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.



degreesNew even smaller than mini- online certification programs are changing the pathways to entering some industries. At the annual Google I/O conference this year, Udacity unveiled its new Android Developer Nanodegree program. It was created in cooperation with Google as a program to provide software developers with the skills they need to build Android applications. It also provides a credential to prove to potential employers that they have those skills.

Udacity also said that it will refund half the tuition ($200 per month) for students completing the program in 12 months. This was the sixth nanodegree for Udacity. (Udacity has trademarked the term "nanodegree.") But educators are more interested in how nanodegrees might further disrupt higher education.

The idea is not brand new. MOOCs were one early indicator, and institution-agnostic microcredentials from providers like Coursera have been around for awhile (including partnerships with Google that were termed "microdegrees." And certificates  have been around as traditional college offering for a lot longer time.

I teach at a university that offers certificates and two of my courses are offered as part of certificates. The term"university extension" has been used for programs for over a century old.

Udacitiy's nanodegree curriculum is part of the change of plans co-founder Sebastian Thrun had when he exited MOOCs for higher education. and shifted focus to corporate training. The success of these nano/microdegrees may depend on there being a market with employers who are open to hiring certifiably-skilled people without four-year degrees. This contrasts with certificates which are mainly targetted at people who had already have a degree and want or need continuing education or professional certification.  

Lessons Learned: MOOC Edition


Justin Reich on Education Weekly has been blogging about what the last two years of MOOC research seems to tell us about how to improve the design of courses. Here is my bulleted list version:

1. MOOC students are diverse, but trend towards auto-didacts

2. MOOC students value flexibility, but benefit when they engage frequently

3. The best predictor of persistence and completion is intention, though every activity predicts every other activity

4. MOOC students (tell us they) leave because they get busy with other things, but we may be able to help them stay on track

5. Students learn more from doing than watching

6. Lots of student learning activities are happening beyond our observation: including note-taking, socializing, and using other references

Improving student learning outcomes will require measuring learning, experimenting with different approaches, and baking research into courses from the beginning

REich is doing a separate post for each with data and commentary that is worth reading. For example, in his fifth post, Students learn more from doing than watching he writes that if we have a choice to take two different approaches to building a method to produce MOOCs, which path seems to produce better results?

A. Make a big investment in video production (editors, videographers etc.) and use basic assessment and discussion features available through the MOOC platform.

B. Focus on developing interactive activities with instructors doing simple screencasts or lectures.

You'd have to agree with Reich that if you have limited resources (money and people) "B' is the way to go. But even if you have the resources, there is evidence that you should go with "B."

A group from Carnegie Mellon University published a paper "Learning is not a Spectator Sport: Doing is Better than Watching for Learning in a MOOC" in which they compared students who did activities in a MOOC with students who watched videos. They found that students who did activities outperformed those who did not, even those who watched lots of videos. Despite the heavy investment and emphasis on video in many MOOCs, students need to do things in order to learn.

Do you have a big, "Duh. We knew that" reaction to that conclusion? Maybe, but plenty of MOOCs and just plain old online courses are enamored with bigtime video productions for online learning.