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Some thoughts about MOOCs

April 29th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

MOOCs are now set on the downside of the hype cycle and it is not difficult to find critics – or even those predicting their immanent end.

I can’t see much sign of them going away = if anything there seems to be more and more MOOCs appearing – although that may be just a result of better discoverability. However there does seem to be huge variation ind ensign, duration and above all quality although we do not really have any agreed criteria for measuring quality.

Within the European Employ ID project, which is researching employment adaptability and the use of technology for supporting coaching and continuing professional development for Public Employment workers in Europe, we have promised, for better or worse, to organise a MOOC. In fact, I think this was promised for the final year of thee project, which has only just started, but with plenty of enthusiasm from the public employment services and from project partners, we are planning to bring it forward to next year.

We also decided that we would all (about 14 of us) would sign up for a MOOc and exchange our experiences. I am a bit behind and will start a MOOC next week on Digital Curation provided by Kings Collage London who interestingly, eschewing the commercial and consortium platforms, are using their own platform built on top of Moodle.

Project partners have signed up for a range of topics from Shakespeare to producing a mobile app. So far the experience – or at least the refection on the experience, is very varied. A lot seems to be down to the design of the MOOC. A number of people found course providers had underestimated the time it would take to follow the course. Probably the major criticism was lack of contact with other learners, although this seemed particularly an issue on MOOCs offered through the Coursera platform. Peronsally I am rather overwhelmed by the volume of contact from co-students on my Digita Curation course and that is two weeks before its starts.

I suspect the divide between so called c-MOOCs and x_MOOCs is more of a continuum than a binary divide. In that respect Coursera or indeed Code Academy could be seen as on one end of that continuum with individual students engaging with digit materials produced through a well designed workflow but with little or no peer group interaction. The various so styled c-MOOCs stand on the other, with developers left very much to design their own programmes and with a focus of peer learning.

Despite the issue sod design and quality, the sheer numbers of learners signing up for MOOCs deserves some reflection. I interpret it as a vast pent up demand for opportunities for learning. That many of those participating in MOOcs have already a degree is hardly surprising. These were the people who would have participated in face to face Adult Education programmes, had they been available. And even before austerity devastated much of previous provision in European countries, such provision was far to narrow to meet demand. MOOCs have enabled a massive expansion in the scope of subjects on offer as Open Education.

So, even though I sympathise with the critics, particularly as to the quality of pedagogy, I think we should see MOOCs in that light. MOOCs are one iteration in the use of technology to greatly expand Open Education and to make that education available to everyone.

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