MoOc With Lower Case open and course

Coursera announced a shift in its business model this month that many people view as making their offerings less open and less like courses.

New courses in their Specializations category will require learners to either to pay up front for the first course in the Specialization or prepay for the entire program. In the past, you had the option to take it free with access to all the course materials but no certificate upon completion, or you could opt to pay ($49 at one time) for an identity-verified course certificate provided upon completion.

In the new model, the courses that charge up front (and that is not all of the courses they offer) still allow you to choose not to pay, but then you then are in the “explore” mode and have access to course materials (lectures, discussions, practice quizzes) but you are in a "read-only" mode for graded assignments. 

I don't see this as the end of the MOOC. A viable business model for companies to pay the bills of creating courses and maintaining the infrastructure has been inevitable since 2012 was named the "Year of the Mooc." For many learners, having access to the materials is all they really wanted anyway. As long as that option continues, I think these are still important educational options, even if the the open and course parts of MOOC may have been demoted to lower case o and c.

Udacity has gone farther and earlier down the path to paying for courses and developed a clear business model to work with companies and not function as an alternative university. Working with Google , their "Responsive Web Design Fundamentals" course (see video intro below) is an example of that approach. You can jump into that course and explore, but it is also part of Udacity's "Nanodegrees" which is comparable to Coursera's "specializations." 


Microsoft and Minecraft

Microsoft sees the potential of Minecraft. Hopefully, it sees its potential as a learning tool and not just as a way to make money. They acquired an existing version of the software, MinecraftEdu, from an independent developer, Teacher Gaming. 

MinecraftEdu provides products and services to educators to use Minecraft in the classroom. This includes a special version of the software, a cloud-based hosting solution for Minecraft classroom servers so students and teachers can connect and play together, a library of lessons and activities and a teacher community with 5,500 teachers in 40+ countries using it for STEM to Language to History to Art.

Microsoft will also launch a new version of Minecraft for schools this summer. They will offer a free "trial" version - so profit will certainly play a role in their plans.

I never taught or used Minecraft in any depth but it is very popular. Though I would classify it as an online video game, it is one where you build rather than just use virtual worlds using blocks. It is virtual world reminiscent of places like Second Life and The Sims (though not as sophisticated and not as graphic-intensive) that kids use as a digital sandbox, They can construct anything they want using mostly block-shaped materials. Kids may enjoy building and destroying things there, but educators connected to the constructive nature as a supplemental learning tool.

It has a user base of at least 22 million people. Kids discovered it and then teachers who saw that interest then found ways to use it for lessons. 

Microsoft does offer schools some productivity tools (Office 365 Education) free to teachers and students, and some teachers use Skype for videoconferencing platform, but Google has deeper hooks into schools. Google Apps for Education is used by more than 50 million students, teachers and administrators worldwide and certainly "Minecraft: Education Edition" is intended to help Microsoft get into more classrooms.

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The Money-Back Guarantee Comes to MOOCs

Udacity, a provider of MOOCs, announced this month their Nanodegree Plus which guarantees its graduates will land a job in their field within six months of completing the program, or get their money back.

As their website describes it: "Empowering yourself through learning, acquiring critical skills, pursuing career advancement. These are life-changing steps to undertake. They require commitment, hard work, and a willingness to take risks. We recognize this, and want you to know we support you every step of the way, from enrollment to getting hired. Enroll in Nanodegree Plus, and we guarantee you’ll get hired within 6 months of graduating, or we’ll refund 100% of your tuition. That’s the kind of confidence we have in you."

Naturally, such an offer requires Terms and Conditions.  

For now, students need to enroll in Udacity programs that teach the most marketable skills. The 4 offered are machine-learning engineer, Android developer, iOS developer, and senior web developer. Students must complete the courses. That seems obvious. but that has always been a point of contention for MOOCs since the majority of students in them (Udacity has four million students) do not complete all the coursework. Of course, most learners in MOOCs do not intend to finish or use the course as a path to credits or a degree. In the Nanodegree Plus, students pay an extra monthly fee.

Udacity says that it will take 6-8 months of working 10 hours a week to complete a program.

The jobs graduates get have no salary benchmarks, but Sebastian Thrun, chief executive of Udacity, said in an interview that the jobs they get will be "real" jobs and "not jobs as a Starbucks barista."

Thrun has moved Udacity away from it earlier partnerships with universities and into partnerships with companies.  

The idea of guarantees like Udacity and other for-profits is seen as a market solution, a gimmick and not feasible depending on the reviewer. Certainly, colleges are unlikely to return tuition to graduates who don't find jobs in the major, even though Thrun said he "would recommend every college president to think about this."

Everyone Should Be Coding

I wrote earlier about the "Hour of Code" and about how coding is a subject not often taught in schools (at all levels) or taught in isolation and to only a small percentage of students.

Students and teachers are sometimes moving into coding via other projects, such as a makerspace and playing with things like an Arduino board or robotics that require some coding knowledge. But a lot of coding education is occurring outside of traditional school settings. has a search tool to find computer science classes in your area and my searching around New Jersey didn't turn up as much as I would have guessed.


Coding bootcamps are intensive, accelerated learning programs that teach beginners coding skills, but the "coding academies" like General Assembly, Galvanize, and the Flatiron School are much more. 

I know someone is reading this and thinking "Why do I or my students need to learn to code?"  I might answer that you don't know what skills will be necessary for your future work, but knowing something about coding could be part of that skil set. Of course, that is very close to the answer I got from my 8th grade algebra teacher when I complained that I would never need algebra to be a writer or English teacher.

These coding bootcamps and academies have only been around for about five years, although there have been computer science classes and programming courses in schools and for-profits for more than three decades.

Bootcamps can vary in length from 6 to 28 weeks, with the average at about 10 weeks long. Code schools teach a broader technical curriculum. It might include Full-Stack Web Development, Data Science, Digital Marketing, UX/UI Design along with teaching coding languages like Ruby on Rails, Python on Django, JavaScript, and LAMP Stack.

Ones that are intended for adults are usually making their money by offering courses aligned with or even in partnership with an employer network.

In 2015, it was expected that the number of graduates from such programs would be 16,000. Not an enormous number, but more than double from 2014, according to a recent survey by Course Report.

Almost none of these are accredited and so students enrolled are more interested in skills than credits or certificates. However, some of these students would probably be interested in using those courses towards a college degree if it was offered, as is the case with many college certificate programs that are usually part of their continuing education or adult learning programs. These can include courses that lead directly into graduate degree programs.

College tuition isn't cheap and these outside bootcamps and academies aren’t cheap either. A summary of the Course Report survey notes that the average cost of the courses is more than $11,000. There are about 70 of the programs in the United States and Canada today.

Last March, President Obama announced an initiative, called TechHire, to train Americans in technology jobs. Among other things, the effort encourages people to enroll in coding boot camps.

Boot camps have the potential to complement computer-science departments’ curricula and degrees, but most colleges are not comfortable in these partnerships, although they do often work with individual employers looking for customized training.

I am particularly interested in the growth of programs for our younger students that use coding both as a critical thinking builder and as a way to learn coding in order to do other STEAM projects.

The vision of many of these groups is based on the belief that computer science and programming should be part of the core curriculum in education, alongside other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, such as biology, physics, chemistry and algebra.

Here are some resources towards that goal. – This nonprofit foundation website is a great starting point for coding novices. It shares lots of useful online resources, apps and places to learning coding. 

Scratch was designed by MIT students and aimed at children ages 8 to 16 as an easy-to-use programming language. Without using lines of code, you arrange and snap together Scratch blocks of code. 

Stencyl  is software inspired by Scratch's snapping blocks system that allows you to create simple games for iOS, Android, Flash, Windows, Linux and Mac. There are paid pro plans that come with advanced functionality. 

Khan Academy is best known for its math tutorials that often look like games, but it also has basic programming tutorials and students can learn to build graphics, animations and interactive visualizations.

CodeAcademy is an interactive website that has a gentle learning curve and teaches kids basic code through fun and simple exercises that feel like games.

Hackety Hack this quick download allows you to learn Ruby, an open-source programming language that's easy and intuitive. 

Code Monster is  particularly good for kids learning as the Code Monster shows two adjacent boxes - one showing code, the other shows what the code does. As you play around with the code with some help from a prompt, you learn what each command does.

No one knows how old you are when you use these sites, so all you curious adults should feel free to use them as a way to get started - an then share them with your own kids in school or at home.



Developing a Mindset for Workplace Learning

Jane Hart  is the Founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (C4LPT) and someone I follow online. Her book, Modern Workplace Learning: a resource book for L&D, is a good read on that topic and she hosts MWL Association and the Social Workshops on her website.

One of her 2016 posts points out that workplace training is often interchangeably called workplace learning, and they are not one and the same thing - though we might hope they would be. She defines workplace training as "telling people what they need to learn, how they need to learn it, when they need to learn it, and making sure they do it." Her interest is in workplace learning and that involves much more and is rapidly changing. She suggests the need for a new definition or even a new mindset about learning in the workplace. I think that her suggests about what this new mindset might include offewr some suggestions that apply just as well to the classroom workplace.

Here are Jane's suggestions about elements of that midset, via her post at

"A mindset that recognises that most learning happens as a natural part of work – through daily work experiences and interactions with colleagues and others – and that this type of learning is of no less importance than the learning that comes from being taught or though self-study.

A mindset that appreciates the fact that people are learning as much for themselves by using the Web in their daily activities – to solve their own performance problems and to keep informed about their industry and profession – and that this needs to be promoted and supported rather than banned or ignored.

A mindset that values workplace learning in ALL its forms – and it is not just about organising course and resources FOR people, but also involves encouraging, enabling and support self-organised learning

A mindset that realises that it is not about tracking and measuring what people have learned, but evaluating the impact that it has had on job, team and business performance.

A mindset that understands that the world is changing fast and that nowadays everyone has a responsibility for learning in the workplace.