The idea of Open Education has come a long way in the last two years. Massive Online Open Courses are becoming more common (with the announcement of the “mother of all MOOCs” on Change: Education, Learning and Technology exciting great interest in the edu-blogosphere), conferences and seminars being streamed online and Open Educational Resources have entered the mainstream.
What has been learned in this process?
Firstly the model of courses which are free to participants but charge for institutional enrollment and for certification appears to be gaining traction. How far this can go depends I guess on the extent that participation (and recording of work) becomes recognised as achievement. It will also depend on how much value universities and other institutions think they can gain (or stand to lose) through such a model.
Secondly most of these programmes are using all manner of social software and Open Source applications. There seems to be a growing practice of hanging programmes together around open webinars, with students using their own blogs or other social software for their personal work. One of the less successful experiments seems to be attempts to integrate VLEs, especially Moodle, within MOOCs. Participants are being encouraged to develop their own Personal Learning Environments as part of the process.
Thirdly such initiatives place great emphasis on peer support for learning, with a greater or lesser extent of formal learning support and formalization of networks. One greatly encouraging development is the blurring of the boundary between teachers and learners. Another is the involvement of people form different organisations in leading, facilitating or stewarding such programmes. Most stewards or facilitators are not being paid, although I suspect at present this is being accepted by institutions as a legitimate part of their work as researchers. Whatever, this is resulting in a weakening of institutional boundaries and the emergence of stronger communities of practice.
There also seems to be considerable pedagogic innovation, with a willingness to explore new ways of learning. Especially encouraging is the use of multi media, which although promised in so many formal elearning programmes, has seldom really happened.
Now comes the big question. Can the experience gained from the MOOCs be extended to provide a transferable and scalable model for Open Education.
I’ve already talked about the issue of recognition which I see not so much as a question of assessment but of social recognition of achievement. But there are other open issues. How do we deal with language barriers? More critically, most participants in the early MOOCs seem to be professionals, teachers and researchers already engaged in online learning or multi media and / or students. In other words, people with a fair degree of competence in communicating through on-line media. The model is based on a large degree of self motivation and is reliant on learners being able to manage both their own learning and able to develop their own support networks. This is a pretty big limitation.
I see two ways to deal with this. One is to provide more formal and institutional support through participation in MOOCs becoming part of courses on which learners are already enrolled and their host institution providing support. This idea is already being suggested for the Change: Education, Learning and Technology MOOC. The second is through developing more fomalised individual and group mentoring and support systems. At the moment, we are tending to focus on presenters as the key people in facilitating the online programmes. But such a second layer of mentors could play the critical role, and providing such mentoring could be a key part of Continuing Professional Development for teachers and trainers. In other words, a win, win situation.