MOOCs are the Zombies of Online Education

The death of the MOOC has been declared since 2013 (the year after it was the "year of the MOOC") but they seem to come back to life again.

Udacity vice president Clarissa Shen said recently “they are dead.. a failed product, at least for the goals we had set for ourselves, Our mission is to bring relevant education which advances people in careers and socio-economic activities, and MOOCs aren't the way.”

Back in 2013 after only a year, Udacity’s co-founder, Sebastian Thrun, announced a “pivot” away from MOOCs. But Udacity still offers  a form of the MOOC in its paid sequences of courses called “nanodegrees” that it produces in cooperation with large tech employers and still offers free versions of its course videos for those who don’t want or need a certificate of completion.

 

And the next generation of learning management systems will be...

LMS

Earlier, I wrote about Google Classroom developing as a nontraditional learning management system (LMS). Now, I want to consider what the next-gen LMS might include.

One thing I have read is that rather than being just an eLearning portal, this next-gen LMS must be an "engagement engine." That is a buzzworthy term because not only in education but in the social media marketing world "engagement" is considered to be very importent. 

In the U.S., we don't hear much about LMS products from other part of the world. Growth Engineering is a UK  Learning Technologies company, and they see their mission as making learning fun with gamification and engaging content. Their LMS (Academy) and their authoring tool (Genie) are both new to me. They appear to me to be intended for corporate training rather than school use, but I suspect the next-gen LMS will be able to operate in both domains.

Juliette Denny, of Growth Engineering when writing on elearningindustry.com, notes 9 Characteristics Of The NextGen LMS. I could come up with other characteristics and I'm sure a group of faculty or instructional designers could come up with others. With a focus on corporate training, her list probably won't agree with one from academia but, again, I think that next-gen LMS will work in both places.

I agree with her that the earlier Learning Management Systems were very much portals and content depositories for learning units. In the late 1990s, we sometimes called them a CMS which could mean course management system or content management system and institutions used them both ways.

I worked for a few years designing corporate training and clients definitely want a way to manage content - documentation, help files etc. - as well as a way to track employee uses of that content. The ability to monitor employee progress and mastery of training was the next thing that was a concern. This is not unlike academic use of an LMS.

The LMS of 2017 is much more sophisticated than the ones I used at the end of the 20th century. They are easier to do authoring. They are not beautiful, but they are less ugly. They take into account user experience much more and their use is much more intuitive.

In corporate use (and perhaps in some free and non-credit use) "informal learning" is a definite consideration. One key element of that is a system's ability to track and predict in order to direct the learner toward the next piece of content. This individualized learning path is something being developed more recently but will certainly be built into the next-gen LMS.

Connected to this informal learning is social learning. The current LMS you use probably has ways to interact with social networks. It might even have its own social tools. Most of these do not have the appeal of the most popular networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al). The next-gen LMS will include the qualities of a social network and will "help organizations capture and retain intellectual capital."

Some social features appear in LMS, but many companies use separate application (such as Sharepoint) for social collaboration, and in schools outside social network still rule. Combining the two successfully means learners have a reason to return to the LMS and complete more training or coursework. We are not there yet.

The next-gen LMS will be mobile. I still have not seen a really well done mobile version of an enterprise LMS, though vendors will tout that their LMS is "optimized for mobile use."

What about this engagement engine concept? As the aforementioned article points out for the corporate world, "It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that employee engagement is a big problem. Training aside, poor engagement is responsible for low productivity, high employee turnover and lifeless company cultures. The sad thing is that these consequences exacerbate the issue of engagement, locking organizations in a downward spiral." In education, these translate to poor grades, dropped courses and lower enrollments.

Things you will see being developed more now are improved vectors for feedback and communication from facilitator to learner and from learner to learner. Learners want to know how they are progressing and want to be "rewarded" for progress. Whether those rewards will be most engaging as grades/salary, status/advancement, badges, rankings or some other system is yet to be decided. 

Gamification is currently one of the ways to let learners see progress and become engaged. But "gamification" still carries with it the incorrectly applied impression (especially in higher education) of playing games and "making learning fun." Learning, at its best, is fun, but don't tell professors that is the goal for them to strive for.

I realized early on in doing corporate training design work that tracking employees’ "key performance indicators" was surprisingly much more important to companies than it was to educators. Our corporate courses were actually more concerned with formative assessments (frequent checks for learning), than our academic courses that more commonly used summative assessments (quizzes and tests).

That future ideal LMS will include "performance management suites that tie together objectives, competencies, reviews and training in one streamlined process."

Are these unrealistic goals for a future LMS. No. In fact, I know that all of these items are being studied and tested by developers. It is just a question of how long it will take for them to be ready in one LMS.

Nontraditional Learning Management Systems in Higher Education

Classroom logoWhen I interviewed for an instructional designer position with Google a few years ago, I was convinced that they were looking to take their Classroom product wider and deeper. I thought that they were ready to take on Blackboard, Canvas et al and start to integrate their free LMS with student information systems, add a gradebook etc.  Mixed in with all their existing tools for video streaming (YouTube) and conferencing (Hangouts) plus Docs and the rest, I really expected them to offer a free LMS that colleges would use. It would be very tempting. Look at how many colleges switched over to Gmail as the official institutional mail system. 

"Nontraditional" learning management systems (I'm thinking of both paid and free ones) have increased in online courses. Much of that movement has come from MOOC use and also from companies who have created their own systems to promote training and course offerings.

A new article from EDUCAUSE looks at graduate student use of Google Classroom. If you were using Classroom for your course a few years ago, you were more likely to be teaching in K-12 than at the undergraduate or graduate levels.

The study looks at many of the areas that have been studied before: improving effectiveness, increasing students' interactions with each other and their instructors and building community online. The difference is the audience of grad students.

The earliest MOOCs were using nontraditional web applications like Facebook and Twitter for higher education. But their use has been more limited - perhaps for an assignment - and few educators would call any one of them or a combination to be the equivalent of an LMS.

The study also points out that products like Schoology have borrowed a lot of UI and design from sites like Facebook. 

This study is small - "When asked if they would use Google Classroom again, five of the seven participants said, "yes." I would consider using Google Classroom again as well, but only for a small course."  But it is a study worth conducting at other institutions and with larger classes, even MOOC-sized ones. 

The author, Stephanie Blackmon, feels "the stream can be a bit daunting for some students" and she is hesitant to rely on it for larger classes. I would be less hesitant, but I don't think Classroom is ready to be the nontraditional LMS for a traditional college-credit course.

But some company, perhaps Google, is going to offer that free LMS and that's when things will really get interesting.

 

 

An overview of Google Classroom features:

After the MOOC Revolution

MOOC revolutionIn 2008 when I read about a professor making his course "open learning," I wasn't prescient enough to see the rise of MOOCs or any coming revolution in learning, especially online. 

The term MOOC, for Massive Open Online Courses, became the popular terminology for the concept behind that 2008 experiment. Almost everyone was saying it was a revolution that would disrupt universities. Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of Udacity, famously predicted that in 50 years there would be only 10 higher education institutions.  That didn't happen. 

I wrote a book chapter with my wife a few years ago about whether or not the "MOOC Revolution" was in fact a revolution or rather an evolution of learning and learning online.  And recently I saw that Jeffrey Young, author of that 2008 piece, has posted this year asking "What if MOOCs Revolutionize Education After All?"

His new post and podcast on EdSurge focuses on Barbara Oakley, a professor of engineering at Oakland University, who thinks a lot about how people learn particularly because she has been teaching a lot of them in one of the most popular online courses ever. "Learning How to Learn" has had more than 2 million participants and teaching it has her believing, despite the cooling of the MOOC Revolution hype, that free online courses might still lead to a revolution in higher education.

 

Professor Oakley thinks that MOOCs will enhance classrooms and also serve as competition, which will force schools to jump over a higher bar.

In our chapter on MOOCs, we said that "Most technological change involves massive disruption whereas economic ‘bubbles’, like the trillion-dollar student loan bubble in the U.S., tend to burst, not slowly deflate. Initially, the disruption of the MOOC may have appeared to be a rapid revolution just a few years ago, but it seems more likely to become a gradual evolution over the course of the next decade." I think that prediction is holding true.

Through this blog and a LinkedIn group called "Academia and the MOOC" that I started in 2013, I have met many people from around the world who are using MOOCs. The group is for or anyone interested in how MOOCs have impacted education and how they might in the future, and it began with members of the MOOC of the same name hosted in the Canvas Network in Spring 2013 and taught my myself, my wife, Lynnette Ronkowitz and Mary Zedeck.

On of the people I have met virtually is Muvaffak Gozaydin. He contacted me last fall about a "crazy idea" he had to provide no-cost graduate degrees using MOOCs. He contacted me again this summer to tell me that his crazy idea was launching. He wants to offer "professional learners" the opportunity to get an MS degree online by selecting courses offered already courses from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Duke, Yale and other top schools. His site is at mguniversity2017.org and he has organized it to direct students towards a course catalog for five degrees currently. His project is not accredited in any country, but all the universities and courses offered are accredited and he hopes that holders of "degrees" from MGU can use them to find or advance in jobs internationally. 

Is his idea crazy? He asked me that again this year before he launched his site. It reminded me of something Dhawal Shah, the founder of Class Central, has said recently: "...there’s been a decisive shift by MOOC providers to focus on 'professional' learners who are taking these courses for career-related outcomes. At the recently concluded EMOOCs conference, the then CEO of Coursera, Rick Levin, shared his thoughts on this shift. He thinks that MOOCs may not have disrupted the education market, but they are disrupting the labor market. The real audience is not the traditional university student but what he calls the 'lifelong career learner,' someone who might be well beyond their college years and takes these online courses with the goal of achieving professional and career growth."

That last sentence was one of the conclusions of our book chapter. Maybe the revolution is bigger than disrupting universities. Maybe the revolution is about learning and not only in schools at all grade levels but also in business, industry and professional learning. All will be disrupted.

Shah, Gozaydin, Thrun and others have concluded two things about the MOOC revolution:  1) The real audience is the professional learner working in a field and with an undergraduate degree who wants to advance.  2) There are already plenty of online courses available from top universities and other providers to offer in packages (call them degrees, certificates, mini-degrees etc.) either free or with a fee smaller than that of a traditional university that carries some evidence of quality and completion.

The biggest issue with the truly open and free online courses, massive or not, has been since the beginning using them for advancement, either towards degrees or professional advancement. If you are looking to advance your own knowledge and skills without concern for official "credits," the MOOC is ideal. 

You can find more than 1,250 free courses listed at openculture.com, but what does a learner do with those courses? Minimally, which is not to say inconsequentially, is that Gozaydin has done the work of organizing the many scattered MOOC offerings of the world into five intelligently planned paths for learners to coursework from the leading universities all on one web page. 

Harvard Partners with 2U for Online Program

Harvard University has perhaps the ultimate university branding in the United States and a multi-billion-dollar endowment and has worked with online course provider edX to offer MOOCs and online courses. But Harvard announced this week that three of its schools would create a new business analytics certificate program with 2U, an online program management company.

I have no real knowledge of 2U https://2u.com and this collaboration between 2U and Harvard caught me by surprise.

Professors at the Harvard Business School, the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the department of statistics in Harvard's main college, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, will create a program to teach students how to leverage data and analytics to drive business growth.

Rather than undergrads or grad students, this is aimed at executives in full-time work. It will use 2U’s online platform and will feature live, seminar-style classes with Harvard faculty members.

This is no MOOC. The program will cost around $50,000 for three semesters, with an estimated time requirement of 10 hours per week.

more at https://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2017/08/hbs-seas-and-fas-partner-with-2u-inc-to-offer-harvard-business-analytics-program

Hello LX: Learning Experience Design

LXI have been teaching since 1975. I have done instructional design (ID) since 2000. The job of an ID was not one I knew much about before I started managing a department tasked with doing it at a university. I hired people trained in ID, but I learned it myself along the way.

As others have said, the job of an instructional designer seems mysterious. One suggestion has been to change the title to Learning Experience Designer. Does that better describe the job and also apply to people who work in corporate and training settings?

I have taught courses about UX (user experience) which involves a "person’s behaviors, attitudes, and emotions about using a particular product, system or service” (according to Wikipedia). Part of that study involves UI (user interface) which “includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects” of the interaction as well as “a person’s perceptions of system aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency.”

With more online learning and also blended online and face-to-face learning, there is more attention being given to the learner experience (LX). How students interact with learning, seems to be more than what “user experience” (UX) entails.

UX was coined in the mid ‘1990s by Don Norman. He was then VP of advanced technology at Apple, and he used it to describe the relationship between a product and a human. It was Norman's idea that technology should evolve to put user needs first. That was actually the opposite of how things were done at Apple and most companies. But by 2005, UX was fairly mainstream.

"Learning experience design" was coined by Niels Floor in 2007, who taught at Avans University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.

I wrote earlier here about how some people in education still find the job of an instructional designer to be "mysterious."  But call it UX or LX or ID, customizing learning, especially online, is a quite active job categories in industry and and education. Designers are using new tools and analytics to decode learning patterns.

In higher-education job postings and descriptions, I am seeing more examples of LX design as a discipline. That is why some people have said that Learning Experience Design is a better title than Instructional Design. It indicates a shift away from “instruction” and more to "learning."