I enjoyed reading Alex Usher’s The Future of MOOCs: Coursera and edX article, and I would like to add a perspective. The future of MOOCs has yet to be written, but there are some indicators of where it’s heading. As Alex points out, toward bankruptcy. Particularly the xMOOC corporations, the profit-driven ones. Even enormous startups with heaps of venture capital are subject to exceptional failure rates, startups fail, a lot. Long-established corporations fail a lot, particularly when they fail to heed the winds of change. This is a key dirty secret in the social media hype of “be your own boss, make your own future, edtech is where it’s at.” The daily grind and stressful reality of trying to attempt anything new in an ultra-conservative, capitalist, “what’s your revenue model,” “show me your exceptionally talented volunteer team,” and “prove it,” environment is exhausting. Add to it the uphill battle of being a charitable corporation in Canada where no national education platform has ever existed, and well, welcome to my world. I’m not bitter, nor defeated, I could just use another cup of coffee.
Would I trade what I am doing? No, not yet, I am nowhere near discouraged. Fear is a liar, and there’s quite of lot of it being generated around this particular topic. Generated in stereo. In the right-side of the headset we have those who believe they stand to lose everything if open education is allowed to flourish, and on the left-side of the audio spectrum, the self-serving edtech industry attempting to convince everyone that teaching and learning are impossible without assistive devices and interactive software.
One of the things I find fascinating on the so-called adult education battlefield is that one side is simply refusing to engage. There’s actually no battle. It’s not disruption, its disinterest. There’s nothing a group of bullies hates more, let me tell you. Didn’t we learn that in bullying 101? There are massive numbers of learners who are simply walking away from conservative, scarcity-based, expensive, standardized formal education and doing their own thing. They are completely aware that they don’t need anyone’s permission to learn, nor do they need a scaffold that they are not allowed to help build. They are persistently immune to the idea that they require the latest adaptive feedback algorithms to ensure their success. They pick and choose, surf and click, learn and make mistakes all day. They are not concerned. Learners recognize the underlying scarcity model in Coursera and the like as well. There’s a Trojan Horse effect. The gift appears open, safe and inviting on the exterior, but underneath, razor sharp commercial swords. There’s a very intelligent group that are not falling for the tactic.
There are also some incredibly talented and engaged educators in the camp of non-confrontation. They’re working in extraordinarily conservative institutions just carrying on doing their own thing. Some of them even hide what they’re doing in plain sight. I heard an educator state it really well, “if our President has ever done more than pull up financial news bookmarks provided to him by his assistant I’d be shocked. I am in no danger of institutional repercussions for the open research I’m conducting.” I’m with them, the learners and the educators, just carrying on doing what feels right for them about their own work and learning on their own time.
I love what I am doing. I wake up every day tired but engaged, stressed but hopeful, because here’s what I believe. I believe the future of open education (let’s leave the M-word out of the mix) rests with dedicated educators that partner with, and empower themselves and dedicated learners through connection and dialogue about passionate shared interests. That’s it. Simple formula, wholly sustainable, and will contribute more to the economic success and wellness of individuals and communities than anything a government ever made up.
“Listen here Ms Pollyanna Hayman, how can such a model be funded?” I have heard spoken. “Simply connecting educators with learners, and learners with learners, and letting them interact, and teach each other is neither an education, nor a business model, not-for-profit or otherwise.” Yes it is. It just hasn’t been fully tested. It’s one of the self-imposed hats I wear, to help figure out exactly how this model can work, if it even needs my help. I will admit that educators and learners have everything they need to be successful without me. I just enjoy building the bridge and watching people move back and forth.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far. The more learners I engage with and learn from, and help empower, and like and talk with, the higher my chances of them becoming contributors and helping me fund and carry out the research of Wide World Ed. The more educators I engage with, and like and talk with, and learn from, the more we agree about the potential of this model. The more evidence I can provide that teaching and learning at individual levels of interest and engagement increases contributions to civil society, demonstrates a shared responsibility for public education, empowers care of the whole, and supports people to learn skills they actually want to learn, the more people we will have working in jobs they like. The more evidence I can provide of how all of this contributes to the wellness of networks of like-minded thinkers, and encourages them to pay taxes, well, now we’re talking about sustainability.
My job, as I see it, is to help connect the dots for foundations to take a chance on me and my research and support the testing of my unreasonable sustainability model. My role is to demonstrate for governments the clear benefits of open education (read economic savings and increased access) as part of the current mix of options (read not trying to replace colleges and universities). It is also to help convince education institutions that supporting their educators to experiment with open education and community engagement represents employee satisfaction and reputation benefits they can never purchase, at any price. I have some great supporters and contributors in this, I need more, I’m just getting started.
The future of open education is in the hands of individual learners and educators, absolutely the safest place for it. Wide World Ed is going to succeed in the open education business, like many other great UNESCO-focused initiatives, by nourishing learners and educators as they conduct their tasks.
So, to set a good example, I’ll be ramping up the blog posting here, and sorting out how to aggregate other blog posts into the course shell for our Online Instruction for Open Educators course.
No easy feat. As with many great pedagogic ideas, there is a certain amount of legwork, often a significant amount of legwork involved in finding an effective solution that delivers on your concept. I simply want to pull in all participant blog posts to one common page we can all view and that is easily shared in the course shell (or that participants can bookmark).
Stephen Downes has a great solution that he has used in many courses called gRSShopper. I’m going to check in with him on how that works, however, I really need the gRSShopper for dummies course, because when it comes to technology walk-throughs, it’s sometimes a slog-through for me. So many things to learn, so little time. Meantime, I’m going to test out some true dummy solutions to see how easy and effective they are.
What if you didn’t need to attend or pay for higher education at all, but could educate yourself successfully with a combination of apprenticing, Internet learning, private tutoring, volunteering, free open education? What if you could do that? Would you do it? Why? Why not?
What if someone developed a list of top skills needed for success in the near and far future? What if you had that list and just knocked off all of the things on it in inexpensive ways? What if you were working and earning a living the whole time your were learning? Wouldn’t that make sense, work full-time, learn part-time, or mix it up half and half. That way you’re also building experience and learning at the same time. That’s a good way to learn!
You have friends right? What do your friends know that they could teach you? What do you know that you could teach your friends? What can you teach yourself using a computer, software and the Internet? What can you learn at the library? At the museum? At the science centre? Seriously there are tons of publicly funded places and spaces where you can learn things.
Want to analyze literature? Join a book club, start a book club. Want to know more about math, statistics? Check out Khan Academy. Everything most people want to know about math with practice and repeat options. Keep doing it until you get it right.
YouTube, tons of stuff, tons, free.
Want to know how to grow a square foot garden, grow organic vegetables, fix a dishwasher? YouTube it. Want to broaden your horizons? Place a bunch of completely unrelated keywords into your Scoopit account, see what comes up. Explore links, read an article click on the links, keep seeing what happens next.
Read Wikipedia, learn how to figure out whether or not the articles and information are accurate, or biased, or total lies! Contribute to Wikipedia. Blog, tweet start to find your tribe of those with similar interests. Follow a tribe with totally different interests.
Learn how to adapt to change. This is the primary skill you will need for personal success in the future. Move from your comfortable home or apartment a couple of times in a short time period. Learn to lighten your load, decrease your footprint. Work for a small company, work for a large company, start your own company. Learn to think creatively. If someone else has already thought of it, don’t do it, think of your own thing and try that. Go against the grain, do not engage in mainstream activities.
If a song is on the top 10, don’t listen to it, check out the things in the bottom 100 and see what they’re about. Deliberately avoid being culturally literate. If your friends ask you “have you seen that new thing on YouTube?” Don’t look at it, unless it’s really funny, in that case, look at it. Laugh a lot.
Go to the opera, go to the ballet, see live bands in dimly lit bars. Learn to play a musical instrument. Learn to read music. Sing. Dance. Do yoga, a lot. Breathe, chant, go to church, go to a synagogue and a mosque. Listen to a lot of music from different cultures. Start conversations with people you’ve never met, find out what they do, ask them about their lives, their learning experiences. Tell them about yours. If you like that person or find them interesting follow up and meet them again.
Watch movies, all kinds of movies from every kind of culture. Documentaries, full length features, musicals, comedies, dramas, complete asinine stupidity, animated shorts, really left-of-centre well-animated shorts. Watch BBC or CBC or PBS, a lot. Listen to NPR, donate to NPR. Follow up. If you saw movie or heard a speaker that captured your attention or interest, find out more. Who was the director? What’s the company she runs? Who were the actors? If it was a documentary, find out more about the rest of the story, what’s currently going on today?
Read the bible, read the Koran, read the old testament, read scripture of any kind. Read biographies, learn about people’s lives. If a work of fiction has won some kind of prize, read it. If an author is a Nobel prize-winning author read his or her book. In fact, read something by everyone who has won a Nobel prize in the last five years. All of it, even if you hate it or don’t understand it. Read an article that requires you have a dictionary open and you have to use it every other paragraph. Did I mention the library? There’s a lifetime of reading in that building, and if you think it’s all outdated and useless to you, think again.
Travel. Travel to as many places as you possibly can. Learn to speak some, if not all of the languages you possibly can. Do this by making friends with someone who wants to learn your language and you want to learn theirs, trade languages. Trade everything you know for something you can learn.
Volunteer. This is an excellent way to get experience, and its a good way to find connections, network with other people, practice governance, do tasks you wouldn’t normally do, with people who are different from you. Learn to drive a car, ride a bike, ride a motorcycle. Try new things all the time. Do not judge people by their appearance, get to know them before you make up your mind about them.
Draw, paint, take pictures, make movies, learn how to edit photos, edit movies, create things. Build things! Build a birdhouse, learn how to use power tools (from a safe and well trained power tool user). Always learn how to be safe before you try new things involving heavy equipment or steep icy mountains.
Ask questions, ask question after question until you understand something, then ask someone else to see if they have a different understanding. Listen to what they say. Listen a lot.
Investigate your family tree. Where does your family come from? All the way back as far as you can go. You may be related by branches to people you never knew you were. That might be useful, it’s at least interesting.
Read history books, read guidebooks, read, read, read.
Are you starting to get the idea? There are thousands of things you can do to become more intelligent, adaptable, creative, and better educated without ever setting foot in an expensive university that doesn’t cater to your individual needs, and likely delivers a product designed for “most people” to the highest number of people. The more time you spend as an undergraduate in higher education institutions, the more you may realize that by sitting in a lecture hall with 500 of your closest friends, listening to someone who could be on a video-tape, you are funding privileged graduate students who have the benefit of small class sizes and the best professors. Is that what you want to do with your money? With your parents hard-earned money? Is that how you learn best?
Attention universities, there’s something to be learned here.
Before you sign up for formal higher education think very, very carefully about what you want to do, and decide whether or not you need to participate in what is, for the most part, an outdated and ultra-conservative industrial model from the past. It’s also exceptionally expensive. If you want to see what’s happening in higher education courses, sign up for free and take a MOOC (massive, open, online courses) is are being offered by Coursera, Udacity or EdX. While you’re at it, try Saylor or OER-U the WikieEducation portal. If you really feel you want the social experience that university provides, get a job with people your own age, learn stuff together. Make friends, start the university of us.
Many, many universities cannot seem to embrace change and this will be their undoing in my view. Many, many colleges and universities claim to be innovative, with new online and blended models of course delivery, but in large measure these courses are just redeployments of the same old course materials, readings and one-way lecture modes.
Truly revolutionary online education, designed inclusively and in a really student-centred, engaging way is quite rare. I heard this quote somewhere in my reading, kudos to whoever it was “A horse and cart with a boom box attached is still a horse and cart.” Make your own building, write on your own chalkboard. Be your own teacher. Teach others.
The New Requirements of Learners (riff on a conversation with Stephen Downes)
Adult learners, think about this:
You are the only one responsible to know yourself when it comes to learning. Know your skills, your strengths, your weaknesses about a new thing you are trying to learn. If you want to learn, you are required to participate in the activity of learning, go, search, find, analyze, write, organize, do – find others. Don’t wait for someone to spoon feed you, your parents to pay for it, a bank to loan you the money, or your employer to train you on what they need you to know.
You are responsible to find other learners interested in what you’re trying to learn. In groups (learning communities) you must find peers willing to look over your work and provide you with positive critical feedback. You must find good examples of other work, bad examples of other work, and become an effective critical thinker. You help others, others help you, learning takes place in communities, and the end product is always higher quality than if you did it alone. You will develop trustworthy peers if you do this. You will develop networks of people you would like to work with, or for, and people you would hire.
You need to address the problem of your learning yourself. It’s your brain, your time. You should not wait for colleges or universities or governments to tell you what to learn. You’re the one who is going to have to do the work, the heavy lifting of learning. Is your time worth money? You need to make sure that what you’re spending your time learning is what you want (motivation), and what you need (you have assessed what you already know and are filling in the gaps to learn something new). You should not waste your own time, or let others waste it for you.
Don’t know what you want to do? Take a look at the predictions about looming labour shortages and pick something that attracts your interest. It’s not very likely that will be where you end up, but if you need an income, it’s a good start. Get enough experience in it and you can teach others and keep filling the labour gap in Canada until it’s filled. Once you have experience and skills you have more choices.
What tools do you need? What advice do you need? How can you hook up with a group of learners, or learning that’s low cost or no cost, to learn what you need to learn for whatever it is you want to do? Go and find out.
How can you convince an employer that you will be the good worker they need? Go and find out.
You need to find a way to send your message to employers, that you’re not willing to go into debt to satisfy optical character recognition software’s preliminary resume scans. Tell them to hire you for your values, your commitment, your work ethic, your talents and abilities, your experience, and not for how much you spent at a higher education institution. Tell them to train you, promote you, let you train others, let you effect change to better the organization, and see if you turn out to be a loyal and dedicated employee.
Employers, think about this:
Accreditation is not always worth the paper it’s printed on. Just because a person has a degree in marketing, does that mean they know how to market effectively for your specific organization? Are you going to train them to do what you need them to do? What are the real and basic skills you need them to have? Stop requiring needless accreditation as a hiring screen. Hire people you like, who agree with your values and mission and train them on the job. If you’re worried that they’ll leave with the valuable skills you gave them, make sure you’re the kind of employer they want to stay with.
Your values need to change to accommodate a global shift in learning and training on the job and, in general, about who you are as an organization. If you are worried about the looming labour shortage, you need to get involved rather than waiting for your government or higher education to solve this problem for you, at great cost to the learners, who are going to be your unhappy employees if they’ve sold their shirt to get an education it turns out they don’t need in order to work for you.
You need to connect your employees to each other and help provide them with quality learning resources, and build a real and effective learning community within your organization. Because learning is more effective in real and trusted communities, and the quality of the work you get from connected workers is ten times that of workers in silos. Believe it.
People without jobs. Jobs without people.
Solved. Learners, employers, get to it.
My ex has often stated that he must be continually reading, in the same way that sharks must continually swim, in order to survive. I am just now coming around to see that what he meant was, he must always be learning. By exposing himself to words, concepts and perspectives that are out there, from sources he trusts and values, and by thinking and responding, he is a tremendously knowledgable fellow with a great deal to contribute back to his profession. He has a specific area of expertise, as many of us do, and he is continually learning about it and from it. I find myself in an age and time when I feel I must be continually learning, not just lifelong learning, but daily, hourly learning. Perhaps I have not settled in to what I consider my profession.
It’s a lot of pressure, actually. Once upon a time in the world we could learn, maybe even to the level of true expertise, and then spend the majority of our time doing. Let’s say we’re talking about a craft like baking. Obviously, even while doing, a baker learns, maybe even every day, if a customer asks for a new type of pastry and the baker tries it out. But the majority of his or her time is spent preparing and baking tried and true methods and recipes, maybe selling to customers, and coming back the next day to do it all again. This still happens in places without a lot of access to the Internet and even in places with the Internet.
I’m going to start seeking some kind of balance in learning and doing. I believe some people in developed countries with access to all the information on the Internet have painted themselves in to a tricky corner (I include myself here). We mistakenly believe that we can be experts at everything in the world just because we’re capable learners and have access to the learning. There isn’t enough time in a lifetime for that to happen.
How many of you, for instance, believe you are expert photographers? Is this your profession? How many are expert web designers? Is this your profession? Do you believe you “get” social media. Is this your profession? Like me, you may comprehend these things, and even have a half-decent, acceptable skill. But expert? Professional? Probably not.
With respect to the attractiveness of learning in the world, this is an especially difficult time to be an online instructional designer in higher education, or maybe it’s just tricky to be me.
My typical day looks like this, wake up at 6am or so, often because ideas won’t let me sleep. Work on revising the final version of my masters thesis, check some emails, see what’s on Twitter, if there’s something that catches my eye on Scoopit, click and read. If there’s some bit of business happening at my church that needs my attention (I’m incoming Chair of the Board for a really amazing, inclusive, social justice church in Toronto called http://www.trinitystpauls.ca), make coffee, toast, eat, shower, get out the door to work. Work most of the day on the Internet researching about high quality online learning, sharing new ideas with my team, learning from them, project managing course developments, eating lunch, reading through the Coursera MOOC I’m currently taking (eLearning and Digital Cultures), working on my writing course (WYBA – Write Your Book Already with Chris Brogan), commute home, wave to my teen boys and husband, help with dinner, interact with the dog and the humans, open my laptop and get lost in the information, thesis, writing course, book writing, collapse to sleep, and repeat the next day.
I’ve applied for a doctor of education to follow on the masters, might as well keep going in order to uphold some credibility in the academic world I work in. Seems like enough really, but I want more.
I want to write a book, because I feel it’s important that global learners start to feel some sense of empowerment, choosing what, how, when, why they spend time and money learning. This stems from working in a formal, tuition-based system that may not be delivering everything to paying learners that it could. It also comes from exposure to all the amazing and wonderful things to learn available for free on the WWW. But writing a book requires a new skill set.
I want to write the book and support it with well crafted messaging and a clear plan for attracting an audience and colleagues with similar mindsets. But attracting an audience requires a new skill set.
I eventually want to spend my full time and talent developing open education for global learners, that is good quality and costs them nothing. I want to encompass the largest number of engaged and interested people possible to learn the things that will help them thrive in the places they are. But I’m doing a lot of these other things I do because there’s really no money in open education, that’s the whole idea of it. And while there are large and lovely organizations like UNESCO thinking on the same issues and working on it, they seem to be contracting out work like global education to powerful NGOs (non-government organizations) and consultants. Do I want to work for a powerful NGO? I’m more of a grass roots kind of gal, and I think in the long run, grass roots efforts in developing countries get 90 times more work done.
I believe (possibly mistakenly) that I need to sell a book to those with means, to support the global education dissemination that is my passion, for help those without means get the learning they both need and want. I believe I need to communicate with large numbers of humans to “sell” my idea.
I might just spend a short while meditating on what I’m spending my energy doing, and figure out what’s really going to get me to my goals. What might a different path look like? What is possible? Continual learning of a different kind.
Well, it was bound to happen. Someone was going to crash and burn. Woe is me that it fell to the online instructional design cavalry at Georgia Tech. As an instructional designer, I can say it’s a bit of a black eye for the profession. What really happened? I really, really want to know, mostly to make sure it doesn’t happen to me or to my institution should we ever pursue this path. It seemed from the outside looking in, that Coursera was making a stable place where tens of thousands could safely log in and work without the system crashing. Is that not the case? Seems with the lineup of Coursera owners and investors (lots of brain power, it’s not like they don’t understand how the Internet works) that it should work pretty well.
One or the other, Georgia Tech or Coursera is going to have to come completely clean on all of this and reconcile with the disappointed participants. Or not, they’re actually under no obligation to do so. I’d be very surprised however, if the President of Georgia Tech doesn’t see a need to clear the air.
All that being said, nobody paid anything, so, sometimes, you do in fact get what you pay for, which in this case, is nothing. It’s a botched experiment of enormous proportion (well enormous this week, maybe less enormous by next week when we all forget about it). Kick in the pants for George Tech’s reputation and Coursera’s as well.
What really troubles me about it is the idea that higher education online learning professionals simply didn’t think the entire equation through to the end. Free or not free, if you’re in the online course design game, you need to understand the big picture of what you’re trying to accomplish with these MOOC thingies. Was it a surprise to you that tens of thousands of learners signed up and all started on the same day? Had you not thought through your instructional strategies to accommodate the numbers you knew were going to come? Have you not read the MOOC hype of the last 12 months cover to cover daily? I have, which is why I have advised the institution I work for (when they’ve asked me) not to jump into this business without a crystal clear plan that has been crash tested nineteen times.
I also really don’t understand the loud whining (magnified by thousands of voices or so in each course) I’m reading by Coursera participants about having to self-organize into discussion groups. Just get it done. You’re all (mostly) adults checking this stuff out for a reason, consider your reason and align with a group that has a similar reason and get talking and meeting and networking and learning and creating and sharing and learning some more. Surely those of you approaching this genre were not expecting to be spoon fed learning by one on one relationships with instructors. Were you? Find some peeps and your peeps will help you. Help some, and some more will be helped. That’s how it works.
Also, if you’re in a course and from your perspective it’s not useful, state your case (so the course builders can learn) and then leave. Don’t waste your own time for Pete’s sake!
I Tweeted, and was not satisfied with the space for rant. I read an article today from the Globe and Mail by Don Tapscott talking about MOOCs and the World Economic Forum. Don was admiring the talk of open education by the heavy hitters in the entrepreneurial ventures surrounding this “Open” education movement and I was with him (for the most part). Coursera, EdX, Udacity, the usual suspects. The article mentioned Don’s new TED book Radical Openness. Being a curious sort, I navigated about and found the link to the book, and genuinely, actually wanted to read what he wanted to share, but low and behold there’s a $2.99 fee to buy the book from the iBooktstore, or a couple of other vendors if you like. And there’s a bonus deal, if one wishes to subscribe to TED Books, they’re on for $4.99 a month. REALLY? Seriously? Does anyone who believes that charging money for a book called Radical Openness makes any sense at all? Come on! It’s not the money, make no mistake, I am really blessed to have a livelihood and a roof over my head, so not only have the technology to read it, but the money to afford it, but it absolutely falls down to the principle. And openness in global education has got to be first, foremost, last and always about personal principles and values. Absolute total fail by someone who seems to be trying really hard to embrace change. I’m only guessing here Don (Anthony Williams, co-author, you are no less culpable), but if the powers that be at TED ask you to tow the line on an action as jackass stupid as this, you need to flat out refuse. Many, many people who are paying attention to what it really means to stand for open global education will not now, not ever, respect someone who would consider for a moment charging money on a title like that. Hope you hear this, hope you set the record straight, and what I mean is, I hope you make it right, publicly and rapidly.