Posted tagged ‘MOOCs’

Let’s get rid of the instructors!

9 September 2014

The title of my previous post, Let’s get rid of the instructional designers!, was a tongue-in-cheek reference to a radical view of instructional design.

I think it would be safe to say that the vast majority of us in the L&D profession do not advocate the riddance of instructional designers. On the contrary, they are the experts in a science that is critical to the overall performance of the organisation.

The title of this post however, while similarly tongue-in-cheek on my part, is much less so on the part of many of my peers.

We live in an era where “training”, “lecture”, “course” and even “teaching” have become dirty words. In their place, a learner-centered vocabulary espousing “inquiry”, “exploration” and “discovery” are the soupe du jour.

A manifestation of this trend is no more vivid than in the invective directed at MOOCs – or more accurately, xMOOCs. To many L&D folks, these types of courses (there’s that word again) are mere replicas of the lectures and exams that they so despise. Ergo, xMOOCs are bad.

Now I maintain this view sells xMOOCs short, but for the sake of argument I’m willing to pretend that this mode of delivery is devoid of constructivist empowerment. I acknowledge that many MOOCs do replicate olde worlde instructivism, at least in part.

And here’s where I propose something counter-radical: Sometimes that’s a good thing.

Screenshot of Foundations of Business Strategy

Indeed, I advocate direct instruction under the following circumstances:

1. When the learner is a novice.

Novice learners don’t know what they need to know. But the expert does.

By adopting an instructivist approach, the expert can scaffold the learning experience and construct a foundational framework for the subject matter. The learner can then build upon this foundation by other means.

2. When the subject matter is complex.

By definition, complex subject matter consists of interconnected parts which may be difficult to make sense of through inquiry, exploration and discovery.

Sometimes it makes more sense to have someone who understands the system explain it to you end-to-end.

3. When the subject matter is black & white.

It’s worth noting that complex is not the same as complicated, whereby inquiry, exploration and discovery may be eminently suitable for gathering multiple versions of the “truth”.

Geopolitics springs to mind, but cooler headed topics such as strategic thinking and decision-making are also highly dependent on context, lending themselves to a more constructivist approach.

But not all topics are like that. Consider financial statement analysis: the content is so straight-forward that it would make little sense to inquire, explore and discover, when you could simply see how it’s done and practise it for yourself.

4. When speed to competence is important.

Learners in the workplace are time poor, and whatever the topic, their employer demands that they get up to speed quickly. Otherwise, don’t come Monday.

These people don’t have the luxury of a semester to inquire, explore and discover. They need to know what they need to know now.

5. When the learning outcome is non-negotiable.

There are some things that your employer must know that you know. It may be critical to your role, a compliance obligation, or a risk management issue; so it can’t be left to chance.

Personally, I think the indicator of must-know learning is its assessment. I wouldn’t care so much where, when or even how you learned it, so long as you did.

However, I can also see that if an employer found itself in court because one of its employees sexually harassed one of his colleagues, it would want to demonstrate that it had provided sufficient training to that individual.

6. When the learner is less inclined.

We in the L&D industry tend to believe (or want to believe) that our target audience is just like us. They’re self-motivated individuals with a hunger to inquire, explore and discover.

The truth, of course, is that our target audience occupies the full spectrum of autodidactism. And dare I suggest many huddle at the lower end.

Woman using computer

Getting back to xMOOCs specifically, another point I wish to make is that just because they are delivered in an instructivist manner, does not mean they must be consumed in an instructivist manner.

While the learner is free to work their way through the curriculum along the pre-defined weekly path, they are also free to inquire, explore and discover at their discretion within a thoughtfully structured environment.

But oh no! If we empower the learner to drive their own MOOC experience, they might not finish it!

Grumpy cat thinking they just won't complete their MOOCs.

As history reminds us time and time again, no one view is ever the “right” one – at least, not all the time.

Our perspective is so dependent on the circumstances that we learning pro’s must appreciate the problem before trumpeting or poopooing the solution.

Just as it makes little sense to get rid of the instructional designers, it makes little sense to get rid of the instructors. Instead, let’s get smarter about instruction.

MOOCs, open badges & the future of e-learning

10 December 2013

Another year of blogging draws to a close, this time dominated by the themes of MOOCs, open badges and the future of e-learning.

This year my blog enjoyed more robust discussion, and I thank everyone who cared enough to comment. Comments are the lifeblood of bloggers, so cheers!

It would be remiss of me not to call out three commenters in particular – Crispin Weston, Chris Taylor and Matt Guyan. Thanks so much for your thoughtful, supportive and challenging comments: you improved my thinking.

I invite everyone to review my posts for 2013 – and yes, please comment!

Collage of blog images

MOOCs

Open badges

The future of e-learning

Miscellaneous

Merry Christmas, and here’s to a provocative 2014!

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 3

13 November 2013

Hooray! My E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 3 is now available.

This volume comprises my latest collation of articles from this blog. As in the earlier volumes, my intent is to provoke deeper thinking across a range of e‑learning related themes in the workplace, including:

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 3•   Mobile learning
•   Informal learning
•   MOOCs
•   Flipped classrooms
•   Social intranets
•   Open badges
•   Self publishing
•   Augmented reality
•   The future of e-learning

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 3 is available in both paperback and Kindle formats.

If you enjoy it, please review it on Amazon!

Is the pedagogy of MOOCs flawed?

26 August 2013

This is a question that I tackle in my Udemy course The Wide World of MOOCs.

Almost immediately after I uploaded this preview to YouTube, someone on Twitter politely challenged me.

She took umbrage to my assertion that MOOCs are pedagogically richer than “regular” online courses.

Her counter argument was that the pedagogical devices that I cited – readings, online discussion forums, social media groups and local meetups – are the same learning and teaching functionalities available in any LMS.

While this claim is partly true, I wish to share with you my [elaborated] defence of my initial assertion. Why? Because I think it’s important to hear all POVs, and I’d like to know whether you agree…

Hand on keyboard

Right off the bat, I don’t believe that all the pedagogical devices that I cited are available in any LMS. They may be available in many LMSs, but certainly not all of them. Moreover, although an organisation may have a subscription to an LMS that offers these devices, it may not have them activated.

That of course is not to say that the e-learning designer is prevented from using these devices; for example, he or she might leverage other non-LMS technology within the organisation or in the cloud. However, in my experience and in conversations with others, it is clear that they often don’t.

Again, that’s not to say that no e-learning designers integrate devices such as online discussions and social media groups into their LMS-hosted courses, but even if they do, the target audience tends not to play ball. How to encourage active participation on social platforms is a hot topic in the L&D sphere, and there is no easy answer because it’s a question of organisational culture which can’t be “fixed” over night.

As for local meetups, in all my years I have never seen this offered in a regular online course!

Network Analysis of the EDCMOOC Facebook group

MOOCs, on the other hand, are the polar opposite. All of the MOOCs I have experienced include readings, online discussion forums, social media groups and local meetups. And the participants do participate. Sure, that’s to be expected given the massive scale of MOOCs, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Case in point, the University of Edinburgh’s E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC is one of the best online courses I have ever experienced. While it had its fair share of pro’s and cons, it was a hell of a lot richer than the boring page turners that too many among us have learned to associate with “e-learning”.

And there was no LMS in sight.

7 big opportunities that MOOCs offer corporates

29 July 2013

Hot on the heels of my 5 benefits of open badges for corporates, I now present my 7 big opportunities that MOOCs offer corporates.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m quite the MOOC fan. While I realise massive open online courses are not a panacea, I believe they have much to offer learners and learning professionals alike.

More specifically, I recognise the following opportunities to leverage them in the workplace. If you can think of any others, please let me know…

Businesswoman on computer in office

1. Sourcing content

Quality content, for free, from some of the world’s most respected educational institutions? That’s a no-brainer.

While Coursera and others offer MOOCs covering business and management topics that are relevant across the enterprise, it’s important to realise that other topics (such as statistics, law and IT) may also be relevant to particular teams. Having said that, I believe there is much more scope for MOOC providers to cover corporate-relevant topics.

I envisage L&D professionals playing important roles in both curating and supporting MOOCs for their colleagues. In terms of the former, it’s important that the right MOOC be connected to the right employee so that it’s relevant to their performance on the job. This will involve an analysis of the curriculum pre-study, and an evaluation of the learning experience post-study.

In terms of supporting the moocers in the organisation, I envisage L&D pro’s undertaking activities such as facilitating communities of practice, setting up buddy programs, and organising external meetups.

2. Networking

Participating in a MOOC forms connections with people outside of your organisation. Whether it be via the online discussion forum, on one of the associated social media groups, or at a local meetup, suddenly you are introduced to a world of people who are passionate and knowledgeable about the topic.

And it’s not just people outside of the organisation you will connect to. You may also connect with fellow participants inside the organisation, whom you otherwise might never have met.

A MOOC can therefore facilitate the kind of cross-functional collaboration and diversity of thinking that many corporates talk about, but few ever do anything about.

3. Blending content

Depending on the licensing policy of the content owner, a MOOC (or parts thereof) may be incorporated into an in-house offering.

Content sourced from a respected university can make the offering more engaging and lend it an air of credibility.

4. Flipping classrooms

While corporates are increasingly realising that classroom delivery is not necessarily the most effective pedagogy for employee development, neither is delivering the training in exactly the same way via a webinar or converting the PowerPoint slides into an online module.

Instead, corporates should consider making their offerings “MOOC like” by creating an online space in which the content can be consumed and discussed by the employees (with SME support) over the course of several weeks.

This approach reduces the burden of managing classroom sessions (timetables, room bookings, flights, accommodation), and frees up face-to-face time for value added activities such as such as storytelling, Q&A and role plays.

I also suggest mimicking the flexibility of a MOOC, whereby signing up to the course, participating in it and even completing it is optional. However, only those who pass the assessment will have their completion status recorded in the LMS.

5. Brand marketing

Just like a university, a corporate has expertise in a particular domain that it can share with the public. Perhaps after experimenting with internal “MOOC like” courses, the organisation can deliver a bona fide external MOOC either on their own server or via an established platform like Coursera.

Notwithstanding the fact that managing a MOOC is a lot of work, I would argue the investment is worth it. Think about it: you can access tens of thousands of customers and prospective customers who are becoming increasingly immune to traditional advertising. By educating them, you build up your goodwill and engender a sense of trust in your brand.

Then there’s CSR to consider. Does the company have an ethical responsibility to help the community through MOOCs? Not to mention the kudos that goes with it.

So while the financial viability of MOOCs has come under heavy fire in the blogosphere, the ROI might be more complicated than the profit-and-loss statement suggests.

6. Becoming involved

If running a MOOC is a bridge too far for the organisation, there are other opportunities to become involved.

For example, the University of Virginia’s Foundations of Business Strategy MOOC invites real companies to supply real business problems for the (tens of thousands) of students to solve collaboratively.

As Foldit can attest, problem solving through crowdsourcing really works – and sometimes the results are spectacular.

7. Mining big data

This wades into the murky waters of privacy and ethics, but theoretically at least, a company could purchase access to a particular MOOC’s analytics.

Why would it want to do that? Perhaps to:

  • Offer internships to the participants who achieve the highest results.
  • Uncover trends in the online discussions, and hence forecast consumer behaviour.
  • Target the students, who self-evidently have an interest in the domain, with direct marketing for related products and services.

And if the organisation were to run its own MOOC, it wouldn’t need to pay anyone for the data.

The equation for change

4 February 2013

Guns don’t kill people. People do.

It’s a well-worn saying that Americans in particular know only too well.

And of course it’s technically correct. I don’t fear a gun on the table, but I do fear someone might pick it up and pull the trigger. That’s why I don’t want a gun on the table.

It’s a subtle yet powerful distinction that occurred to me as I absorbed the core reading for Week 1 of The University of Edinburgh’s E-learning and Digital Cultures course; namely Daniel Chandler’s Technological or Media Determinism.

E-learning and Digital Cultures logo

Technological determinism is a philosophy that has implications for e-learning professionals as we grapple with technologies such as smartphones, tablets, ebooks, gamification, QR codes, augmented reality, the cloud, telepresence, ADDIE, SAM, and of course, MOOCs.

Chandler explains that “hard” technological determinism holds technology as the driver of change in society. Certain consequences are seen as “inevitable” or at least “highly probable” when a technology is unleashed on the masses. It’s how a lot of people view Apple products for example, and it’s extremist.

Like most extremism, however, it’s an absurd construct. Any given technology – whether it be a tool, a gadget or a methodology – is merely a thing. It can not do anything until people use it. Otherwise it’s just a box of wires or a figment of someone’s imagination.

Taking this rationale a step further, people won’t use a particular technology unless a socio-historical force is driving their behaviour to do so. History is littered with inventions that failed to take off because no one had any need for them.

Consider the fall of Aztec empire in the 16th Century. Sailing ships, armour, cannons, swords, horse bridles etc didn’t cause the conquistadors to catastrophically impact an ancient society. In the socio-historical context of the times, their demand for gold and glory drove them to exploit the technologies that were available to them. In other words, technology enabled the outcome.

Storming of the Teocalli by Cortez and His Troops

At the other end of the spectrum, technological denial is just as absurd. The view that technology does not drive social change is plainly wrong, as we can demonstrate by flipping the Aztec scenario: if sailing ships, armour etc were not available to the conquistadors, the outcome would have been very different. They wouldn’t have been able to get to the new world, let alone destroy it.

Of course, the truth lies somewhere in between. Technology is a driver of change in society, but not always, and never by itself. In other words, technology can change society when combined with social demand. It is only one component of the equation for change:

   Technology + Demand = Change   

In terms of e-learning, this “softer” view of technological determinism is a timely theoretical lens through which to see the MOOC phenomenon. Video, the Internet and Web 2.0 didn’t conspire to spellbind people into undertaking massive open online courses. In the socio-historical context of our time, the demand that providers have for altruism? corporate citizenship? branding? profit? (not yet) drives them to leverage these technologies in the form of MOOCs. Concurrently, a thirst for knowledge, the need for quality content, and the yearning for collaboration drives millions of students worldwide to sign up.

MOOCs won’t revolutionise education; after all, they are just strings of code sitting on a server somewhere. But millions of people using MOOCs to learn? That will shake the tree.

Child learning on a computer

So the practical message I draw from the theory of technological determinism is that to change your society – be it a classroom, an organisation, or even a country – there’s no point implementing a technology just for the sake of it. You first need to know your audience and understand the demands they have that drive their behaviour. Only then will you know which technology to deploy, if any at all.

As far as gun control in the US is concerned, that’s a matter for the Americans. I only hope they learn from their ineffective war on drugs: enforcement is vital, but it’s only half the equation. The other half is demand.

The moot point of MOOCs

21 January 2013

Some people are head-over-heels in love with MOOCs. Or perhaps more accurately, the idea of MOOCs. They believe the new paradigm will democratise – and even revolutionise – education.

Others, however, consider MOOCs a passing fad, an unsustainable business model, yet another a buzzword destined for the scrapheap like so many before it.

I happen to stand somewhere in the middle. I believe MOOCs will democratise education to some extent, and they will revolutionise the delivery of education. Importantly though, I don’t think they will revolutionise the science of education; after all, a MOOC is arguably an extensible version of what we’ve been doing all along – albeit on a massive (and free) scale.

I also think the business model will become sustainable, as soon as the providers adopt a freemium model. By that I mean the content is free, but the formal assessment and certification attracts a premium.

And don’t forget the intangibles of marketing. Perhaps a MOOC is a loss leader, or a branding exercise, or a CSR strategy. The ROI might be more complicated than the profit-and-loss statement suggests.

Woman using computer

So I appreciate the arguments both for and against MOOCs pitched by their proponents and detractors. Nonetheless one aspect of the argument that I don’t grasp is the high dropout rate. Apparently if relatively few participants officially complete the course, then the educational experience must have been be a failure. I just don’t buy it.

Annie Murphy Paul recently blogged about this phenomenon (The Truth About MOOCs: Only 10% Of Students Actually Finish Them), in which she makes the point that…

…for all the hype about making education available for free on the web, we need to work a lot harder to create the psychological conditions that promote persistence, accountability, goal-directedness, responsiveness to instructors’ and classmates’ expectations, and whatever else it is that makes students keep going to class in the real world.

Fair call, but I think there’s more going on beneath the surface, and the post attracted some excellent comments to that effect. For example, Arthur Clarke commented…

…I wonder if we might not overstate the problem. How many unfinished books do you have lying around? If you are like me you have quite a few. Does that mean that I have wasted my time and, puritanically, should castigate myself for being a quitter? Perhaps we need to look at learning differently.

Perhaps we need to look at learning differently indeed.

My reaction to the 10% completion rate for MOOCs is:

Who cares?!

The proponents of informal learning don’t care. Nor do the proponents of constructivist learning. Nor, dare I suggest, do the proponents of social, mobile and blended learning. To these people, the completion rate of a MOOC is a moot point.

The only people who seem to care are the MOOC providers themselves (naturally), the proponents of formal learning, and the ever-present killjoys.

To the MOOC providers I say: Adopt the freemium model already! I’m no accountant, but I expect a 10% completion rate would be financially viable.

To the proponents of formal learning I say: Formal learning certainly has its place, but that doesn’t mean it meets everyone’s needs. One size does not fit all.

To the killjoys I say: Identifying an obstacle does not impress me. Explaining how to overcome it does.


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