At my institution, my team and I have prepared several presentations about MOOCs, to inform and support curiosity about what they are, why they’re getting so much press. And it’s possible the unspoken question is, why, as an institution, aren’t we doing this? Why aren’t we this cool?
An educated guess, and I think I can make one as part of an online learning development team, of what’s going on supposes that those who are “doing it” may have several things going for them. First, some of them happen to have super professors in their MIT, Stanford, Harvard, and elite private institutional pockets. And what I mean by a super professor is someone considered the top researcher in their discipline, who has won multiple research awards, teaching awards, and has grant money, institutional support, and teams of graduate assistants. That’s a promising start to developing a course that might engage tens of thousands of learners.
Next, these course leaders are, for the most part, exceptional presenters, on camera and off. After that, they either possess exceptional educational technology skills, or have someone on their course team who does. They likely have one or more online instructional designers on their team whose advice they actually take. And lastly, they have received, and are taking advice on the use that social media represents in a learning context, as a supplement to the learning management systems they’re using to deliver MOOCs. If you’re at a non-elite, budget conscious University, whose faculty have not embraced online learning yet as a valid methodology, can you compete with this model?
Many of the institutions supporting and contributing to the emerging MOOC providers (Coursera, Udacity, and edX, to name the leaders at the moment) may believe that the millions of dollars in research and course support they’re pouring in to these courses will come back to them in improved institutional reputation and somehow, in a revenue model as yet to emerge. If media coverage and learner interest is any kind of bell weather for this, they have been extremely successful in their bet. Both the institutions and the providers claim to be offering the work of their highly valued faculty as part of a shift to global values of low-cost, high quality education for the masses. This remains to be seen. I do not doubt the sincerity of some in what I will call the current MOOC game, but the millions of dollars in support and investment for providers makes me uncertain. Entrepreneurship is almost never rooted in not-for-profit values. Am I wrong about this? I can see how, if you have 10,000 learners all paying $50, that education in this mode could be low-cost for the learners, and potentially medium to high profit for the provider. Can it also be high quality? Are we willing to toss out what we know about human learning theory at this moment? Mainly that human learning is best conducted with expert guidance and support, in small groups where tasks are modelled and practiced in an immersive, experiential environment, where meaningful feedback is provided, and where learners are leaders and participants in equal measure. There are many, many unknowns at this moment.
There are some very authentic, and somewhat less famous MOOC developers and deliverers, such as George Siemens, Rory McGreal and Stephen Downes who have a strong following, yet they are not embracing the hype and model that Coursera, Udacity and edX are promoting. Why? They are very cool, and have likely received an invitation to dance at the ball. Why not simply join?
I believe it’s because, high quality teaching and learning and truly open access matter to them. Researching and developing a truly new way of teaching and learning that extends the maximum support, modelling and facilitation of networked and connected learning communities to learners, so that these learners can achieve their personal and professional goals, is what matters most to them. They are card-carrying members of Open Education Resource movements, the OpenCourseWare Consortium and other radical groups like UNESCO. It is this model that public institutions who truly value open access for as many students as possible should be looking at, and asking, why aren’t we doing this? Why aren’t we this cool?
Food for thought in the crazy fray.