Types of MOOC Learners

rolesWe are well past the point of thinking that all MOOC participants are "students" in our traditional definition of that role. It was seen from the earliest MOOC offerings that there was a mix of learners who enrolled.  

There was too much emphasis on "completers" who finished the coursework and "passed" versus "lurkers" who did some parts but not all and "failed."

I was early to say that lurkers should more accurately be though of as auditors. That is an old term in the university dictionary. These learners watched videos, read documents, may have posted in discussions but were not interested in quizzes or exams. I was an auditor in several MOOCs that I enrolled in at the start. In a course on art history, I was only interested in the section on the Impressionists. 

Stanford Online and and the Stanford University Learning Analytics group have been doing this longer than other schools and described four types of students. I was pleased that the auditors made the list, along with completers (viewed most lectures and took part in most assessments), disengaged learners (who quickly dropped the course) and sampling learners (who might only occasionally watch lectures).

But those four types are still over-simplified because it is a rubric with completer on one end and disengaged at the other. I am more interested in the types of learners participants are before they even enter a course. One blogger identified ten types of MOOC takers. As an instructor, it would be very helpful to me to know the background and intentions of a participant. For example, knowing that someone is completely new to MOOCs or even online courses.

We know that many participants are new to the course topic. Taking a 101-style intro course, such as a beginning programming course, might be a way to explore something new, or to add new knowledge/skill that will help them advance in the workplace.

I would say that "upgraders" are their own group. These learners are employed people who look to upgrade their skills or people who are unemployed and looking to add to their resume.

Job seekers can be its own category because (as Coursera and other providers have discovered) there are people who want to add a certificate or some validation to their resume and are willing to pay a fee to do so.

And a MOOC will have some traditional students. They may be the students enrolled at the host institution and paying full tuition to be in the course and receiving all the traditional interactions with the instructor that others do not get. They may be students who want to learn more about a topic that they are taking a course on, or want to learn more about a topic they are unable to take at their school. In the latter case, these would likely be student-auditors in the same way that I was as an undergrad when I audited a paleontology course that would not have been accepted in my English major, but I was interested in learning about.

That can be seen as my early foray into being a lifelong learner and there are certainly many MOOC takers who are in that role. Older learners, perhaps retired and with more time, are a population that enrolls in courses. Maybe they are curious about updates in the field they have left. Maybe they want to explore things they never had the opportunity or time to explore before. I had a professor tell me after a presentation on MOOCs that it sounded like "they are just taking these courses to learn something they are interested in." He meant this comment to be a negative, meaning they were not interested in credits and degrees, but others in the room quickly jumped on his comment as missing the positive point. Who doesn't want students who are there because they are interested in learning about your topic?

I will also admit to being an academic spy in a few MOOCs. Actually, a lot of research has shown that a large proportion of MOOC takers are teachers, lecturers, professors and other academicians who enroll to get different perspectives and find new resources on a subject that they teach. If I am scheduled to teach a course I have never taught before, I will look at MOOCs on that topic in the same way that I would hope to view courses by my colleagues who have taught it. Unfortunately, not all colleagues are as "open" with their courses as a MOOC. I should note here that not all Massive Open Online Courses these days are truly Open in that the course materials are not free to use in your own courses.

Is Upgrad an Upgrade of Online Learning?

Online learning is hardly a new thing. But new startups entering this space continue to be news. I saw a mention of one recently that is based in India - a market I know almost nothing about. Apparently, it is an extremely fragmented space in India. The first article I read lists test prep startups that I have never heard of (Toppr, Embibe, Plancess) and e-learning startups (Edukart, Simplilearn, Englishleap.com, Purple Squirrel Eduventures) that I also have never encountered. 

I know from my MOOC work that India is a big user of MOOCs, so the country is a bubbling ecosystem for startups who want to be the next one to disrupt the online education space.

The newest one I have encountered comes from a media mogul with money to venture named Ronnie Screwvala. He is a serial entrepreneur and this latest shot is new enough to not appear yet on his LinkedIn page.

In January 2015, he announced his plans to launch an online company focused on higher education, called U Education. Then, he said the two biggest challenges he saw were a lack of credibility attached to online learning and also employment generation post degrees.

logoThat venture seems to have evolved into UpGrad which launched its first course. Appropriate to Screwvala, it is on entrepreneurship. The 15 week program received 1,600 applications, out of which 500 have been shortlisted.

There is an interesting payment model. The course is priced at $754 and about 100 of these participants have prepaid the course amount. But the first three weeks of the course are being offered to all 500 for free, and interested applicants from the remaining 400 will have an option of paying the amount after the end of three weeks. Test-drive the course.

The course description on the website will not surprise anyone who has taught online: "StartUp with UpGrad - 15-week rigorous online entrepreneurship program providing you with the clarity of thought for your entrepreneurial journey through live lectures, case studies, group assignments, guidance and insights from India’s leading entrepreneurs."

An "angel" investing website describes UpGrad this way: "UpGrad empowers professionals to reach their full potential through rigorous online programs, taught and developed by the world-class faculty and industry. UpGrad is a new education technology company focused on bringing quality online programs for working professionals in India and over time, in rest of Asia in new industries such as Big Data Analytics and E-commerce. The founding team comprises IIT and ISB alumni and we are backed by Ronnie Screwvala (founder of UTV) with a $16M committed capital."

And the site also includes this dig at higher education (apparently written by the UpGrad team): "The university system has not kept with the changing needs of the industry. Our approach is to significantly leverage technology to offer flexible, adaptive and personalised higher degree/ diploma education and to bring the academic rigour from our partnerships with Universities and industry relevant expertise from our partnership with corporates."

Is UpGrad an upgrade on what is already happening in the online learning space?

Making Space for DIY Innovation on Campus

This week I will be at the NJEDge.Net Annual Conference whose theme this year is Rethink Refresh Reboot.- three things you should get from any good conference. NJEDge.Net is a non-profit technology consortium of academic and research institutions in New Jersey. It supports its members in their institutional teaching and learning; scholarship; research and development; outreach programs; public service, and economic development, and provides our broadband statewide network.

I'll be doing a 2-hour workshop on "Making Space for DIY Innovation on Campus" with Danielle Mirliss from Seton Hall University and Emily Witkowski, from the Maplewood Public Library.

We deliberately avoided saying "makerspaces" in the session title for two reasons. One, people who have heard of the term immediately envision a very techy room with a 3D printer and scanner and lots of computer parts, and although that does sound like a makerspace, that's not all the spaces we are talking about. These spaces can have hand tools, wood and fabrics, sewing machines, laser cutters and many other devices and tools. And they might be called innovation spaces, fabrication labs, rapid prototyping centers or hackerspaces.

These places over the past decade have increasingly increased as community spaces offering public, shared access to high-end equipment and guidance to using them.

You can work with technologies like desktop fabrication, physical computing, and augmented reality in these do-it-yourself workspaces. Naturally, the first subject areas to build and use makerspaces in schools were the STEM areas, but we are also interested in the way they are being used in for applications and research in the humanities and arts.

Our workshop will offer information on creating, branding and maintaining spaces on campus, in libraries or in the community. We will also show examples of DIY projects and discuss their applications to the classroom, and participants will try a hands-on activity.


Looking at the MOOC Professionally and Educationally

I have maintained since 2012 that the MOOC would be more likely to have an impact of advancing professional learning than it would in advancing students towards a degree. If you want a degree, you still need to take classes at your institution online or on the ground, get passing grades and complete the degree program, That has not really changed.

In the workplace or outside your workplace on your own, a MOOC is a good way to advance you knowledge for free or inexpensively and advance your career.

A new report, billed as “the first longitudinal study of open online learning outcomes,” suggests that many learners credit MOOCs directly for pay raises, promotions and even academic progress. ("Impact Revealed: Learner Outcomes in Open Online Courses," appears in Harvard Business Review. ) Looking at learners who complete one of Coursera’s MOOCs, a majority of learners feel they benefit professionally and sometimes educationally from completing a MOOC. This study corroborates previous findings that more learners are using MOOCs to further their careers than their education.

It also reinforces earlier findings that those who benefit the most from these courses are learners that were more likely to be employed men in developed countries who had previously earned a degree. Also, those from less-advantaged backgrounds are most likely to benefit. 

That is quite different from the heyday of 2012 MOOC madness. The two narratives that got big media attention then were that 1) the MOOC will democratize higher education around the world   2)  MOOCs would revolutionize and possibly destroy universities, tuition and degree programs.  Unfortunately, that first idea has not come true on a large scale. And as far as #2, fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) that also has not happened.

On that second point, a number of studies, including one at the University of Pennsylvania using data collected from nine MOOCs offered by the university's Wharton School, show that they did not "cannibalize" the school's programs. Researchers found 78 percent of the more than 875,000 students who took the MOOCs resided outside the United States while the M.B.A. programs generally enroll a majority of students from the U.S. A plus was that the MOOCs also attracted more underrepresented minorities.

Further Reading: chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus


This post also appeared at www.linkedin.com

Extending a Transcript Beyond the Degree


An article this week in The Chronicle by Goldie Blumenstyk asks "Is a Degree Just the Beginning?" It is one of a number of articles they have grouped around the theme of "The Credentials Craze" which is introduced with: "A college degree isn't the only credential that matters anymore. As part of a growing movement to document students' knowledge and skills, an array of companies, industry groups, and colleges themselves are offering new types of credentials. "

I don't believe that most people in higher education have signed on to badges, certificates, and microdegrees whether they are earned in a course or via some other non-profit (most MOOCs, for example) or a for-profit company (a Coursera MOOC that is not free but carries credentials or a site like like Lynda.com).

There are still many issues surrounding credentials' validity and measurement, and I think the jury is still out on whether they help graduates seeking jobs.

Here is how Blumenstyk opens her article:

The idea of students graduating from college with just a diploma — a single academic credential — could soon seem downright quaint.

At some institutions, it already is. Community colleges in North Carolina encourage students to complete coursework while earning certifications from industry groups like the National Institute for Metalworking Skills and the National Aviation Consortium. At Lipscomb University, students can qualify for badges, endorsed by outside experts, to prove they have mastered skills such as "Active Listening" and "Drive and Energy." Students at Elon University get an "extended transcript" describing their nonacademic accomplishments.

Higher education is entering a new era, one in which some industry and nonacademic certifications are more valuable than degrees, transcripts are becoming credentials in their own right, and colleges are using badges to offer assurances to employers about students’ abilities in ways that a degree no longer seems to do. On top of the traditional academic and corporate players, a whole bunch of nonprofits and businesses are also jumping on — if not leading — the movement, including MOOC providers like Coursera and Udacity and so-called coding academies like General Assembly, Galvanize, and the Flatiron School.