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.

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.


Teaching Large To Massive Online Classes

large class

The terms MOOC, Massive Open Online Course, and LOOC, Large Open Online Course, may be relatively new, but large online courses have been around since the earliest days of online education.

The move to online is sometimes pedagogical, but probably too often it is is because of increased pressure on classroom spaces, and the desire to add more students and programs without expanding facilities on campus.

The Chronicle's ProfHacker column often writes about teaching online and sometimes about the perils of online teaching. Anastasia Salter posted this summer about her preparations to teach her first larger undergrad online course - one capped at 150 with no scheduled meeting time and no teaching or grading assistants.

She is starting with a) rethinking timetables and assignments. b) evaluating learning outcomes and substitutions for physical activities c) adopting strategies from MOOCs and other large-scale courses.

You can follow her progress as she works to convert her older syllabus from a smaller instance of the course, address particular assignment types, scheduling, learning outcomes etc.



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.