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Sunday, 22 June 2014

The e word.

I chose to look at enhancement and watched the video about xMOOC models. There are several viewpoints shown in the clip but the main focus is on the Stamford experience of Udacity co founder Sebastian Thrun and his stated aim was to democratise access to learning arising from his belief that "education is a basic human right". Whilst I fully support this premise (who wouldn't ?) I felt that some of the statements made rather simplified the success of this model and at times tried to compare it to a way of teaching that would be recognised by most teachers as failing learners . Traditional teaching was presented as students sitting in ranks, not allowed to talk to each other, lecturers transmitting knowledge from the front - surely these are clichĂ©s and any institution who maintains them is already on the road to obsolescence? Sadly in HE old habits (and business plans) die hard.

The elements of the MOOC model applicable in my context:
(I prefer cMooc to xMooc personally, as I see the latter more as an institutional marketing model to support business as usual) were:

  • online delivery makes learning more accessible especially to those unable to take time away from work/life in order to study
  • greater availability of content for replay/review
  • more problem based learning, explanations afterwards, "flipped" delivery
  • increased emphasis on interaction, making best use of technology, use of quiz 
  • more economical, reach more students, make teaching a first class discipline again
  • education a lifelong issue - more relevant to modern world, flexible and continuous 
Of course all these things also apply to good blended learning. The question here is how does one scale up the tutor time in order to deliver a personalised experience to thousands of participants? It would seem from the participants interviewed that they expected to get that interaction from each other. Possibly accepted as a trade off for not having to pay to learn? One interviewee commented that we "underestimate how powerful interaction can be online". I believe that to be the case having experienced several cMoocs now since 2011. If you invest the time in online learning, getting to know your fellow learners, if the course is aligned with your personal learning needs you can indeed make useful and productive connections which can foster deep learning. Thrun's experience must be quite chilling for the established order, as it questions whether the "best" universities really select the best potential graduates, his online students outperformed those turning up on campus according to his analysis. So as I have long suspected, there is much wasted potential as a result of our industrial schooling model. 

  • problems anticipated
the business model: as soon as money is exchanged for learning a set of expectations arise which have to be met. Thrun's model implies that business as usual is required in order to fund this open free course model. Clearly new costing models would have to be established, I am sure the technology used isn't free and I guess he also expects payment for his work? This is at the heart of the issue and we need some suggestions more creative than simply trying to sell videos of experts in order to raise funds and draw attention to the institution. 

Ultimately, what is judged by learners to be "enhanced" learning opportunities will depend upon their experience of learning, not simply the content they have had access to. Interaction lies at the heart of that. Quality has never really been about institutional reputation, it is more personal than that.