Education 2023: The Rise of the Community College


It is always dangerous to make predictions. Titling your article "Education 10 Years from Now" invites skepticism at the starting gate. But we do it in education all the time. We try to predict trends in technology, pedagogy, society, funding etc. Sometimes, as in the case of the MOOC, all those things seem to matter.

The piece I read shows the perceived value of a state college education as and so it attracts good teachers and facilities. But the cost is high and it keeps going up at a rate that is not sustainable.

What is interesting in the article is that it sees community colleges as being in a good position to partner with those state colleges to provide whatever is lacking for their distance students. Hmmmm... That's a niche that I'm not sure community colleges will want to occupy.

What the community colleges can offer are exam rooms and moderation, sports, labs, etc.  All this allows the 4-year students to have a more affordable price.

Colleges are confused. They are not sure of what to do about students with lower abilities, social media, MOOCs and parents and students questioning the value of that expensive diploma.

I suppose this can be seen as an opportunity for community colleges, but it can also be seen as making them further subservient to the "real" 4-year schools. 


In this prediction, the increase in the perceived value of the community colleges is connected to online learning. 

The article proposes that "the customer base for education is now the employer. An employer can find what he wants in an employee with or without and institutional accreditation. Students will be quick to follow the path to employment, since institutional education costs have risen and value has eroded, students will be looking for schools that accredit on a much broader basis than simply competence and standardized tests."

That article at looks at two tools that they offer to serve students: School with its social learning platform (Teachers/Facilitators and Content) and analyzed big data of the student. Their different model of accreditation gives the employer: an analysis of his aptitude for employment and ability to learn; his skill set and personality type; red flag issues like authority and peer conflicts; peer and school subject mastery assessment.

Blended and Hybrid Learning


I am teaching a hybrid class this semester. I mentioned this to a professor at another college and she said, "Oh, we call them 'blended' classes." Are blended and hybrid classes the same thing? Are those words educational synonyms?

Blended courses are usually defined as classes where a portion of the traditional face-to-face instruction is replaced by web-based online learning. To further muddy the water, some schools use the term "mixed-mode" courses. 

In 2005, when I was the manager of instructional technology at NJIT, we were exploring building a "Weekend University" program to address working IT professionals who lacked a degree in the field. The courses were to be offered face-to-face on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with at least half of the coursework to be delivered online. 

researching how much of the face-to-face (F2F) instruction must be replaced by online coursework, we quickly discovered that this varied greatly by school and also by class, discipline, and learning objectives. 

The Sloan Consortium defines blended learning as a course where 30%-70% of the instruction is delivered online. Some courses met once rather than twice a week every week. Others met twice a week some weeks and only online other weeks. (This seemed popular with project-based courses.) And other courses met F2F at the beginning, middle and end of the course, while working online the rest of the semester. (Kind of a "low-residency model in a single semester.)

In 2004, during our research on blended course, I did a presentation on "Online, Collaborative and Enhanced Modes of Course Redesign" as part of a day on redesigning courses at Seton Hall University. I recall that there was trepidation from faculty about these new models. Some of the fear was that speakers said that with this approach, the school needs fewer teachers overall. Cost savings were definitely part of the moves to redesign in many cases.

If the only significant difference in the course is the F2F versus online time, then I think "hybrid" works well as a label. But "blended" has always suggested to me that there was a blending of pedagogies and techniques too. When we were redesigning courses to be hybrid, we always talked with faculty about what worked best in their F2F classroom. In what today is usually called the "flipped classroom," the part most often moved online is the lecture, but some professors are excellent and engaging "lecturers." Then why move that online? 

I was happy to see faculty who really used the move as a time to rethink and redesign the course. They might record 15 minute mini-lectures for online but retain other lecture components for F2F. Some would begin discussions online prior to class and then pick up on those topics and questions that were raised online in the classroom. In some ways, classrooms have always been "flipped." Assigning students to read a short story or chapter as homework before a class is really the same thing. Everything can't happen in the classroom.

In a paper on
six elements for a better blend(Selectivity, Extended reach, Freed time, Accountability, Authority and Rewards) the authors take a look at the issues from two points of view: Blended Learning Implemented Without Enhancing Teaching and Blended Learning Combined with Enhancing Teaching Effectiveness Effectiveness. For example, in "freed time," taking the first approach, you would "add digital learning within current schedules, making no changes to the amount of time available to teachers for collaboration, planning, and professional development." Taking the combined approach, you would "rethink scheduling within new, blended models. The time students are spending on digital learning can be used, in part, to enable teachers to develop, collaborate, and plan. And schedule shifts can make teachers more effective by giving them time to analyze the increasing amounts of data available in blended models, using the data to inform instruction. All teachers can produce excellence as part of a team and gain opportunities for job-embedded development under the guidance of their excellent peers."

The University of Central Florida was a college we looked at carefully in our early research. They are still championing blended learning. I recommend their site at and their "toolkit" available at that site. UCF is also offering its free MOOC (massive open online course) for blended learning faculty and designers: BlendKit2012 again this month. Based around the open-licensed BlendKit Course instructional materials contained within the web site, BlendKit2012 will run as a five-week cohort (from Monday, September 24 to Monday, October 29, 2012) The goal of BlendKit2012 is to provide assistance in designing and developing your blended learning course via a consideration of key issues related to blended learning and practical step-by-step guidance in helping you produce actual materials for your blended course (i.e., from design documents through creating content pages to peer review feedback at your own institution). Unlike many traditional courses, registrants are encouraged to select the course components they find relevant as they participate at one of several engagement levels (i.e., completer, participant, auditor).  Course components include regular communications from facilitators, weekly readings, hands-on tasks, a variety of real time and asynchronous interaction opportunities, and weekly webinars with experienced blended learning instructors.

To close on a lighter note, blending always makes me think of Dan Ackroyd's Bassomatic commercial from Saturday Night Live (1976!) and also of  where they like to do bassomatic-like things to smartphones and other technology using their blenders. Let's hope that in creating our blended and hybrid courses, we are not destroying them at the same time.

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative - including a report on a national focus session and a framework for faculty workshops.
National Center for Academic Transformation - course redesign, including the innovative use of technology for blended learning

MOOC: The Meaning is Negotiable

MOOC poster by Mathieu Plourde licensed CC-BY on Flickr

I don't think I am really being ethnocentric in saying that the three key players in the MOOC arena as of now are the U.S.-based Udacity, Coursera, and edX. There are many other global MOOC providers, but the majority of courses, students and media attention has been given to those three.

Using those three as examples, it is easy to see that the definition of a MOOC has great variability.

Udacity was the first to launch in 2012 and it works directly with professors rather than institutions. Coursera (currently the largest provider) contracts directly with colleges. Both are for-profit ventures.

EdX is a not-for-profit joint venture between Harvard and MIT and it also partners with other universities. edX makes its code open-source so that others can build their own platform. Recently, Google and edX announced a partnership to further develop Open edX, edX's learning platform.

I think the only place we have agreement in defining a MOOC is with that second O in the acronym. MOOCs are online. Defining massive, open and even "course" is not so easy.

As the illustration by Mathieu Plourde shown above points out even online has variations. What about if some of the participants are local cohorts participating on the host campus in a synchronous, face-to-face manner or in a hybrid setting? What about if you add other synchronous opportunities to a MOOC?

And some MOOCs are not "courses" in the traditional sense if you are thinking about assignments, grades and validated credits.  The MOOC I taught this past spring was clearly more of a Conversation than a Course as it lacked all those traditional elements. I have seen one MOOC described as a massive Open Online Community.

How do you define "massive?"  Some courses are not as massive as others. Although courses with more than 100,000 students still exist, some providers are focusing on smaller numbers. Is 20,000 massive enough?  1500 students certainly far exceeds the class sizes of traditional online college courses, but it seems small in comparison to the 100K+ offerings.

"Open" is the most difficult word in the MOOC package. The earliest MOOC offerings were Open in a number of ways. They were open for anyone to enroll - no prerequisites, age or location restrictions. They were free. The content was open in the open-source and Open Educational Resources sense of that word. You could reuse the content for your own purposes, possibly under a Creative Commons or similar license agreement. Many of those early offering were not officially attached to a university or organization. I participated in course offered by P2PU 5 years ago that were open in all those ways.

But, what "open" means in the world of for-profit MOOCs is quite different. I can't teach a course in Coursera without being affiliated with a college that partners with the company. In fact, the platform isn't even open to all colleges. You won't find any community colleges or below tier one colleges offering courses. The content that is there is not open to be reused. There are carefully worded contracts that include language on intellectual property. Although their courses are still free to all, we are seeing the development of tiers with some courses being offered for a cost in order to include validated assessment and credit in some form. Coursera's Signature Track is an example of this.

Are these bad things?  Not necessarily. MOOCs are still in an early evolutionary stage. Offering courses with reasonable fees that lead to credits and towards degrees may be exactly the path that will allow MOOCs to prosper and grow.  Faculty and course creators may feel more secure and be more willing to participate if they feel their work is truly protected. (Has anyone ever won a Creative Commons lawsuit?)  Even putting restrictions on enrollment such as some prerequisite experience or knowledge testing may be useful. If I was teaching what I considered to be graduate-level material in a MOOC, I think it would be generally beneficial to not have participants who have no experience or undergraduate credits or are 11 years old in the course.

I'm working on a paper that formed from the idea that MOOCs are both a revolution and an evolution. They are another stage in the evolution of distance and online education. MOOCs today have more similarities with earlier online courses than differences. They are revolutionary in their disruption of what education means in terms of credits and degrees, access and outcomes.

The acronym MOOC may have been added in August 2013 to the online, but we'll see how long their definition holds. I'd say that it is already out of date.

MOOC  /mo?ok/ noun -  a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people.
Origin: early 21st century: from massive open online course, probably influenced by MMOG and MMORPG

Creating Your Own Personal Learning Network


I am a bit surprised that so many educators still view social media (like Twitter and LinkedIn) and blogging as technocentric or even narcissistic endeavors. It points to the criticism I often hear that education is a field that is slow to change and resistant to change. I'm not sure how true that is - the speed with which MOOCs have become part of the mix in higher ed has been rather fast - but I would agree that there is still resistance to new technologies. For example, online learning, even after about twenty years of it being a part of higher education, is still controversial at some schools.

Personal Learning Networks (PLN) are informal learning networks that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal environment. It is all about the connection you make to others with similar interests and social networks have become the way that most often occurs. When I add people to my list of education and technology people in Twitter, it is because I have the idea that some type of learning will occur because of that connection.

The research on this fairly new approach to learning outside of school is generally labeled "connectivism" and much of was developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. The idea is that learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their own professional development and knowledge. You don't have to know these people personally or ever meet them in person. Remember in the early days of Facebook how people scoffed at the idea that someone had 1000 "friends"?  Not as many jokes these days.

In  The New Learning Revolution by Gordon Dryden and Jeannette Vos, the authors say "For the first time in history, we know now how to store virtually all humanity's most important information and make it available, almost instantly, in almost any form, to almost anyone on earth. We also know how to do that in great new ways so that people can interact with it and learn from it."

Before I had heard of PLN, I was reading about PLE - Personal Learning Environments. In 2010, a PLE was defined in Emerging Technologies in Distance Educationas a "manifestation of a learner’s informal learning processes via the Web."

How does an educator start their own PLE or PLN? It's not that difficult. Get the basic social media accounts: Twitter, LinkedIn and even Facebook are easy places to begin. The important work on your part will be finding the people who have similar interests to your own. When I find someone I want to follow, I add them to one of my own interest lists. In twitter, one of my lists is for education + technology. You can look at that list and see if anyone catches your interest. I always check the public lists of people who I follow to see who they are following. 

Of course, most of the really good content goes beyond a tweet of 140 characters. Most good tweets contain a link, and many of those links are to articles or blog posts. Reading blogs and eventually writing your own blog is also part of creating a PLN.

Finding interesting bloggers is much like find people to follow in any social network. What's great about blogs (as opposed to trying to follow writers or journalists is that you can subscribe to their posts using a reader application like Feedly. Their posts all show up in brief on one page and you can select which ones you want to read. Feedly also allows you to post your own links to good articles to your own Twitter, Facebook and other accounts or email it to someone in your PLN.

Soon, you will become someone that others add to their own PLN.

Writing your own blog means that you are at a point where you want to move out of Social Web 1.0 to Social Web 2.0 where you create your own content to share rather than just passing on other people's content.  You can use Blogger (from Google) or WordPress to create a good blog platform. Both are free and pretty easy to use. You might want to start with the "micro-blogging" tool, Tumblr, that is popular for short posts and for reposting others content easily. 

I feel that PLNs are part of professional development these days. (You could make the P in PLN stand for "professional" if that makes it seem more accurate.)  That's true beyond education, as some businesses are already creating their own e-learning content and PLEs for their employees. The European Union Lifelong Learning Programmehas recognized the potential for PLNs by funding the aPLaNet project (Autonomous Personal Learning Networks for Language Teachers).

In a post by Will Richardson, he wrote that rather than asking first "How do we change our schools?”, we should first ask “How do we change ourselves?”