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How online courses are starting to make a change to how we learn

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 4 Feb 2015, 18:15

Fig.1 A publicity still from my own short film 'Listening In.' Did you catch it on Channel 4? I know seven people who did smile

Marshall McLuhan had a lot to say about the medium being the message when TV came along in the 1960s.

I always put the message first and with online courses (MOOCs by another name?) I would liken them to books or TV programmes ... there are many as you can imagine for every kind of audience, by educational attainment, and subject. I agree that learning is inherently social.

Having got kids who could touch type before they could handwrite and use the Internet before they could use the telephone I have witnessed them learn, collectively, online in various 'online' activities - almost always with the very same people they are seeing during the day in class.

Platforms, such as FutureLearn are tailored for this - EdX, by way of contrast is not.

Learning outcomes must be an important raison d'etre for MOOCs, but I don't see this at all as being the only reason institutions are producing them. They are seeking to attract students to courses that are either taught on campus or online at a distance. If a MOOC on Aviation Comes of Age in the First World War attracts 5000 and 500 finish the course 50 buy certificates and 5 sign up for the MA then they have doubled their student intake to a niche subject. I'm making a wild stab at the numbers: I don't know what they were. I can hazard a guess by the activity in the discussions. They are producing them to learn from the experience, gain the in-house knowledge and support their educators and producing online content for their regular courses too. 

The numbers I do know are for the FutureLearn course 'Start Writing Fiction' which had 23,000 students to start with and bucked the trend by having 25,000 in week two. I can only guess at the numbers who made it through to the end based on the crude stats we have for 'MOOCs' to date. A new outcome for this course is that nearly two months after it officially ended people are still starting and still completing the course: I know this as I set up both LinkedIn and WordPress groups to support them and actively return to the course myself to refresh ideas and contribute to reviews of work submitted and discussions with those there.

By way of comparison, the University of Southampton WebScience MOOC is aimed at PhD candidates: I should now as I was one of those candidates and interview to study a PhD. I had no answer for my not having a medical degree or having done a randomised control trial before.

The 'Oxbridge Tutorial' is commonly used in the UK and is a tutorial system used at Oxford Cambridge, Bristol, Durham and LSE I believe. Is it also the Socratic Method?

The method of knowledge transfer may be the same but numbers are lower 1:1, or 1:3 max. A MOOC experience that works, at this level includes both Socratic and Madras approaches, for better or worse. Worse according to Oxford's Internet Institute (Rebecca Eynon) where cliques form around the leading student educators that appear to block out others.

PhD students may have to study on their own, but do they want to? MA students don't.

The Educators I know at university want to teach too.

Digital literacy, like any kind of literacy matters. I engage those who have been online for a decade and those that are newcomers. They pick it up pretty fasts if helped by others.

Other MOOCs I've looked at are aimed at those at school (High School in England) to help them with university entrance and preparation, I've mentioned an MA even PhD level MOOC while the Exploring Filmmaking would have been on TV in the past.

EdX won't let you in without paying.

Udemy is getting a dreadful reputation.

Lumesse is a corporate platform a bit like FutureLearn.

A gem of a Free Course from FutureLearn that has just started is 'Exploring Filmmaking' with the National Film and Television School. As you'd expect the value are top notch. A great mix. Bitesize learning. Great discussions. 90 mins to 2 hours a week - a lot more if you get deeply engaged. 

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Design Museum

MOOCs are a must to create sticky fingers

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 8 Dec 2014, 14:03
From E-Learning V

Fig.1  'Stickiness' and vibrancy

Staying power in a MOOC means keeping fingers on the keyboard

The subject matter and how it is delivered matters a great deal. I did the OLDS MOOC mentioned in the paper: it was long, demanding and complex. No wonder only 30 active contributors were left by the end - I'd got out a few weeks earlier. The starting numbers were low for a MOOC, 2300. You can generally add a zero or two at the start.  The OLDS MOOC was like a postgraduate course. The first I completed, First Steps into Teaching in Higher Education from Oxford Brookes I paid a hefty fee to submit an end of module assessment and have this marked - it is that that got me through to the end, a distinction and 10 credits towards a degree. Also the intimacy of small groups, the interest in fellow students from around the world, and close, constant contact from a team of educators and moderators.

There is every variable imaginable.

They will be and are as different as books, as TV shows, or traditional university courses governed by resources, platforms, financing, the educators and production team. And they are still in an experimental phase ... like television in the 1950s. 

Some completion rates are as low as 7% ... but if 100,000 started, as happened with an engineering course Stanford put up a few years ago, the figures are 'massive'. From this 7,000 they found that all of the top scorers outperformed the students who were on campus. They could then invite the top 'scholars' to apply for scholarships. They could also improve the course where they as educators were failing. The problem is if it fuels a hunger for higher education that cannot be satisfied ... over 200m students chasing 5 million university places globally.

How do we address that?

This paper covers the ground well.

Dropout rates of Massive Open Online Course: Behavioural Patterns

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What are MOOCs doing for learning?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 17 Nov 2014, 08:24

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are new and FutureLearn, a wholly owned subsidiary of The OU is itself adapting as traditional institutions embrace e-learning, respond to feedback and results and improve.

MOOCs will be new for a decade.

E-learning like this is not a lecture series online, TV online, a book online, quiz or a tutorial online. Whilst this is invariably the starting place for 'ground based' educators, the academics working with instructional designers, not in isolation, need increasingly to begin with a blank sheet rather than looking at the physical assets of academics, books, lectures and papers around them.

What we are witnessing today is that transition from the Wright Brothers to the World War One fighter planes. We are seeing hints of the jets to come. We are a long way from drones. I use the analogy having just completed a wonderful three-week MOOC 'World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age'.

Innovations go through recognisable phases.

E-learning in the forms of MOOCs is still at the stage of 'early adoption' - rest-assured they will become commonplace, though surely with a different name. MOOCs can be a hybrid during a transitional phase so long as this is seen as the first step in many away from traditional approaches, embracing what works online.

Academics need to come out of their cupboard, come away of their studies and welcome into their midst those of us seeking to understand and to integrate the processes involved - that combination of learning and e-learning: how and why we learn and how then scale (massiveness), interactivity (digital) and connectivity (openness) changes things. In time, when the academics themselves have reached their status of 'doctor' and 'professor' through e-learning, when we can call all them 'digital scholars' rather than simply 'scholars', then we'll be able to look down from the clouds and smile at how much things have changed.

Think evolution not revolution.

Think how long it will take to see out the current generation of academics - thirty to fifty years?

Ultimately MOOCs are about a combination of sequential activities and 'interactivities', collaboration and connection.

Gilly Salmon coined the term 'e-tivities': sadly not in common usage, it nonetheless captures beautifully what is required for students to learn online - doing stuff, alone, with other students and with the academics.

Collaboration is a long held view of a kind of learning in 'communities of practice' most associated with the academics Lave and Wenger: how working together is a more effective for of constructed learning.

While 'connectivity', often associated with the academic George Siemens, is the new kid on the 'learning theories' block. Connectedness as a way of learning is dependent on a few things: the affordances of the platform to permit this with ease: if you have the opportunity compare current student messaging and blogging platforms at your institution with those at FutureLearn which has stripped back the unnecessary and concentrated on this 'connectivity'; the number and mix of participants: massive helps as a small percentage of a group will be the front runners and conversationalists with others benefiting from listening in, out of choice not pressure and the 'quality' of the participants in that they need to have both basic 'digital literacy' skills and reliable access based on their kit and connection.

Embrace the pace of change

A lean and smart organisation will tumble over itself, re-inventing and experimenting with ways things are done until clear methodologies present themselves for specific types of learning experience: 'head work' is different to' handiwork' - academic study is different from applied practice. Subjects freed from books and formal lectures, like the genii released from the bottle will, in the cloud, form into shapes that are most suited to their learners and what is being taught: blended and 'traditional' learning most certainly have their place.

Academic snobbery is a barrier to e-learning

John Seely Brown, working out of the Palo Alto Research Centre, famous for coming up with the WYSIWYG interface between us and computers and a 'learning guru' is passionate about the idea of 'learning from the periphery' - this is how and when someone new to a subject, or team, hangs around at the edges, learning and absorbing what is going on at the heart. The wonder of open learning is the participation of equally brilliant and curious minds, some who know a good deal on a subject while others are just starting out, eager to listen, willing to ask questions that may be naïve but are usually insightful; in the two-way exchange both the die-hard academic and the newbie change for the better. Learning feeds of this new fluidity.

It is evidence of the 'democratisation' of learning.

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