This one goes out to all the trolls.
Posted tagged ‘online’
I have a confession to make.
At my workplace a little while ago, I created a smartphone-friendly version of our online induction course.
Ownership of smartphones is relatively common in this corner of the world, and a large proportion of our new recruits are Gen Y. So conventional wisdom dictated that a mobile version of the course would be a smash hit.
But my confession is not that it tanked. It’s that I knew it would.
You see, when you have been in the e-learning game for as long as I have, you learn a few things that a surprising number of my peers in the broader L&D industry don’t know – or perhaps don’t want to know!
This insight bubbled to the surface during my little m-course experiment. It was doomed to fail and it did.
To explain why it failed, let me share with you m-learning’s dirty little secrets…
SECRET #1. Most people won’t train outside of business hours.
Some may say most people won’t train inside business hours, but let’s remain generous.
The working day is typically defined as Monday to Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm, or thereabouts. An increasing number of people are working earlier and/or later than that, so any time outside of this zone is becoming increasingly precious.
Off-duty hours will be spent on family, hobbies, sports, mowing the lawn, watching TV and sleeping. It won’t be spent on anything resembling more “work”.
SECRET #2. Most people won’t use their own mobile devices for training.
They prefer to use them for fun, like playing Angry Birds or updating their Facebook status.
Besides, if they’re paying for the data out of their own pocket, they won’t chew it up on something that can wait until they’re back in the office.
SECRET #3. Smartphones are a pain.
There are so many makes and models and operating systems and screen sizes and versions, it’s futile trying to accommodate them all. Believe me, I’ve tried.
In my m-course experiment I found it straightforward enough to resize the canvas of the original online course and retrofit the content, but while it looked OK on my iPhone, it was problematic on the Galaxy and Lumia.
Oh the quirks! Apple’s incompatibility with Flash is widely known, but then there are the audio and video formats to consider. I also spent countless hours repositioning graphics so they didn’t obscure the text after they were published (what you saw was not what you got), while the “next” button inexplicably refused to work on the iPhone (whereas its text link equivant did).
While authoring tools on the market claim to deploy to multiple devices at the click of a button, I didn’t have the time to trial them, nor the budget to buy one, nor the inclination to learn it, nor the naivety to believe it anyway.
Moreover, I think I would have been going down the wrong track. But more on that later…
SECRET #4. LMSs aren’t smartphone friendly.
For all the rhetoric in the LMS market about mobile learning, IMHO they are designed principally for the desktop. While some have mobile apps, not all do, and the user experience has been the subject of criticism.
That makes a system that is notoriously arduous to navigate at the best of times highly unlikely to be navigated “on the go”.
SECRET #5. Most people prefer the big screen.
Size matters. The restricted dimensions of a smartphone screen compromise the user experience, and hence the learning experience.
Of course, people will use their smartphone for training if they have a burning need and that’s the only device they have on them; but given the choice, they’ll go large every time.
When you combine all of these secrets, the message is clear:
The majority of online training is done on desktops, laptops and tablets.
Armed with this knowledge, the question arises as to how you can use it to your advantage. Obviously you use it to inform your m-learning strategy!
May I suggest the following tactics…
TACTIC #1. Think informal first.
Do you really need to push out yet another course? Instead, why not host the content on a mobile-friendly platform like an intranet or a wiki that the learner can access, browse and search via their device of choice.
This approach empowers the learner to pull the learning at their discretion, wherever they are, at the time of need. It replaces the notion of training “in case” it will be required with performance support “when” it is required.
TACTIC #2. Create the one course to rule them all.
If you must push out training, forget about smartphones. No one wants to use them for that, so they are an unnecessary complication.
Instead, concentrate your efforts on the one course that will fit onto desktops and laptops and tablets, based on HTML so it will run across operating systems.
You may still need to accommodate peculiarities such as video formats, but with a bit of clever coding you can make the same course device agnostic.
By employing these tactics, we start to distinguish m-learning from the broader notion of e-learning.
The point is that m-learning facilitates learning in context, in the moment.
For example, consider a telecommunications technician working on an electrical box out in the burbs. If he needs to find out which wire should plug in where, he’s not going to go back to the van, turn on his tablet, log into the LMS, search for a course, register into it, launch it, then click through page after page until he stumbles upon the right bit.
He needs to know right here, right now! So he uses his smartphone to look up a step-by-step guide. Quick and easy.
This is m-learning. It is indeed a form of e-learning, but it’s a subset thereof. It’s not just learning on the bus or at the airport; it’s much richer than that.
Now that I have participated in a mooc, I am naturally qualified to dispense expert advice about them. Lol!
Seriously though, one aspect of moocs that I think requires urgent attention is the sense that many participants feel of being overwhelmed. This was certainly the case for some in the EDCMOOC, and I fear I was too dismissive of the issue in my previous blog post.
Upon further reflection, I appreciate that what gave me an edge in this mooc was my experience in studying at postgraduate level. By that I don’t mean so much the knowledge acquired from the instructors, but (on the contrary) the skills developed in learning how to learn for myself.
You see, in postgrad you are left very much to your own devices. You are given a tonne of readings, and the most instruction you can hope to extract from the professors is “read this”. The theory is that the students will collaborate with one another, share their diverse experiences, and contribute to robust conversations. Too bad most of them are straight out of undergrad, inexperienced, and don’t have a collaborative bone in their body.
So if you actually want to learn something rather than skate through each subject, it’s up to you to do your prescribed readings, seek more from blogs and journals to enhance your understanding, reach out to your network to ask questions and gather feedback, and generally drive your own education.
The successful postgraduate student is highly motivated, autodidactic, connected, and participatory. I suggest the successful mooc participant shares these same qualities.
So what I’m really trying to say is: I’ve been there, done that. If you trust me, you may find the following tips useful as you embark on your own mooc voyage…
- Before doing anything, ask yourself three fundamental questions.
Firstly: “Why a mooc?” It may very well be the right mode of study for you, but of course there are many others to consider. Compare the advantages and disadvantages of this mode in light of your personal circumstances.
Secondly: “Why this mooc?” There are plenty of them around, pitched at different levels and targeting different audiences. Analyse the pre-information of your chosen mooc to ensure it will give you what you need.
Thirdly: “What do I want to get out of it?” Be very clear in your own mind about the WIIFM, then doggedly pursue that during the mooc.
Having said that, remain open to new ideas that foster other lines of inquiry. Your goals may change. That’s fine; it’s called learning.
- Follow the sequence of the curriculum as arranged by the mooc coordinators. It may be tempting to jump ahead or even lag behind, but it’s wiser to pace yourself week by week.
- Read the mooc’s instructions! I’ve added the exclamation point in case you think words on screen are merely decorative. Sometimes they’re informative, so take notice.
- Prioritise the core videos and readings. At the very least, all these should be watched and read. The other stuff is a bonus if you get around to it.
- Participate actively in the discussion forum. This is your opportunity to share your understanding of the key concepts with your peers and receive valuable feedback from them.
Don’t just talk at your peers, but rather engage with them. Reply to their posts, build upon their ideas and suggest alternative thoughts. Challenge them (politely) to clarify their position if they appear to be waffling.
- Blog. More specifically, use your blog to articulate your learnings from the mooc. Focus on the practical applications that you have drawn from the academic concepts.
I found it helpful to use the discussion forum to post preliminary drafts of my ideas, refine them, then blog them.
- Concentrate your discussion activity on only one or two threads each week. You’ll go mad trying to keep up with all of them, so narrow your field of vision to what really matters to you.
At the end of the week, abandon those threads. Again, this is about pacing yourself. While the conversation may be rich and rewarding, you can’t afford to go down any rabbit warrens.
If you’re super keen, you can always continue the conversation with your new-found friends after the mooc has ended.
- Pick a social media platform to support your progress. I made the mistake of bouncing between Twitter, Google+ and Facebook in case I missed out on anything, but all that did was waste my time. Next time I’ll pick my favourite platform and stick with it.
- Do something daily. Whether it’s watching a video, reading an article, discussing an idea, writing a blog, liking something on Facebook, or mulling over a thought in your mind, it’s important to keep the momentum going.
- Think of moocing as informal learning. If you remember your WIIFM, it will ease the pressure that you put on yourself. You don’t have to finish the course. In fact, you don’t have to do anything. Assume control of your own actions, and become the master of your destiny.
In other words, be the tiny ship of order in the vast sea of chaos.
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.
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:
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.
MOOCs get a bad rap. Dismissed as prescriptive, or teacher-centric, or unsocial, or something else, it’s like a badge of honour to espouse why you dislike MOOCs.
Despite their pedagogical flaws, however, MOOCs provide unprecedented access to quality content for millions of learners.
It’s all very well for Apple-owning, organic-buying professionals to cast aspersions, but consider the girl in Pakistan who’s too scared to set foot in a classroom. Consider the teenager in central Australia whose school has only one teacher. Consider the young woman in Indonesia who can’t afford college. Consider the boy in San Francisco whose maths teacher simply doesn’t teach very well.
Don’t all these people deserve a better education? And isn’t content sourced from some of the world’s best providers a giant leap in that direction?
Sure, the pedagogy may not be perfect, but the alternative is much worse.
MOOC proponent George Siemens distinguishes between two types of MOOC: the xMOOC and the cMOOC.
The former is the subject of such disdain. Involving little more than knowledge transmission and perhaps a quiz at the end, the xMOOC is widely seen as replicating old-fashioned lectures and exams.
In contrast, the latter leverages the connectedness of the participants. Seeded with content, the cMOOC empowers – read “expects” – the learner to discuss, debate, discover, share and co-create new knowledge with his or her fellow learners.
The cMOOC’s participant is active whereas the xMOOC’s participant is passive. As Siemens puts it, cMOOCs focus on knowledge creation and generation whereas xMOOCs focus on knowledge duplication.
Despite Siemens’ evangelism though, I don’t think the cMOOC is necessarily better than the xMOOC. (I’ll explain later.)
Love them or loathe them, xMOOC or cMOOC, the fact remains: MOOCs have arrived, and they are here to stay.
Moreover, I submit they are yet to wreak their full vengeance on the education industry. When I look into my crystal ball, I foresee that MOOCs will rock our world, and they will do so in 15 ways…
1. Universities will finally accept they are service providers.
As the latest edition of Educause Review indicates, universities are fee-for-service businesses. That means they are subjected to market forces such as competition.
MOOCs beg the question: If I can study at Stanford University for free, why would I pay tens of thousands of dollars to study at your dinky university and subject myself to your arcane rules?
2. The vast majority of students will be overseas.
Countries that currently attract foreign students to their shores will need to brace for the impact on their local economies, as an ever-increasing proportion of students choose to gain an international education without leaving their home country.
3. The pecking order will be reshuffled.
While the world’s most prestigious institutions will enjoy a windfall of new students, those that rely more on age than ability will ultimately fail as the target audience realises how pedestrian they are.
Conversely, some of the smaller, younger institutions will emerge from the shadows as the world sees how good they really are.
4. Research will become a competitive advantage.
There’s nowhere to hide on the global stage, and cutting-edge expertise will be one of the few aspects that a university will have to distinguish itself from the others.
No more lazy professors, no more specious journal articles. Faculty who don’t generate a flow of new knowledge for their students will have their tenure terminated.
5. Universities will flip their classrooms.
Bricks’n’mortar establishments will become expensive relics unless their owners redeploy them. One way to do that is to leverage MOOCs for content delivery and provide value-added instruction (discussion, Q&A, worked examples, role plays etc) to local students – who of course will pay a premium for the privilege.
Studying on campus will become a status symbol.
6. The role of the teacher will evolve.
There’s no point rehashing the same lectures when the world’s best authorities have already recorded them and offered them to the world as OERs. It’s how the teacher uses that content to support learning that will make the difference.
7. The pedagogy of MOOCs will be enriched.
While MOOCs typically comprise video clips and perhaps a quiz, they will inevitably include more instructional devices to assist distance learning (and remain competitive).
Over time, content providers will supplement their core offerings with live webinars, interactive exercises, discussion forums, wikis, social networks etc. Some may even organise real-life meetups at selected sites around the world.
8. Content providers will charge for assessment.
A certificate of completion is good; an official grade is better.
Assessment is one of the ways universities will monetise their MOOCs, and edX is already going one step further by offering proctored exams.
9. Universities will offer credits for MOOCs.
Again, this is already being considered by the American Council on Education.
Of course, a certificate of completion won’t suffice. Ka ching!
10. Online cheating will mushroom.
An ever-present thorn in the side of online education, cheating will be almost impossible to prevent in the MOOC space. But surely we can do better than onsite exams?
11. Academic inflation will skyrocket.
Every man and his dog will have a ream of courses listed on his CV. Employers will consider certificates of completion meaningless, while maintaining a reserved suspicion over assessment scores.
Outcomes-based activities that demonstrate the applicant’s knowledge and skills will become a component of best-practice recruitment.
12. Offshoring will become the rule, not the exception.
Deloitte’s global CLO, Nick van Dam, told me that American firms are using MOOCs to upskill accountants based in India on US accounting practices.
13. MOOCs will target the corporate sector.
Current MOOCs are heavily geared towards school and college audiences. Over time, an increasing number of narrow, specific topics that link to corporate competencies will emerge.
Content providers will wag the long tail.
14. The corporate sector will embrace xMOOCs.
Learners in the workplace are time poor. They don’t have the luxury to explore, discover, and “make sense of the chaos”. They need the knowledge now and they are happy for the expert to transmit it to them.
15. An xcMOOC hybrid will emerge as the third variant.
Sooner or later, the powers that be will remember that an instructivist approach suits novices, while an increasingly constructivist and connectivist approach suits learners as they develop their expertise.
Hence, the MOOC of the future may resemble an xMOOC in its early stages, and morph into a cMOOC in its later stages.