How MOOCs Could Reform Education Completely by Accident

When we saw the first reports about MOOCs and lack of  completion, many of us were not surprised.  We were also not surprised to see the demographic statistics – more than half of the learners in most courses had undergraduate degrees, and a large percentage had masters degrees and many even higher.  This article from The Atlantic discusses something that may be happening subliminally (or purposefully) – my suspicion is that teachers don’t think “I’m going to do some professional development now” or “I’m going to watch a master teacher teach my class” as this article suggests.  I do think that getting new ideas for classes is important, and both teachers and professors are probably  participating in MOOCs for that reason, to a degree.

I would also propose that they participate for the social aspect – to meet other educators and like minded people who like to learn.  I wrote an article in Medium over a year ago making an analogy between MOOCs and large scale online games (MMORPGs) because I saw learning as enjoyable for this population, much like games.

It’s a good article, and worth reading.

“What jumped out for me was that … as many as 39 percent of our learners [in MOOCs overall] are teachers,” said Isaac Chuang, one of the study’s lead researchers. In some of Harvard’s MOOCs, half the students were teachers. And in “Leaders of Learning”—a course out of its Graduate School of Education—a whopping two-thirds of participants identified as such.

via How MOOCs Could Reform Education Completely by Accident – The Atlantic.

From Courses to Communities

The long tail of open learning – free online courses of any type, cMOOCs, xMOOCs – is the community that forms around each one.  This has been my personal experience, and one we don’t usually hear discussed.  The course may not ever be completed, but the people we virtually bump into often share common interests and become a part of our PLNs.  In some cases we already know them from other virtual learning environments.  Interests intersect, and we bump into others – nodes in our networks.  This has been so valuable.  This article is from DML Central.

“When I started collaborating with Mitchel Resnick and Natalie Rusk at the MIT Media Lab we set out to design and offer a somewhat different online course. It would be easy to say now that creating an online learning community was our intention from the start, but the truth is, we were a little surprised ourselves, surprised and excited. Learning Creative Learning, the online course we created, became a springboard for learning with family, friends, and colleagues and turned into an ongoing community.”

via From Courses to Communities | DMLcentral.

Higher education: Creative destruction

Higher education evolution, or Creative Destruction as this article calls it, typifies the tendency of costs to soar in industries where labor costs rise as productivity remains the same.  This article in the Economist was surprising in the way it combined MOOCs, which are not for credit – the only MOOC, at Georgia Tech, that is for-credit – and the ASU Online program, which is not a MOOC.  The author predicts a higher ed future of MOOCs, whereas I see them in their current form as an interim solution.  Nonetheless the virtual migration of a good deal of higher ed will most likely continue.  The victims, such as the small towns that rely on universities, will likely feel some pain.   “Whereas the prices of cars, computers and much else have fallen dramatically, universities, protected by public-sector funding and the premium employers place on degrees, have been able to charge ever more for the same service. For two decades the cost of going to college in America has risen by 1.6 percentage points more than inflation every year.”

via Higher education: Creative destruction | The Economist.

Reimagining higher education

The bits and pieces of this, a view of what higher education might look like for the next generation, all exist now.  What doesn’t exist is acceptance of this “just right” education by employers as the substitute for a degree.  While this seems ideal, it can only be imagined for the highly motivated, self-directed learner.  It does seem just right, but this compilation of everything our evolving education system has to offer right now is probably not all there will be in the coming years.  Article is from Deloitte University Press.  “Fracture lines can be seen everywhere in America’s higher education system, from skyrocketing tuition costs and mounting student debt to a significant mismatch between the skills employers seek and those students possess upon graduation see figure 1.5 These pressures, coupled with the recognition that the status quo is unsustainable, are, in turn, fueling innovation across the higher education ecosystem. While it’s still early days, we’re beginning to see the emerging outlines of a new landscape for higher education.”

via Reimagining higher education » Deloitte University Press.

Of MOOCs and MMORPGs — The Transformation of Education



This is from an article I wrote on Medium exactly a year ago….May 2013.  For some reason it has been tweeted lately so I am reposting.  Link to full article at the bottom.  It’s still relevant.

Learning is our new hobby. Dr. Thrun’s first MOOC an xMOOC, which is what we now call what we see in Coursera et al was an experiment, which was obvious and transparent throughout the course. MOOCs are a work in progress, constantly evolving, new pedagogies and andragogies emerging, assessments and the management of massive groups of people constantly changing. Participants are tolerant. They are learners. More than half of them as of writing have undergraduate degrees, and almost as many have a masters or terminal degrees.

Where have we seen this before? Large groups of people, participating in the innovation, joining together for “projects” done with peers in the crowd? MMORPGs. We formed guilds instead of project groups. We looked for “powers” in our fellow guild members. In MOOCs those powers are a life skill that will be an asset in a course project that is assessed by fellow learners. Instead of waiting for an upcoming game which we paid for we wait for our next course to start.

I hesitate to speak about quality, because when we think of MMORPGs we think of a big business that sells software each person pays for, or even reserves ahead of time, that yields a profit. MOOCs are not there yet. They may have a “rock star” professor instead of fantastic animation, but people are taking the course at no charge. They are evolving and becoming more complex, just as MMORPGs evolved with better graphics and social layers. They have learned to shorten the lectures to 5 – 7 minutes, because that is what we tolerate. We are nowhere near the developmental phase we reached with MMORPGs. It is, however, a close analogy to watch. We learned from MMORPGs, we met peers, we formed groups, and we acquired skills. It is interesting to watch the parallel, and wonder where the divergence will take place. It will be interesting to watch the evolution of MOOCs, Open Education, Technology, and Online Learning – and to be a part of it.

via Of MOOCs and MMORPGs — The Transformation of Education — Medium.

Turning a MOOC Into a Network of Schools Collaborating

Confusing MOOCs with online classes is common in the media.  But at what point do we consider an online class population “massive?”  This article about a combined online class – a collaboration between University of Texas and University of Utah students – is a success by common metrics of participation and retention.  I am not sure that many hundreds of students in two schools should be confused with an xMOOC (or even a cMOOC.)  Regardless, PBS shares an interesting review of an online class with a fresh new structure that seems to be working.  “Students at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Utah are currently engaged in a collaborative online class, Social Media Journalism, which combines the convenience of a MOOC with the engagement of a medium-sized lecture — and the completion rate is more than 95 percent. The engagement scales, too: students at both schools, 1,300 miles apart, are taking the class together, interacting with each other, viewing the same lesson modules and building a news aggregation service on various social media platforms. The difference is they get a personal instructor and smaller groups of familiar classmates.”

via Turning a MOOC Into a Network of Schools Collaborating | Mediashift | PBS.

An Affinity for Asynchronous Learning

This article, posted on Hybrid Pedagogy (one of my favorite sites) was written by two instructors who met on E-Learning and Digital Cultures, a MOOC which I visited a few times.  Of note here is not the MOOC.  Although it is becoming more common to dislike MOOCs, I think the mistake with MOOCs were the expectations built around them. I did not think they would educate the world for free.  Rather, the MOOC is/was an artifact around which discourse could and does occur.  A certain type of person takes a MOOC.  A lifelong learner, a person who is interested (we’ve all seen the University of Pennsylvania statistics by now.)  The relationships made during the MOOC are of great value, and they have an afterlife that is more meaningful than the course itself.  This article is an example.


I also agree with the authors about asynchronous learning.  Aside from the issues they discuss there are still access problems, platform conflicts, and more – especially if not entirely controlled by one organization. “There are two misconceptions that we think hinder teachers’ creativity when thinking about teaching online. The first is a tendency to think of ways of approximating their face-to-face teaching into an online format as much as possible — instead of considering the possibilities afforded by the new medium, with the diverse opportunities for engagement and communication. The (problematic) assumptions behind this include a belief that text is less personal, that immediacy is inherently more valuable, and that approximating face-to-face is beneficial. The second, which relates to the first, is the belief (as Kolowich suggests) that increasing the “human” element of an online course is best done by either showing the face/voice of the teacher (e.g., as in pre-recorded lectures used in many xMOOCs), approximating a non-interactive lecture-based face-to-face class, or interacting synchronously (as in Google Hangouts), approximating a discussion-based face-to-face class.”

via An Affinity for Asynchronous Learning – Hybrid Pedagogy.

The HASTAC Guide to the Future of Higher Education: Collected Readings Contributed by our Network Members

For anyone who isn’t participating in #FutureEd – it’s not too late.  This is a summary of what has happened so far, and only a week has gone by so you can still join.  This is a don’t miss event for 2014.  “To supplement the History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education MOOC and as part of the FutureEd initiative, HASTAC has created The HASTAC Guide to the Future of Higher Education: Collected Readings Contributed by our Network Members, a collection of additional readings.”

via The HASTAC Guide to the Future of Higher Education: Collected Readings Contributed by our Network Members | HASTAC.

MOOCs, specializations, and continuing education


There were two interesting announcements this week about “specializations.”  Most people know Coursera, but Academic Partnerships is the biggest company in the space and few people have heard of it.  They do a nice job of partnering with schools (and being advocates) without using their names as examples.  I don’t know the numbers, but I in terms of both number of partners and revenue I think they are the leader in the space.

Coursera certificates

Coursera is planning to offer certificates for students who take a set combination of MOOCs and pass the assessment. The minimum number of MOOCs would be three, with other certificates requiring up to eight MOOCs. The certificates will be awarded by ‘leading universities.’ One of the first specializations open for enrollment is from Vanderbilt and the University of Maryland on making Android apps.  A Coursera specialization certificate will require students to verify their identity and pay on a per-course basis, usually $49 per course.

Academic Partnerships

Most people will know about Coursera, but Academic Partnerships may be less well known, but is still a significant player in the higher education world of the USA. Its is a private company that ’assists universities in converting their traditional degree programs and certificates into an online format, recruits qualified students, and supports enrolled students through graduation’. It works particularly with prestigious U.S. institutions that often were slow into credit-based online learning, or those that wish to keep the online learning activity at somewhat arms-length from their campus activities, but usually to increase enrollments and/or revenues.

via MOOCs, specializations, and continuing education.

10 Things I’ve Learned (So Far) from Making a Meta-MOOC

From Cathy Davidson’s article posted on Hybrid Pedagogy about her upcoming (and I believe Higher Ed event of the year,) “History and Future of Higher Education.”  Note the graphic to see the scope of the initiative.

“On January 27th, Cathy N. Davidson launches “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education,” a MOOC connected to dozens of other courses and events distributed across the web. Over six weeks, Hybrid Pedagogy will host a discussion group, codenamed MOOC MOOC Dark Underbelly, a rowdy exploration of topics unearthed by the course and its offspring, a place to examine the deeper (and sometimes darker) issues implicated in these discussions. Our node will include related articles, curated content from participants, weekly #moocmooc chats, and more. Watch @hybridped and @moocmooc for details. In this article, Cathy offers 10 things she’s learned from making her meta-MOOC.”

via 10 Things I’ve Learned (So Far) from Making a Meta-MOOC.