Need-to-know News: Udacity’s New Direction, a MOOCjam and Competency Learning to Get Big Boost

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. 

direction signs
direction signs (Photo credit: emreterok)

1) Udacity’s New Direction
Making headlines in education circles this week is Udacity’s about-face, its change in direction, and new reason for being. Thrun interviewed for a lengthy article in Fast Company magazine published last week, shared his new [and apparently improved] direction for Udacity—no longer is it higher education, the employment sector according to Thrun is the best market for Udacity’s MOOCs.  I shared my initial thoughts in a post earlier this week—my aim here is to share with readers the specifics of Udacity’s re-branding.

Udacity as readers will remember was heavily involved in higher education as recently as a few months ago. Udacity’s pilot program with San Jose State University was a significant investment for SJSU, however was a failure overall. Sadly, the majority of the students, including those requiring remedial support, failed the MOOC classes. In the Fast Company interview Thrun was dismissive of the pilot, and the students’ failures. Udacity apparently has found a more compliant market, (and more profitable) and is partnering with companies or what Thrun calls “industry partners”. Udacity’s partners according to Udacity’s blog:

Cloudera, the industry leader for enterprise data management software

As Mike Olson, Cloudera’s Chief Strategy Officer and Chairman of the Board, shared, “We believe in Udacity’s vision to democratize education by making professional training affordable and accessible to everyone, and believe this model will enable us to more effectively reach aspiring Big Data technologists around the world who want to expand their skills into Hadoop. Together, Cloudera and Udacity are leveling the playing field, empowering anyone with the desire to learn to get the necessary skills to succeed in the modern data economy, regardless of where they live or what their socio-economic background is.Udacity blog, November for app Development

That’s the whole premise of our Open Education Alliance and we’re really fortunate to be able to collaborate with and other industry leaders on this mission. Whether you’re looking to become a Salesforce developer, hoping to use Salesforce more effectively to get your work done, or just looking to build something, this course is a great first step.Udacity blog, November 18, 2013

Insights: Quite concerning is the power and influence the for-profit MOOC providers (Udacity and Coursera) hold—not only with coporations, but with some higher education institutions, state leaders, and even the Department of Education. Worrisome.

2) MOOCjam with George Siemens
This past Wednesday, George Siemens hosted a MOOCjam, an online day-long discussion about a conceptual framework consisting of “nine distinct components rooted in an underlying foundation of technology and systems support and evaluation”—developed for examining Massive Open Online Course experiences. Among the nine elements are design, learner profile and pedagogy.

The jam was part of the MOOC Research Initiative, led by Athabasca University and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal for the session was “to gain perspective and solicit ideas that inform the community”. Siemens shared that the revised framework will be introduced at the MOOC Research conference happening in early December of this year.

The main discussions focused on three areas related to the MOOC format, ‘the course’, ‘the learner’ and ‘the medium’. In the closing discussion that I participated in along with ten or so contributing participants, I discussed the Framework from the perspective that primarily it would be used as a guide for designing courses, (from my narrow instructional designer lens). Yet there are other perspectives to consider for its application which Siemens summarized into three themes, what form?, for whom? and for what purpose? [summary paragraph below]

“What purpose? There was much discussion about the Framework being used or misused to design courses, turned into a powerpoint as the “way” to MOOC, or being misconstrued. Brenda Kaulback viewed it as a conceptual framework, George Siemens as a way to reflect the experiences, Debbie Morrison as a way to help people know where to start when designing courses.”

Insights: The Framework and research coming from MOOC Research Initiative will likely evolve not just from these type of discussions, but will be influenced and shaped by external factors—debate and discussions about  MOOCs, and the institutions and organizations supporting them. The Framework has great potential, though I’m not sure what kind of  impact it will have in the MOOC community, given the mighty weight and influence of the for-profit MOOC providers. For the most part they seem to disregard much of the research about online learning that has evolved over the last few years.

3) Department of US Education’s Push For Competency Learning
The United States government is apparently gearing up to announce another push for competency based learning according to Hal Plotkin Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary of Education (OUS), United States Department of Education. Mr. Plotkin led a keynote address, The Role of Online  and Technology-enabled Learning in Meeting Obama’s 2020 Graduation Goal at the Sloan Consortium’s annual conference on online learning going on this week in Florida.

Plotkin said the department “can waive substantial sections of existing regulations that govern access to Title IV financial aid” for programs — both residential and online — that base student progress on “demonstrated levels of mastery rather than the tick of a semester or quarter clock.” The department will formally announce the initiative in the coming days, he said.

“Competency-based stuff would fit under that umbrella, but we don’t want to dictate how people might approach it — and maybe people will have ideas for us that are innovative but in a different area,” Plotkin said.  Inside Higher Ed

Next week will likely be another interesting and eventful week. Stay tuned.

Expert Panel brings Clarity to MOOCs in Business+MOOCs Hangout

Clear as a [cow] Bell
    ‘Clear-as-a [Cow]-Bell’, by hynkle
The discussion on the Business+MOOC: the Hangout video recording with its expert panel is a must see for individuals within organizations considering implementing a MOOC and/or wondering how it might fit in with the orgnization’s strategy. Even if you are not a business person, but want to learn more about MOOCs, you’ll find the discussion enlightening. The recorded session brings clarity to what a MOOC can accomplish and what it can’t, as well as raising issues for further deliberation. Hosted by Jay Cross, the discussion features educators, business leaders, and the ‘rock stars of MOOCdom‘ as named by Cross. In this post I’ll list the panel members, highlight key themes of the discussion, provide links for further reading. I’ve also embedded the video recording at the end of the post. The session recording is an hour-long, which I realize is a significant time commitment, but it is highly recommend for those wanting further clarity about MOOCs. Note: the session formally begins at the 09:30 minute mark.

Why we Need Clarity
With any new phenomenon like the MOOC, it’s expected that there will be numerous misconceptions about what it can accomplish. There is a tendency to want to be part-of-the-action and get involved. This is a normal reaction. Though, better decisions can be made when there is full understanding of what the phenomenon can do for a given organization; how it might [or might not] fit in with the overall strategy. Numerous organizations may be considering the MOOC format to address a need or problem, yet its needs may be met more efficiently and effectively by another method or tool. These are the types of issues discussed in the session. Is a MOOC applicable to workplace training or education needs? What about to a business wanting to promote a service or product?

The Business+MOOC Panel
Host: Jay Cross
Educators:  Dave Cormier, Stephen Downes, Terri Griffith and George Siemens
Business People: Jos Arets, Bert De Coutere, Lal Jones-Beyy (from Coursera) Mark Finnern,  Jerry Michalski

Highlights of Hangout: Themes and Statements 

  • Definition of MOOC (Cormier), Massive: means scale, requires mass to facilitate connections within a network, Open: goes beyond ‘free’, means no barriers, not in a closed environment (i.e. within a business, only for employees), Online: changes the nature of learning, Course: provides a format and structure, a ‘flag pole’ for learners.
  • The user/learner is in control, not the business or course organizers. For this reason outcomes cannot be controlled and may differ from those intended. Organizations can’t control the message.
  • Learners need to be self-directed, intrinsically interested in the topic, and responsible. In other words MOOC format will not work for compliance training, or required skills an employee needs to learn for the job.
  • Scale is needed. A MOOC is not a MOOC with thirty, forty or even fifty participants.
  • Why is certification required? The point was raised, is providing a certificate for proof of MOOC completion not contradictory to the MOOC concept? The certificate model can be viewed as a carry over from the traditional education model. Discussion included using peer feedback and review as evidence of a learners skill level for potential employers. Another option—individuals demonstrate competencies for potential employers through simulation exercises, workplace contracts, etc.
  • Difference between and xMOOC and cMOOC (Downes). Coursera model is an xMOOC which is massive, though different from a cMOOC; is a format that is structured around established learning outcomes of a given topic.
  • Design Model for MOOCs. What is the course design model for a MOOC? This point was raised though not explored due to time constraints, but was put on the table as an important topic for future discussions.

Further Reading:

The recorded session of the Hangout is below. Fast forward to the 09:31 minute mark within the recording, this is where the session officially begins. There may be more panel discussions on this topic offered by Cross in the future—stay tuned to Cross’ Web page to keep posted. Enjoy!