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.