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." 


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."

Connecting to Learning in Your Unretirement Years

In preparing for my talk this month on "The Disconnected," I came across the organization that has a Higher Education Initiative which is looking at the impact of an aging population on higher education. Those that I am calling "The Disconnected" are not disconnected in a detached or disengaged sense, but are instead disconnecting from traditional modes and sources of information and learning.

I also found a podcast that is called Unretirement and one episode talked with a woman, Sandra, who felt the need to get out of the house and start doing something to help deal with her unhappiness. She signed up for a quilt making class. It lit up a passion in her. At age 58, she’s gone back to "school" to move into a new career and is getting certified to become a professional quilting instructor. That may not sound like a typical "major" or even a viable unretirement career choice, but...

Quilting in America market is worth $3.76 billion annually” according to a trade survey trying to get at the size of the quilting economy. Sandra is not going to her local college to learn. She is not interested in credits or a degree. Quiltworx is the company from which she is getting her certification. The podcast covered why she decided to get this certification and how her family helped her figure whether the certificate was worth the cost. She has a business plan, and expects her certificate will pay off in 18 months. 

The "Baby Boomers" are just one age segment of those I am finding to be part of "The Disconnected." The largest age group is much younger and includes the traditional potential students for undergraduate and graduate programs. And even younger people are being born into and growing up in a society where the disconnects will be so common that they will probably not be seen as disconnects. 

Here is one example of that disconnect. I came of age in the 1960s and viewed television as a wireless (via antenna) service that was free if you owned a set and supported by advertising. If you grew up in the 1980s, you saw television as a service that came to your home via a cable service that you paid for (even paying for the formerly free networks that had advertising support) and could add additional premium services if you wanted them. You learned to supplement and control that content (starting to call it video rather than TV) using a VCR and videotapes and later DVDs and then a DVR. A child of today is likely to be using multiple networks via multiple devices and may be growing up in a household that has already cut the cord to those 1980s services and devices and hard media formats. 

So, grandparents and their grandchildren may find some connectiveness in being disconnected in their media consumption and even in how they both are learning and preparing for a working life.

Here are some resources about how older adults are connecting to learning and unretirement using both traditional schools and alternatives.

Improving Education and Training for Older Workers a survey from the AARP Public Policy Institute.

Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees from Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University

How many students graduate outside the normal age?” an international study by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development

The Plus 50 Initiative at community colleges for learners age 50+ and a Lumina Foundation report on Plus 50

A state by state rundown of education opportunities for seniors

Over 50 and Back in College, Preparing for a New Career

The 40-Year-Old Graduates

4 Ways Older Students Can Avoid Student Debt

How to Make the Most of Longer Lives

Craft Artists, Income, and the U.S. Economy

It's About Real AND Virtual Learning (emphasis on AND)

Virtual learning is not going away. It continues to grow in digital leaps. Of course, virtual learning has been around for a lot longer than digital and the Net.

This 2008 video is titled “virtual learning is no replacement for real learning.” It is from the National Institute on Media and Family (which closed in 2009).

Bernard Bull referenced the video in a post that starts by saying that "Real learning is no replacement for virtual learning, not as we begin to consider the affordances of virtual reality." If you watch the video (which uses learning about what an orange is as an example), Bull's comment on the video is: "How many face-to-face classes teach science using pictures from a textbook? Look at some of the best virtual schools. They send out amazing packages of kitchen science projects. It is a myth that brick and mortar school is full of real world activities. That isn't reality in most classes. It is also a myth that virtual learning is 100% screen. Virtual schooling can be packed with real world activities that are far away from the computer screen.?"

Good learning experiences use both real and virtual learning. I recently made a repair to our clothes dryer by first watching a video on YouTube showing someone doing it. If I had only watched the video and never actually done the repair itself, I doubt that I could explain what I had learned very well to another person who needed the knowledge. But I could never have done the repair without that video. A "real teacher" helping me do the repair in-person would have been great and probably even better as I could have asked questions along the way and have been corrected if I erred. But that experience just wasn't available to me. We have done that as teachers and learners for a long time. Virtual experiences have always allowed us to travel back in time and experience distant places. The opportunity to use greatly enhanced digital learning experiences makes the combination of that with "real" learning much more powerful.


Connecting With The Disconnected


I did a Q&A for my keynote at the Rutgers Online Learning Conference (January 11 and 12, 2016, New Brunswick, New Jersey - On Twitter: #RUOnlineCon  - Conference website: )

My talk - "The Disconnected" grew out of the many references I have been seeing to the re-emergence of autodidacts — people “who learn on their own”— and other societal trends that point to a new group of learners that I feel will be reshaping higher education. Trends like the sharing economy, the maker movement, the do-it-yourself movement, open source coding, “cord cutting” and a “rent rather than buy” mindset could all affect higher education significantly in the future.

The “disconnected” comprise about 25 percent of Americans, according to Forrester Research, which estimates that number will double in the next 10 years.

Q: Who are “the disconnected”?

Me: Some of the disconnected are people who want to learn things, but do not necessarily want schools to provide that education in traditional ways.

They are a widening group that is not as age-bound as we might imagine. They are not just Millennials. These are people who are connecting differently to the world, society and education. My talk at Rutgers will identify this group by their behavior and will consider how higher education may deal with this disconnected or differently-connected student.

Q: What’s one takeaway for higher educators?

Me: If you accept the fact that there is such a group, as an educator you have to ask: 'Would "the disconnected" still want to come to a school to receive a traditional degree - or will they want another path and another product?'

But it's not like you can say: ‘Here's the evidence that students are not going to come to the university.’ And I'm not convinced that they won’t. For purposes of discussion, though, if these students, or potential students, are not going to be interested in going for the degrees that we offer, do we just lose them to other things—or do we try to pursue them in other ways?

Q: Are universities preparing for this?

Me: I can already see indications that universities are doing some things to attract those people, including alternative, competency-based, and three-year degrees, and even more certificate programs.

Back in 2012, I taught a fairly early MOOC (massive open online course). The big outcry then was: 'That's it. That's the end. Who's going to go to a university if they can get all these courses online for free?'  I was never convinced that that was going to happen. I didn't think MOOCs were going to destroy the university. There will always be some students who want to go to a Rutgers or Princeton for four years and live on campus and have those experience. But I think there are going to be fewer of those people.

I think that colleges are going to have to offer the traditional and they're going to have to offer nontraditional alternatives. And I'm not sure that's something they want to do. From the business point of view, that's going to hurt the core business.

It is really hard for universities to implement alternatives. Online education has often been seen as that alternative, and that may continue to be a part of the solution, but they may even need to do new things with their online programs.


The conference will have four other keynote speakers, and 35 presentations and roundtable speakers, and is designed for any higher education faculty and staff interested in gaining perspectives and honing skills with best practices and innovative technologies in education.


RUOnlineCon is presented by the Rutgers University Division of Continuing Studies in partnership with University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and New Jersey Research & Education Network (NJEDge).