Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Research Universities and Online Learning - Is the MOOC the best we can do? - Part 3

The focus of the last post concerning this topic was on the qualities of elite selective research oriented universities and colleges that make MOOCs appealing for those institutions. That is, why are so many of the MOOCs being offered by those types of institutions, when many do not have a history of participating in online learning. Along those same lines, we also left asking

 “...if these same universities (who are offering MOOCs) will also develop significant capacity to deliver their traditional curriculum through online, distance, or extended education for the same credit and degrees offer through their residential programs. “

If they do or they choose not to, this is all good.  We all recognize that there are many different educational needs that we are trying to meet and that traditional university methods and offerings will only meet a fraction of them. To the extent that learners respond well to connectivist learning design and MOOCs support learner success, we have made a great leap forward in meeting previously under met needs. I am sure that in the coming months and years, the big data being collected in MOOCs will shed light on the educational needs being met by MOOCs, ways of refining best teaching and learning practice, and the skills, aptitudes, and habits that successful MOOC learners possess.

It is early days, but I found some of the student feedback on Udacity MOOCs interesting and I found myself wanting more. In Sebastian Thrun’s Sloan-C keynote, Democratizing Higher Education
he reports on student feedback, and apparently
  • 99.5% of high school students want to take another Udacity class,
  • 75.5% of college-educated students found Udacity classes more effective than (traditional) college classes, and
  • in the artificial intelligence class the 400+ top students were online, rather than traditional Stanford Stanford students.

This feedback is discussed in the Streaming Video of his Sloan-C presentation at minute 38 and 50 seconds.

I know that eventually the data being collected in the MOOC environment will tell us a lot more about which practices support learner success, and the role of learning designers and faculty facilitators in that success. A lot of this is pretty well documented for traditional online learning and is supported by decades of research, much of it starting in the late 70s and early 80’s around mastery learning.  The agenda took shape in the mid-80s with dozens of researchers working on the “2-Sigma” problem, which is something that I would like to explore later as the problem applies to online learning. I mention it because there seems to be an assumption that until the advent of MOOCs, educators were sitting on their hands waiting for inspiration before asking questions about teaching and learning effectiveness. Now it might be that the foundation that has been built during the past decade does not apply to MOOCs, but I hope not because I would really like to see the MOOC communities build on the foundations that are available, refine the knowledge, and help improve practice across multiple educational approaches.

In any event, and to my question, I would guess that most (but certainly not all) successful MOOC learners have some common set of characteristics - educational backgrounds, aptitudes, attitudes, and so forth that provide the capacity to study well independently while also taking advantage of the benefits that large networks afford for connectivist learning strategies. As an aside, I know that I am making an assumption that MOOCs actually apply a connectionist pedagogical strategy, as is frequently claimed,  which is reflected in course design.

MOOC Hierarchy of Learning NeedsSo now, how do we get students who are able to successfully study in a MOOC environment?  What types of qualities make them successful and able to “unlock the potential” of MOOCs?  Can a learner first become educated through MOOCs (bootstrap their education starting with MOOCs) or are there characteristics that need to be developed in learners before they are able to succeed in MOOCs? If so, where do the learners get an education that prepares them for the MOOC? Is it through their regulare life experiences? I guess that I am asking if there is some sort of educational hierarchy of needs through which learners ascend with successful MOOC students sitting at the apex? Are these the types of learners that we expect our high schools, colleges, and universities to produce? More generally, what types of learners and citizens do we want our colleges and universities to produce? What types of qualities should a university educated graduate possess?

For the record, I am not equating MOOC learning with self-actualization. Each pedagogical approach would have some sort of pyramid that represents the skills, characteristics, interests, dispositions, knowledge, arts, habits, etc. required to succeed in that environment.

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