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.

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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!

 

 

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.

Learning in the Wild West of ‘Open’

west_film_landingLearning in the open—in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for instance is somewhat like the Wild West of the 19th century—undisciplined, with few rules and no regulations. These same characteristics have been used to describe learning in a connectivist MOOC [cMOOC], a form of open learning where there is no set curriculum, process, or particular method. Learning in the open with the world-wide web as the classroom is unsettling for many and overwhelming for most. But the rewards are rich; personal and professional growth that is hard to achieve in a face-to-face setting.

Definition Open Learning: learning based on independent study or initiative rather than formal classroom instruction [Oxford Dictionary]. In today’s learning context, open learning encompasses connectivism; a theory of learning that identifies learning as a process of creating connections and engaging within a network. Connectivism considers the world-wide web a platform for learning, with its nodes representing connections that are people, information, images or data. A connectivist MOOC is an example of an environment created with some structure to facilitate open learning.

Though learning in the open does not come naturally—one has to learn how-to-learn in an open environment. After participating in numerous MOOCs, it’s apparent that a very different and unique skill set is required; a different set of competencies than what is used in traditional learning environments. I recently shared strategies and tips for open learning in a webinar as part of a cMOOC, Open Online Experience, 2013. I’ve shared my slides from the webinar here, and outlined  essential skills for participants of the open—the Wild West of learning.

“I began this MOOC with the greatest of intentions…I found so much information however, that I am lost in the information overload.  I think that I am posting in week three, but I am not sure.” Comment from a high school teacher enrolled in a cMOOC that illustrates what most participants feel like in their first [or even] second MOOC.

Habits for Teachers of the Future
It’s hard to imagine what education will look like ten even twenty years from now, but the need to adapt beings now.  Though teachers and professors as subject matter experts hasn’t changed, nor will it anytime soon, the delivery formats for instruction and learning has. Contact North recently published ‘Seven Habits of the Professor of the Future’, an article that suggests the skills educators will need by 2020. The skills are varied, and face-to-face instruction is included.  But note the variety of the skills mentioned in addition to face-to-face teaching. Note also the emphasis on collaboration—collaboration on a massive scale, and creating new resources using a variety media. These habits connect to open learning. Learning in the open is the new way to learn, create, collaborate, assess, and develop, personally and professionally.

Skills for Open Learning
In practice however—what does open learning look like? Just as in traditional learning, this form of learning takes time and much effort, though tenacity, discipline and a keen desire to learn are traits of connectivism. Open learning is self-directed, where the learner sets his or her goals, creates a learning path, selects resources and tools accessible within a network. Within a cMOOC environment the learning experience is even richer, as a group of like-minded learners are learning collectively, connected together by a space or platform on the web, i.e. a wiki, blog or LMS platform. Making connections, both personal and conceptual are core elements of open learning. These latter skills are the most challenging, yet vital to open.

During the webinar Learning in the Open with OOE13 we discussed these skills and examined challenges with open learning. The consensus was that open learning is different from what most of us were used to; it can be chaotic, overwhelming and confusing. But how-to-be successful with open learning can be learned. Strategies discussed are in the slideshare below.

Closing thoughts
Learning in the open is non-linear, unpredictable and without guard rails that education institutions or companies create to structure learning in traditional settings. Learning in the open is the Wild West, a new frontier of learning, a new opportunity to grow and connect.  Though I’ve shared here how to embrace open learning and experience the benefits, the Coles notes version are as follows: 1) reflect and blog consistently about what you are learning, and 2) share and engage with others via a social media platform of choice—add value by providing quality resources, links and ‘nodes’ of knowledge.

Further Reading and Resources:

Image credit: PBS, The American Experience, artist Sloan

Need-to-Know-News: Competency-Based Transcripts, a Profitable Online Education Company & Ed Tech Tool ‘Vittle’

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series my aim is to share 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.

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Vittle app for iPad

In this post I review BIG news for higher education—competency-based degrees, specifically Northern Arizona University’s [NAU] program. This week NAU provided a further glimpse into its program with the release of a version of its competency-based transcript; the first of it kind for public degree granting institution. Also I’ve profiled a company that provides online education to thousands of students worldwide, and is [very] profitable at doing so. Finally I share a new and nifty ed tech tool, Vittle, that is user-friendly, with great potential to support educators in face-to-face and online classrooms.

1. Competency Based Degrees and Transcripts
There’s been little coverage in the news of Northern Arizona University’s [NAU] ground-breaking online degree completion program launched earlier this year. NAU’s program,  Personalized Learning, offered through its Extended Campus, is not based on credit hours, but on students demonstrating mastery of identified competencies defined as skills and/or knowledge; where NAU defines knowledge as “conceptual understanding”.

The program, developed with a grant from EDUCAUSE and the Gates Foundation is the first public university in the United States to use competencies rather than the traditional credit-hour to grant degrees (Bolkan, 2013). Two other schools have entered into the competency arena, College for America at Southern New Hampshire University [a private, non-profit institution] whose program was also developed with a similar grant, and for-profit Capella University. When NAU’s degree program launched in May 2013, I thought it would be big news, yet it slipped under the radar, no doubt due to the preoccupation with MOOCs. Yet this competency-based online degree program, is a revolutionary concept, and has the potential to disrupt traditional higher education in a way that MOOCs have not.  NAU’s website gives a comprehensive overview of the program which is quite different from the traditional college experience. The most remarkable difference is the tuition structure. Students pay a subscription fee in six-month increments to access coursework instead of tuition calculated by credit hour; a significantly less expensive option for a college degree.

NAU was spotlight this week with the release of a version of the competency transcript for its degree program, yet again with little news coverage except for a comprehensive article in Inside Higher Ed.  For now, students will receive two transcripts from NAU as a record of their work—a traditional transcript and a competency-based one. Likely this will ease the transition to competency-based higher education, allowing time for employers and other institutions to become comfortable with the concept.

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Scoring legend on first page of NAU’s two-page sample transcript

InsightsCompetency-based education is just getting started. As [U.S.] institutions look for ways to harness technology effectively, lower costs and remain financially viable, many will explore competency-based programs. Making it even more feasible, is the The US Department of Education’s move to provide federal financial aid to students enrolled in competency programs. They are even encouraging education institutions to explore and implement such programs (ed.gov, U.S. Department of Education). This gives competency-based education serious clout.  Given the programs lower costs and flexibility for students, competency-based education can be a game-changer for education.

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“Watch. Listen. Practice. Learn.” lynda.com

2. What a Profitable Company that delivers Online Education Looks Like
Though the online education provider lynda.com doesn’t offer higher education credit courses, it has a vibrant business model worth examining. It has been profitable for over fifteen years.  Lynda.com was one of the first companies to provide online instruction in Microsoft Office Excel, Word, etc, and now offers instruction in “software, business and creative skills”  (lynda.org).

“Subscribers pay $25 a month, or $250 a year, to access 3- to 20-minute courses on Web design, 3-D animation, Photoshop, Excel and CAD, among others, adding up to $100 million in revenue last year. All that has helped Lynda.com build a huge fan base and a library of 100,000 videos”. Forbes

Insight: The market is becoming saturated with online skill training courses with the proliferation of free courses such as tech-specific MOOCs, fee-based online courses offered through platforms such as Udemy.com. Yet as the market continues to evolve at its rapid pace, for-profit organizations need to be adaptable and progressive to remain viable. Even lynda.com is vulnerable, yet it’s apparent that a strategic plan and an adaptable management team are essential for sustainability.

3. Ed Tech Tool – Vittle
This application could be a useful tool for educators wanting to create short videos with an iPad to reinforce key concepts for students. The iPad becomes a whiteboard. It may even be more useful for students to create their own videos to explain concepts learned. Videos can be posted on Facebook, YouTube, Tweeted or played on a iPad or device. Looks  nifty.

The Future of MOOCs according to Sir John Daniel, Tony Bates, Anant Agarwal & Sanjay Sarma

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The Sixth Conference of MIT’s Learning International Networks Consortium (LINC) June 16th – 19th, 2013

Earlier this week I watched a selection of the proceedings from The Learning International Networks Consortium’s (LINC) two-day conference held at MIT that hosted 300 participants from over fifty countries. The four scholars featured in the panel discussion collectively shared a breadth of experiences in open and distance higher education. The panel of four included Anant Agarwal, President of edX, Sir John Daniel, former Chancellor of the UK Open University, Tony Bates, Research Associate of Contact North, and Sanjay Sarma, Director of MITx.

Each shared his convictions on the direction higher education, but there was an intense focus if not preoccupation with xMOOCs. And because the conference was hosted by MIT, the discussion focused on the edX platform. However the scope expanded considerably with the participation of Sir John Daniel and Tony Bates. Both of these scholars have a depth of experience in open higher education that reaches outside of the United States in developed and developing nations.

I watched the highlights of each speaker’s presentation [courtesy of Jim Shimaburkuro’s blog post] and the first hour of the opening of the conference via the webcast, which provided a thought-provoking range of perspectives on the direction of higher education in the context of the MOOC movement. I’ll share the highlights in this post that I hope will give interested readers a snapshot into the panelists diverse perspectives on MOOCs—as a threat or opportunity, hype leading to disillusionment, or the misguided direction of resources to the MOOC movement by institutions.

Background: What is LINC?
Important to note, is that the sponsoring organization LINC has been around longer than xMOOCs—even cMOOCs. Founded in 2003, LINC is a non-profit group with International university partnerships.  The organization’s primary goal is to improve education opportunities globally with distance learning supported by technology.

“Their [participating institutions] goal in collaborating through LINC is to help build on-the-ground expertise and virtual distance learning communities in each of the respective countries seeking such assistance. Their focus is not on the narrow engineering aspects of technology but on pedagogical issues, educational content, financial planning, political constraints and organizational issues. Technology fits into this in a natural way – as defining what can and cannot be done in various regions”.

Stakeholders vs. Shareholders
The opening presentation of the conference led by Sanjay Sarma focused on the future of education with MOOCs as the focal point. He emphasized MIT’s role in educational research and commitment to advancement of education, the history of MIT’s successful Open Courseware initiative.

One of his statements did resonate with me—Sarma made it clear that MIT is using its MOOC platform to “bring stakeholders to the table [with edX] not shareholders.”  He emphasized the not-for-profit versus the for-profit motive, alluding to the “others”, obviously Coursera and Udacity [both for-profit companies] that operate on a different premise.  The non-profit aspect does have significant implications that run deep, encompassing values that include, the concept of traditional, non-profit education institutions versus for-profit providers, the purpose of education, and the motives.

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From the blog post “MIT LINC 2013: Consistent but Stupid”. The 3:42 video captures the exchanges among the panelists.

Though it was clear that not all the panelists see MOOCs as a panacea for higher education or for educating learners in developing nations; Sir John Daniel and Tony Bates both see MOOCs as a barrier to moving education forward. Yet Daniel did describe MOOCs as a catalyst for highlighting the potential of online education.

Key Take Aways
Below I’ve condensed further the key takeaways from three of the panelists. To view the video highlights of each panelist, visit this blog post from education technology & change [etc].

1)  Sanjay Sarma: The Magic that Happens on Campus”

  • Dr. Sarma drew a hard-line between MOOCs and campus experience. He stressed that ‘magic’ happens on campus, not just in the classroom, but in the labs, during water cooler conversations, the ‘back of envelope’ meetings, the infinite corridor and the robot lab.
  • He encouraged faculty to view MOOCs not as a threat to their jobs, but as an opportunity for advancing and enhancing education.
  • Even though Sarma is passionate about the effectiveness of MOOC pedagogy, he does highlight the value of the on-campus experience. Yet he believes MOOCs fit a niche, that brings education to students that would never be able to have an on-campus experience.

2) Sir John Daniel: “MOOCs: What Lies Beyond the Trough of Disillusionment?”

  • Sir John Daniel, on the other hand, sees MOOCs as creating “confusion” in higher education, and suggests that “what lies beyond is a trough of disillusionment”.
  • He believes MOOCs are a source for inflated expectations.
  • The year 2013 will be the peak of MOOCs, there will be a slide as  institutions begin wonder how deep their pockets can be. The ‘slope of enlightenment’ as per technology adoption cycle supports this premise.
  • However he believes what will follow after the decline of MOOC popularity is the ‘year of online learning’ as institutions gradually move their teaching to online—or to hybrid [blended learning].
  • He does not believe that MOOCs are the best route to advancing education, but hopes that we can reach the slope of productivity with online learning.

3) Tony Bates: “How to Make MOOCs Really Effective: Lessons from 20 Years of Research Into Online Learning”

  • Students want to feel that the teacher is ‘there’.
  • Teaching an online course is a team approach, not an individual one.
  • We need to re-think the cost of MOOCs. Rather than spend time on development i.e. video production, the focus should be on learner support. And, how can support be effectively outsourced? Quality is critical.
  • We need to re-think MOOCs as a strategy, and focus on increasing learner activity and engagement.
  • MOOCs are not a viable vehicle to educate all global communities given lack of Internet access, devices and cultural differences.

Resources