Monday, October 22, 2012

Are MOOCs a Game-Changer for Higher Education?

English: Old College, University of Edinburgh....
Old College, University Edinburgh (Wikipedia)
by Jake Broadhurst, International Projects Manager, University of Edinburgh:; Sarah Gormley, Project Support Manager; Jeff Haywood, Vice-Principal Knowledge Management, on The Observatory:

Possibly, but not as you might expect

It is almost obligatory to kick off any article about online learning with some fairly wild statements about the disruptive impact of massive open online courses - MOOCs - on higher education.

Attempting to avoid this pitfall, we shall make a case for MOOCs as contributor to the mainstreaming of online learning rather than a force for re-engineering the educational landscape.

The University of Edinburgh has joined the Coursera consortium of MOOC providers, and the process of developing one of these MOOCs has been written up in MOOC pedagogy: the challenges of developing for Coursera by Sian Bayne et al.

Our position builds on an insight from this article: 'our view is that while MOOCs and the open education movement generally may not achieve everything - the democratisation of education, or the freeing of the world’s knowledge - they can achieve something'.

Further details of Edinburgh’s engagement with MOOCs are on the JISC blog posting No such thing as a free MOOC by Jeff Haywood.

Predicting the long-term impact of MOOCs is difficult because it is a fast-moving target. At the outset (remember, just a few months back), to provide a MOOC signalled membership of an exclusive group of open-minded leaders in online learning.

The pace of this growth turns this rationale of exclusivity on its head, which may not be a bad thing. The rapid growth of MOOCs demonstrates an open-ness by diverse universities to engage with learners on a new set of terms and with new technologies.

The YouTube-ification of MOOCs?

Open to all with the right technology, MOOCs have collectively created a space for universities and individual teachers to connect with very large numbers of learners.

The speed of this growth and variety of what is on offer could lead to MOOCs being considered almost a platform (like YouTube) - though it is worth noting the great diversity of what are labelled MOOCs, as outlined in Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility by Sir John Daniel.

This YouTube-ification of MOOCs puts the distinctive nature of each university's offering back to the fore, rather than just the fact it is a MOOC, and on this basis perhaps, like YouTube, MOOCs can be considered a non-disruptive addition to the expanding range of educational opportunities on offer.

Open educational practices (OEP), MOOCs included, are not new phenomena and have had an incremental rather than disruptive impact on education provision to date.

Open educational resources (eg, MIT OpenCourseWare) and alternative providers (eg, Khan Foundation, iTunesU) were heralded as innovations that could disintermediate universities from their role in linking knowledge and learners, but this has not transpired.

By way of a footnote, iTunesU was founded by a university dropout, Steve Jobs; and the Khan Foundation is sponsored by another, Bill Gates.

While not directly disruptive to the higher education sector, the rapid growth of MOOCs is indicative of the potential pace of change in higher education innovation, and the utility of a university’s involvement in technology innovation. Future changes may not be so benign.

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