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Vancouver, B.C., Canada
CEO/CKO, The Knowledge Management Institute of Canada; Co-Principal Catalyst, WINCan; Workplace Partner Lead, WINOn, Council for Innovation and Commercialization, Conference Board of Canada

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

MOOCs - The Beat Goes On

This is a re-post mash up of my comments from a discussion following a round table session sponsored by the Corporate Learning Network along with my responses to a series of questions posed by @Peter Smith, Communications Director at the Corporate Learning Network

Firstly - great discussion by members of the panel (Kevin Currie, executive director of Northeastern Online, Curtis Bonk, professor of education at Indiana University, and Craig Weiss, founder of E-Learning 24/7) -They covered a lot of territory and presented a broad perspective on the MOOC phenomena - Thank you.

I had a couple of general comments and one observation from the session.

General Comments

With regards to comments related to low completion rates. This is not uncommon for online learning in general. When I was teaching online courses in the 90’s drop-out rates hovered around 70% (I did find ways to flip this around through purposeful design, but that's another story for another day)

The very nature of the MOOC design does not demand completion of prescribed curriculum. This is perhaps one of the strongest arguments in favour of MOOCs -  They support learning for its’ own sake. Students take courses they are interested in. They make the choice to engage in areas of a course that are useful to their specific learning needs - They have the option of auditing the course, participating in individual activities and assignments or not. – This really places the student at the centre of the learning process.

Another reason for low completion rates is online learning requires self discipline and a proficiency with a myriad of technologies beyond what most people have been exposed to throughout their educational careers.
What would likely increase completion rates would be to have students who have never experienced online learning, take a pre-course, which helps them understand how to learn in online environments.

Finally, many MOOCs and online courses assume that people are comfortable immediately sharing their ideas in a open, public space. Consequently many of the learning environments lack support for learning and knowledge work at the individual and small group level. This can serve to discourage those new to MOOCs from being active participants.

I was a little confused about the comments and discussion related to MOOCs being predominantly focused on synchronous learning – e.g. The MOOCsoffered through Stanford are a good balance of the two and assignments typically do not require synchronous participation because of the issue of collaboration between students across different time zones.


Panelists seem to still view learning and work as separate activities. I see one of the biggest advantages of MOOCs is their ability to embed learning in the context of real, authentic work and meaningful problem solving designed to produce an outcome.

 Questions Posed By Peter Smith

1. Are MOOCs here to stay in higher education?

Absolutely! – They will change and improve over time, but they offer an authentic learning experience like no other
2. Do MOOCs have a future in the corporate sphere?

Again, yes. MOOCs provide a cost effective means for organizations to support their employees professional learning and development plans. There will be an increasing need in organizations for on the job, just in time and as needed training and learning. MOOCs will be especially useful for large, global matrix organizations (think KPMG, Deloitte etc.) They can be designed to enhance on-boarding programs, succession planning leadership development, product training etc.

3. What is the biggest challenge a traditional college or university faces when implementing a MOOC?

There are a number:

1. Role of the teacher and their ability to teach online (greater emphasis on being a good teacher, than on publishing research)
2. Maintaining relevancy and currency in the curriculum to reflect exponential change in the market and in the skills and competencies required by employers
3. High overheads associated with running brick and mortar institutions of higher learning
4. The need to do away with the “ivory tower” mindset and enter into partnerships with business to deliver learning programs which address the learning needs to students
5. The need to integrate learning with work in real time

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