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The MOOC Revival

online learner
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

I have been writing a lot about MOOCs since 2012. (Do I still need to explain that a MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course?) That was (as dubbed by The New York Times) the “year of the MOOC.” 

This year, the Times was saying that though MOOCs were "near-death" the COVID-19 crisis has put them back into the "trending" category. Their article is headlined "Remember the MOOCs? After Near-Death, They’re Booming."

Though MOOCs existed prior to 2012, the emergence of online learning networks was something new. While many colleges initially viewed these free online courses as a threat to their tuition systems, within a year many of the most elite colleges began to offer them. It was more than "if you can't beat the, join them." Schools, faculty and students (often on their own) discovered the value of not only MOOCs but online learning in general.

The Times article is negative on the impact of that MOOC revolution saying that "the reality didn’t live up to the dizzying hype." I agree that the hype was truly hype. It was too much. My wife and I wrote a chapter for the book Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future and we titled it "Evolution and Revolution." The title was not meant as a question. Much of the discussion in 2012 was about the revolutionary nature of MOOCs, but we viewed them through the lens of 2015 and saw them as more evolutionary.  

Fast forward to 2020 - the "year of the pandemic" - and we see schools from kindergarten to graduate schools forced to use online learning in some way. A revolution? No. Again, an evolution that should have started for schools a decade ago but clearly has not for many of them who fond themselves unprepared in march 2020 to go fully online.

MOOCs have changed. My many posts here have shown that the open part of mOoc has become far less open both in the ability to reuse the materials and in the no-cost aspect. Companies have been formed around offering MOOC-like courses, certificates and degrees. 

The biggest criticism of MOOCs was probably that most learners (not always traditional students) never completed the courses. Completion rates in free courses of about 10% certainly sounded like a failure. Making students pay even a small fee or offering credit improved that percentage but not enough to make observers feel the revolution had succeeded.

I never worried about the completion rates because my research and my own experiences teaching and as a learner in these courses made it clear than the majority of students in them never intended to complete all of the coursework. They were there to get what they wanted to learn and get out. They didn't need to take a freshman year of requirements and prerequisites or gain admission to Stanford in order to take a course on artificial intelligence from Stanford. 

Of course, as the Times article points out, MOOCs kept going without all the hype. They evolved, and in some ways so did online learning because of them. Platforms and for-profit companies emerged and certificates, fully online MOOCish degrees, and nanodegress were offered. 

With the spotlight off them, MOOCs were able to evolve into different species - free, for-profit, accredited, for lifelong learning, massive, small, skills training, corporate, for K-12, etc. 

Sheltering and working and learning from home has given another boost to that second "O" in moOc. The providers like Coursera have signed up 10 million new users since mid-March, and edX and Udacity have seen similar surges. And that doesn't even take into account the less-visible use of big (such as Khan Academy) and small grassroots use of these courses by teachers and students.

My wife and I are now writing a journal article for this fall about online learning as a solution for some crises in higher education. 2020 has definitely a time of both crisis and opportunity for online learning. I hope the hype doesn't return to the MOOC. It did not serve it well in the past.

If you have any thoughts on the current state of MOOCs and online learning, contact me.

The 3.0 Era of Schools in China

ChinaI wrote recently about Web 2.0, 3.0 and even the coming 4.0, but this post was inspired by an article that asked if traditional classrooms would become obsolete when schools in China usher in the "3.0 Era." 

A keynote by Zhang Zhi, director of Shanghai Educational Technology Center, said that "while ushering in 3.0 era (in China), schools will be marked by individuation and innovation, embracing massive amounts of information."

I have posted here in the category of Web 3.0, but my Education 2.0 category seems to be one step behind.

Is the "3.0 Era" referred to in that article about the Web 3.0, Education 3.0 or the merging of the two? Zhi sees the school of industrial age as School 2.0. For me, that is School/Education 1.0. I agree that this is education based on a classroom teaching model designed to prepare students for an industrial society. 

We moved into Education 2.0 when we started to move away from a classroom with a teacher in front giving out information. I say we are still moving through the 2.0 information age in education.   

What Zhi sees as a school in the 3.0 era is what I see happening now. Classroom and campus boundaries are becoming less clear. Online learning did this more than anything. The role of teachers is changing. Artificial intelligence is changing how we learn and how we will teach.

When asked how schools in this new era will look, Zhi replies: "Now, the role of teachers has shifted from the authority to facilitators, companions and supporters. The time-space of learning has become ubiquitous. The future of school 3.0 will empower every learner by data including teaching, interpreting, making the decision, management, and innovation, which is the trend of school evolution.” 

This sounds like my version of Education 2.0, but in Zhi’s vision, the focus is on elementary and secondary school more than higher education. In these schools, he says these scenarios will exist. I don't know that in the United States we are doing these things - or that we want to do all these things.

  1. Each student will have a digital profile in light of the continuous data collection of his or her learning activities since the first day he or she is enrolled and this digital profile will be constantly updated through the individual’s growth. 
  2. Every teacher will have an AI assistant. 
  3. Each subject is interwoven with a knowledge map.
  4. Each teaching task is likely to be outsourced. For example, the workload of school principals will be significantly lightened, but they will need to evaluate and select the services providers.
  5. Every physical school is a part of the overall virtual school similar to the concept of Cloud Classroom.
  6. All the learning activities will be recorded. People used to read books and now “read the screen” but we also  interpret and better serve each learner through the analysis of eye movements, expression changes, internet operating behaviors and results.
  7. Each learner’s learning tasks are personalized. Thanks to the advanced technology, every student will be assigned different homework according to their level of knowledge mastery which is difficult to achieve relying on traditional education. 
  8. The length of schooling for each student will be flexible. Students move at their own pace.
  9. Every legitimate approach to learning will be admitted.
  10. Education will focus on collaboration and symbiosis. Future schools should be learning-centered communities and students will no longer see each other as competitors.
  11. Each family will form a unique educational unit. 
  12. Every piece of educational equipment tends to be intelligent. 
  13. Every school will embrace a hidden curriculum such as museums, sports games, and film festivals. Future schools must place great emphasis on the design of this so-called hidden curriculum.

One thing that is not revolutionary or radical in this vision of the next era is that Zhi sees physical schools as still necessary because “attending school is for communication, and exchanging ideas is for verification which can help us know ourselves. People cannot be taught but need to be guided to find the true self.”

This school 3.0 era is driven at all levels by technology but he cautions that "technology cannot replace emotion, experience, and communication, which should not be overlooked. Education is a process of exchanging feelings of affection in the collision of two hearts. From this perspective, the education industry will always be flourishing. Although much work may be accomplished by the advanced technology, the jobs that entail teachers to devote their love will never be replaced.”

Circular Economies

circular
A circular economy model is a new idea to me. Look for books about circular economies (CE) and you will find enough to keep you busy reading for quite a while. 

One aspect of a CE is that it is an economy that does not mine new materials or manufacture products that end up in landfills. This is very "green" thinking. Can we use resources in closed loops? Might this be the fourth industrial revolution?

Designing For a Circular Economy is a book that describes an economy that will reuse through repair, reconditioning and refurbishment. At first this would seem to be a terrible model for a business. Since the middle of the 20th century we have talked about things like "planned obsolescence" and the disposable nature of our products. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, if your television set broke you had it repaired. As a boy, I watched my father test the tubes in our TV set and proudly replace the one that was causing problems. When was the last time you repaired a television? Many people would not even know where to go to get a television repaired.If it is out of warranty, you will probably dispose of it and buy a new one. And disposing of it may be a problem. Your town may not accept it as "trash" and you will need to bring it to a special place or can only dispose of it on certain days or at certain times of the year. 

But a circular economy does offer business opportunities, and most companies say they plan to transition to a circular economy model.

Developing products and services and achieving competitive advantage will mean rethinking existing business models for design processes, marketing, pricing and supply.

This is certainly a disruptive innovation, and one that will create social change and require new consumer attitudes.

Is this all about recycling and upcycling?  The Upcycle is the follow-up book to Cradle to Cradle, and they certainly draw upon green lessons learned in reusing and recycling resources. But CE goes beyond those activities.

In another book, Waste to Wealth, the argument is made that "green" and "growth" can coexist. Business models that provide circular growth are deploying sustainable resources and working with the sharing economy.

Circular economies are also about reducing waste, making sure that products are recycled, having products and materials staying in use longer. That means less resource extraction, less risk in supply chains, and reducing climate pollution. 

Reading all this I wondered if this had anything to do with education. Certainly, educational institutions will need to educate about circular economies, but can they treat their own institutions as circular economies in many of the same ways as other businesses? They can definitely reexamine their own supply chain, buildings and equipment purchasing and use.

But how else might learning work into a circular economy? Since we will need to change the way we create products, services, and systems, schools would need to change how they teach those processes.

There are organizations, such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, that are already looking at how we might create a new kind of expertise. It will require co-operation between silos, and a general change in attitudes and operating methods.

Education is not always open to change. But education still plays an important role in developing experts.  

I found this Circular Classroom: a Free Toolkit for Activating the Circular Economy through Experiential Learning. The Circular Classroom is a free, multilingual educational resource for students and teachers alike, designed to integrate circular thinking into high school and upper secondary classrooms in Finland. Finland is often considered to have one of the world’s best education system. It is quite different from other educational systems: no-homework, student-centric, interdisciplinary, with a life-skills teaching approach that is committed to experiential and phenomena-based learning. (You can find out more about Finland's schools: readings 1  2 3)

If not a circular economy, then what? We stay in the "Linear Economy" which is the take-make-use-dispose model of consumption that we arrived at with the Industrial Revolution. Many people believe that kind of global economy is no longer sustainable. A radical new model, the circular economy, with design thinking and education for sustainability may be a topic for academic papers today, but I believe it will be put into practice sooner than may of you reading this would predict.

 

 

Steven Spielberg, Dinosaurs, Oscars and Degrees, Netflix and Coursera

Oscar StatuettesFilmmaker Steven Spielberg has been having an argument with Netflix. His tenure as Governor of the Academy that oversees the Oscars ends this summer, but his very public feelings about Netflix has become an issue in the motion picture industry.

Netflix is just the biggest name in streaming services and Spielberg isn't happy with this disruptor of his industry. He is all for protecting the traditional film studio pipeline and the Oscars that prioritize theaters over living rooms. He would like to see movies made for streaming services be excluded from the major categories at next year’s Oscars. He thinks that Netflix movies (and really ones from Amazon and other companies) should compete for Emmys, not Oscars.

“Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” he told British ITV News in March, 2018. “I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”

Roma, the film that was up for Best Picture, was the focus of a lot of this debate, was at the center of his argument this spring. The film lost in that category to Green Book, but it won Best Foreign Film, and Alfonso Cuaron won Best Director, so it certainly had a big impact this year.

graduationNow what does this have to do with education and this blog? I do tend to view a lot of things through an education lens (pun intended). It is how I have lived my adult life. 

I love movies. I got my MA in communications with a concentration of film and video back in the late 1970s when video was already taking the place of film. In my earliest teaching days, I taught students to cut film. It was a literal cut on a piece of film stock. At one time we even cut videotape that came on reels. By the 1980s, we were editing video by copying and pasting it to other videotape and the reels became VHS tapes. Analog became digital and though my students still did some animation frame by frame using Super 8 film cameras, we knew that would end soon.

I would compare Spielberg's argument with the arguments about disruptors that we have in education.

The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is a good example. Going back to 2012 (the supposed "Year of the MOOC"), there were many similar arguments being heard. MOOCs will destroy traditional universities and degrees. Online learning will become free. The quality of MOOCs is inferior to credit-based online courses from universities.

Universities were movie theaters. Roma was a MOOC. Coursera was Netflix.

In the 7 short years since the MOOC got its big push, they have changed, been adopted by traditional universities and adapted to their own purposes. They didn't destroy traditional colleges or college course or degrees. They did disrupt all of those things. All of those things have changed in some ways, and they will continue to change as the MOOC and its evolved offspring appear.

SpielbergIs Steven Spielberg a dinosaur?

He has been at the technology edge for all of his career. Yes, he prefers to shoot on 35 mm film if he can, but when he needs the video technology, such as in his Ready Player One, he goes that route. 

As an Academy Governor, he is in a place where he feels the responsibility to protect the movie business, which he clearly loves. That includes the traditional distribution vector of movie theaters. Theaters have been threatened since the arrival of television in a big way back in the 1950s. So their dominance for distribution has been threatened for more than 60 years. But theaters still exist, though in reduced numbers.

Streaming services like Netflix are a big competitor, but so are Disney and other traditional studios that want a piece of that streaming money and may care less for their theater share of profit which has been shrinking over the past few decades.

Spielberg is a dinosaur in that he wants the old system to continue. he prefers the status quo. If he was a professor or college administrator, he probably would have opposed MOOCs.

Probably, as with the MOOC, both theaters and streaming films will continue to exist. Each will influence the other, but streaming and MOOCs will not disappear.

It is understandable that Netflix wanted Roma to be considered for an Oscar, so it put it in theaters for a limited release to qualify. there are some people who are willing to pay for a film in a theater on that big screen with an audience, even though it will appear on their television set in their living room if they wait a few weeks. But Netflix makes its money from those streaming subscriptions.

Actually, it is kind of a myth that Netflix "produced" Roma.” Netflix had nothing to do with “making” or even funding “Roma.” That is actually the case for many of the shows and movies labeled as Netflix Originals. They buy films just like the other traditional studios. Participant Media financed Roma. It was shot by Cuarón’s production company. Any of the traditional studios could have acquired Roma and put it in theaters. A black-and-white film in Spanish is not as appealing to many studios, even if the director has a good track record.

If I use Coursera, the world’s largest massive open online course (MOOCs in some ways) with a learner population of nearly 40 million, as my educational Netflix, I would point out that their courses are really courses made by traditional universities. The universities are the film studios. Coursera is their distributor.

If Spielberg fights to keep things "as is" then he is a dinosaur.  There are still education Spielbergs who don't want online courses at all. MOOCs are certainly something they don't want to be considered for credit toward a degree. Credits and degrees are the Oscars of higher education. 

It is still evolution more than it is revolution.