however in demographics:

“Year-over-year demographic shifts have been slight but indicate a direction toward courses with older, more educated, more US-based, and more female representation”

Insight:  As more data is compiled and shared about MOOCs, institutions will (hopefully) be able to make more prudent decisions about MOOC investments.  Investments in Massive, open online courses are significant, yet often the purpose for, or even the expected outcomes are not determined beforehand. With reports such as this one MOOC, (again—hopefully) decision-makers can make more informed decisions about MOOCs.

2)  Online Collaboration – New Methods including ‘Lean Forward’
The article “What Harvard Business School Has Learned About Online Collaboration” featured in Inside Higher Ed  this week presents innovative methods for online group collaboration, one in particular called ‘lean forward’.  Articles that focus on  pedagogical methods in online course design are scant, which is why this article tucked away within Inside Higher Ed’s blog column section is noteworthy.

It describes unique and novel methods for delivering learning experiences for students in Harvard’s three-course certificate program, Credential of Readiness (CORe). CORe is not a MOOC, but an online certificate offered for $1800 that is geared to undergraduate or graduate students with a non-business background. It’s described as “a primer on the fundamentals of business. It is designed to introduce you (students) to the language of business” (HBX CORe).

The article outlines how courses were designed to change the passive learning approach, typical of MOOCs and some online courses where learners are consumers of content, to an active approach that organizers label ‘lean forward’.  Lean forward means that students will not spend more than three to five minutes on the course site before being required to interact with content or peers.  Some of the methods use to foster learning forward include:

  • Student profiles and introductions were the focus of the first week—not course content. The course site which typically features content at the start, instead focuses on students by featuring their profile pictures and bios. At the beginning of the course students are required to upload a personal picture and create their profile before they can view any course content (quite brilliant!).
  • Collaboration needs a trigger – course organizers used grade incentives to get students started, requiring a “basic level” of participation. After that, momentum of the process itself, students interacting and collaborating, took over.
  • Desired behaviors for online collaboration and interaction where shaped at the beginning of the program. Course leaders actively encouraged desired behaviors, discouraged others, and clarified standards for online conversation. We encouraged participants to disagree with others — but to do it with respect.

Insight: HBX’s approach is worth considering. The innovative methods used for creating interaction and focusing on students and not content, is exactly what online learning needs. Though new approaches for online course design are in demand, there are few  public discussions about online education that focus on pedagogy.  We need more of this—sharing of different approaches that can improve online learning experiences for students. The article is a must-read for anyone involved in course design for MOOCs, open online courses, or for-credit, online education programs.

3)  Linked-In Buys Lynda.com – What it Means for Higher Ed
LinkedIn offered in to buy Lynda.com for $1.5 billion. Lynda.com is a subscription, video-based training platform that offers online training courses for a variety of technical subjects e.g. computer programming, photography, business skills video filming, editing and more. I view Lynda.com as a polished, searchable and sophisticated You Tube-type platform without advertising (bundled into convenient courses) for a fee.

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Screenshot of Lynda.com website

Insight:  Though The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that the transaction may affect higher ed in some way as per the headline How LinkedIn’s Latest Move May Matter to Colleges (the article is a behind a pay wall), it won’t, at least not in a competitive context. Lynda.com satisfies a need for just-in-time training, training to learn how to do something—now.  Not only does the platform offer excellent training for programs such as Excel or Photoshop, but it also offers skills-training ideal for new graduates, for example Creating an Effective Resume, Insights from a College Career Coach, or Job Hunting Online.  With LinkedIn’s recent moves to attract college students to its platform, this development will only enhance and support higher education institutions by providing their college graduates and students with tools that will make them more marketable and employable—a win-win for everyone.

Need-to-Know-News: Bad News for Online Learning in Annual Report & “Unsustainable” MOOCS are Full Steam Ahead

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Babson’s Report “Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States” is available at onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/gradelevel.pdf

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.

Bad News for Online Learning in Research Report on Online Learning
This week Babson Research Group released “Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in United States” its 12th annual report on the state of online learning in higher education (Allen & Seaman, 2015). This year’s report is not bursting with good news. Most disappointing (and disturbing) is the declining perception on the value and legitimacy of online learning by faculty. There is other valuable and important insight in the report, making it a worthy read, but the issue of faculty perception needs urgent consideration.

Only 27.6% of chief academic officers reported that their faculty accepted online instruction in 2003. This proportion showed some improvement over time, reaching a high of 33.5% in 2007. The slow increase was short-lived, however. Today, the rate is nearly back to where it began; 28.0% of academic leaders say that their faculty accept the “value and legitimacy of online education.” (pg. 21).

The acceptance of online learning among faculty has declined over the past two years, “current results if anything show that the problem is getting worse“. Disturbing given the expansion and sharing of knowledge about online education, the improved technology for facilitating quality learning experiences, not to mention the millions of dollars that higher education institutions have plowed into MOOCs. Ironically, many institutions state their reason for offering MOOCs is to explore and expose faculty to innovative and new pedagogy.  When chief academic leaders were asked the primary objective for offering MOOCs at his or her institution, it’s ‘Innovative Pedagogy‘ that ranked second highest at 18.7%, behind ‘Increasing Institution Visibility’, which ranked at 26.6% (pg. 55).

Insight: It’s no coincidence that the recent decline in the acceptance of online learning among faculty coincides with expansion of MOOCs. Massive Open Online Courses put the mode of online education under the spotlight, yet the misconception that MOOCs represent all modes of online education expanded along with the MOOC phenomenon. The majority of academic leaders missed out on an opportunity to use the MOOC phenomenon as a vehicle to involve and educate faculty on new pedagogy, fundamentals of online and blended learning, and multi-modes of instruction and learning offered by technology in and out of the classroom.

Further Reading:

The “Unsustainable” MOOCs are Full-Steam Ahead
In the same Babson report, Chief Academic Officers perception that MOOCs are not financially sustainable has increased, yet the number of institutions offering a MOOC has doubled over the year from 2013 to 2014 to 5.0%.  And, the number of institutions actively planning for a MOOC has not changed (9.3%)  (pg. 33).

The portion of academic leaders saying that they do not believe MOOCs are sustainable increased from 26.2% in 2012 to 28.5% in 2013, to 50.8% in 2014.  

To recap, even though institution leaders see MOOCs as financially unsustainable (they can’t continue to pour thousands of dollars into MOOCs) the number of institutions offering MOOCs has increased. The only rationale I can see that explains this behaviour is the planning cycle, the long lead time it takes to develop and produce a MOOC. In next year’s report, in keeping with this rationale, we should see a decline in institutions offering MOOCs.

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There has been little change in the pattern of MOOC objectives from 2013 to 2014 (pg. 34)

Insight: MOOCs do offer value in many ways, enriching a learning community, expanding the reach of an institution, providing research opportunities for institutions into new pedagogical methods and student learning behaviours online. However, given that xMOOCs are expensive to produce, deliver and sustain, the trend towards turning MOOCs into money generating streams will continue— suggesting that MOOCs will no longer be open (free) and massive. Institution leaders should be re-evaluating their strategy for MOOCs —now.

Further Reading:

Need-to-Know-News: edX’s T-Shirt Giveaway & MOOCs Identity Crisis

MP900405500This ‘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.

1) EdX’s Free T-Shirt Campaign
As a student of edX I frequently receive edX newsletters via email announcing upcoming courses, recently added courses, new university partners, etc. Yet there’s been a subtle shift in tone lately; the last few have emphasized courses with a price tag attached: verified certificate courses* ($), two or more courses within a subject area—xSeries courses ($$), and professional education courses ($$$) .  With edX’s most recent newsletter (screenshot below) there is a not-so-subtle promotional angle:

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Screen shot of heading of newsletter emailed to edX students on November 11
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* Screenshot of options given to students upon signing up for the verified certificate track in a course on edX.  This pick-a-price option for pursing the verified certificate is a change implemented within the last few weeks.

Insight: Offering free (branded) t-shirt is a marketing tactic companies typically use to encourage sales, increase brand awareness, customer loyalty, etc. Which makes one wonder—what’s going on over at edX that free t-shirt tactics are deemed necessary? Note: Despite the offer of a t-shirt in the newsletter, determining how to get the t-shirt is impossible—there’s no mention of a the t-shirt when clicking on the newsletter, registering for a course, or on edX’s site.

2) MOOCs Identity Crisis
I thought the media’s preoccupation with MOOCs was over. If using the number of articles in the media about MOOCs as an indicator—it’s not. Over the past few weeks there’s been several articles in mainstream media about MOOCs—in The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. The title of the New Yorker’s piece is amusing “Will MOOCs be Flukes” but the article demonstrates how the term MOOC now includes courses that aren’t necessarily free, or open or even massive.

MOOCs are flexible and they can (emphasis added) be free” (Konnikova, 2014)

Which is consistent with what’s happening in the MOOC marketplace. xMOOCs on platforms such as edX, Coursera, etc. look quite different today than they did in 2012.

Insight: According to a recent article in EDUCAUSE Review, MOOCs are here to stay—the MOOC “experiment is not over; in fact, it has just begun” (Mazoue, 2014). Fair enough. MOOCs have been a catalyst for challenging the traditional view of education. But it’s time for institutions to change terminology and describe courses appropriately. And as Tony Bates describes in a recent blog post, institutions need adjust strategies and approaches to online and open learning in general.

Chauhan describes the increasing variation of instructional methods now associated with the generic term ‘MOOC’, to the point where one has to ask whether the term has any consistent meaning. It’s difficult to see how a SPOC for instance differs from a typical online credit course…The only common factor in these variations is that the course is being offered to some non-registered students, but then if they have to pay a $500 fee, surely that’s a registered student? If a course is neither massive, nor open, nor free, how can it be a MOOC? Tony Bates, A review of MOOCs and their assessment tools

Need-to-Know News: Minerva and The Future of College, Amazon Moves into Purdue & Inoreader

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“The Future of College”,  The Atlantic

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.

1) Minerva and the Future of College?  Should we Be Worried?
The Atlantic’s feature story this week covering the newest entrant into the higher education sector Minerva, really fired up educators’ Twitter feeds. “The Future of College?” is primarily about Minerva’s philosophy and pedagogical strategy as a for-profit, (wanna-be) elite and semi-virtual university. The school is a radical departure from a traditional university—no administrative buildings (except for one office for employees on the 9th floor of an office building in San Francisco), no libraries, sports teams, or tenured faculty. Nor is the school run like a MOOC. Minerva’s inaugural class is made up of thirty-three students, thus classes are intimate, seminar discussions via tele-conferencing technology. MOOCs are used as content only at Minerva, and Ben Nelson, founder of the school shares in an interview with author, Graeme Wood, “We are a university and MOOC is a version of publishing….The reason we can get away with this model is because MOOCs exist. The MOOCs will eventually make lectures obsolete.”

It’s statements like these made by Nelson in this interview and others that are rather jarring to educators’ ears. Reading the 185+ comments in response to the article, one gets a sense of the concerns—tenure, scholarship, and for-profit.

Insight: Minerva is not a solution to the challenges facing higher education. This model seeks to be exclusive and elite—a barrier to access.  It’s not affordable for everyone—it doesn’t accept financial aid—a barrier to cost. It does have potential to deliver quality, given the excellent professors Minerva has hired, including Stephen Kosslyn, a cognitive neuro-­scientist and former Harvard dean.  However, it is a model worth watching for the instructional methods implemented, how open content is leveraged, and to follow the educational outcomes of graduates. We will see.

2) Amazon Coming to a Campus Near You?

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Screen shot from Purdue’s storefront on Amazon.com

Speaking of education and business endeavors, Purdue University’s storefront with Amazon went live this week—the “co-branded experience” as described by Purdue with Amazon for the rental and sales of textbooks and other school supplies. The initiative was in the works last year according to details of a press release from Purdue. There is an Amazon webpage which serves as the Purdue’s storefront at purdue.amazon.com, and there is a significant Amazon presence within the campus bookstore. It’s hard to miss, with amazon-staffed service centres and the yellow, very large Amazon storage lockers where students can drop off and pick up textbooks. You can’t miss those eyesores.

If any students are wary about commercialization of their school with a public company such as Amazon taking over its bookstore, this line prominent on the Purdue’s store page may alleviate some concerns—“Your purchases are now supporting Purdue, which will use proceeds to support its Student Affordability and Accessibility initiatives.”  I guess that will work.

UC Davis piloted the program back in November, called davis.amazon.com. UC Davis gets 2% of all sales generated. The amount that Purdue receives may be more, as according to Purdue, “Amazon will return a percentage of eligible sales through the Purdue Student Store on Amazon to the university, including sales to faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university“.

Insight: As much as we don’t like to consider the student of education a ‘customer’, it’s hard not to with the growing presence of for-profit entities in education.

Introducing INOREADER—Read Smart, and Share
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One of the loyal readers of this blog, Laura Gibbs, a faculty member and online instructor at The University of Oklahoma, shared her newest find and its application of a tech tool—Inoreader. She raved about it on Google+ and described in detail how she uses it to organize her student’s blog posts for the online classes she teaches. Google Reader is no more, and I too have been searching for a customizable reader application with a clean interface. Look no further than Inoreader. It is impressive. Very. Thanks Laura.

You can keep up to date with developments in education and related sectors by following me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI 

 

Need-to-Know-News: BBC gets into MOOCs, Global MOOC Report for $2,500 & Competency Education gets Boost

MP900405500This ‘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.

1) BBC gets involved with MOOCs
Four universities in the United Kingdom are partnering with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to include never seen before film footage from World War One via its archives. Times Higher Education reports that FutureLearn will host the four MOOCs. The venture with BBC promoted as a creative approach, will be different from the traditional lecture format typical of the majority of xMOOCs:

“FutureLearn chief executive, Simon Nelson, said that many Moocs had been “rightly criticised as just being a repackaging and redistribution of the traditional lecture format, and that some universities were using the internet to “pump out videos”, rather than using their courses to tell a story. He said he hoped that working with the BBC would help institutions to be more creative.” 

Insight: This venture is a great opportunity for institutions to demonstrate they can reach non-traditional xMOOC students (traditional MOOC students: holding an undergraduate degree or higher), and engage learners not familiar with online learning or self-directed education. Not to mention introducing a novel method for delivering content. The four MOOCs launch soon—in October so we won’t have to wait long to see the response.

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Image from “BBC helps produce First World World Moocs” by Chris Parr

2) Report on MOOCs for $2,500
It’s not only Udacity and Coursera that are starting to make money from xMOOCs. It seems that there’s even demand for research reports about MOOCs—$2,500 a pop, or $10,000 for enterprise wide access. The report, published by Research and Markets, The World’s Largest Market Research Store described as follows:

“The report, the Global Massive Open Online Courses Market 2014-2018, has been prepared based on an in-depth market analysis with inputs from industry experts. The report covers the Americas and the EMEA and APAC regions as well as the key leading countries in this market. It also provides in-depth overview of the revenue generation models adopted by the vendors in the market and discusses the key vendors operating in this market It also includes discussions of  “…the market segmentation based on student demographics and course preferences, as well as the market landscape and its growth prospects in the coming years.” 

Insight: xMOOCs are big business, though not necessarily for higher education institutions.

 3)  Competency Education Gets a Bigger Boost
There’s bi-partisan support for competency-based education in the United States, a bill passed this week by the senate will allow student aid to go towards thirty academic programs that are experimenting with a range of innovative higher education academic programs that lead to degrees, many including degree-tracks grounded in competency-based education. According to sources of Inside Higher Ed,  there are nearly 350 institutions that do offer, or plan to offer a competency-based degree track (Fain, 2014).

Representative John Kline of Minnesota, the Republican who chairs the House education committee, called the legislation a “good first step” to figuring out what works and doesn’t work for competency-based education.Inside Higher Ed

The programs fall under the Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI), funded by the Department of Education. The program is still accepting applications.

Insight: The idea of experimentation with students pursuing higher education makes me uneasy. If such programs enroll students at risk for not completing a two or four-year degree, I would hope that the programs do not further jeopardize the students’ chances of success.  I think back to the Udacity and San Jose University experience with MOOCs, where one of the pilot programs was a MOOC format for remedial math.

“Another factor in the disappointing outcomes may have been the students themselves. The courses included at-risk students, high school students and San Jose State students who had already failed a remedial math course.” Inside Higher Ed

Failure rates were higher in the MOOC experiment than in the face-to-face class.  What about those students?  Granted new programs have to be piloted in some way, I would hope however, that there is a plan in place to address any negative outcomes students may experience as a result of the experimental programs.

You can keep up to date with developments in education and related sectors by following me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI