MOOCs and Higher Education: What is next?

I gave a presentation on “MOOCs and Higher Education” at the SCONUL annual conference in Dublin last week. In the presentation, I examined the potential of MOOCs as a disruptive innovation and an emerging technology in higher education, and explored the concept, business model and trends of the MOOC phenomenon. The full presentation is available at here.

The Gartner Hype Cycle has been widely used to illustrate the processes of maturity, adoption and applications of emerging technologies in society. A question I posed in my presentation was, will MOOCs fall into this pattern of technology adoption?

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If we take the Artificial Intelligence course at Stanford in 2011 as the starting point for the hype cycle, then 2012 was, ‘The Year of the MOOC’! This was manifested by the rapid spread of media coverage and the elite institutions forming partnerships to launch online courses shown as the upward trend of the graph moving toward the “peak of inflated expectations.” In 2013, less optimistic news and research findings have been appearing, e.g. the recent announcement from Coursera, which deflated expectations of MOOCs shown as the downward trend of the graph line.

Some questions:

  • Are MOOCs beginning the short journey into the ‘trough of disillusionment’?
  • Is the time approaching for MOOCs providers and universities to figure out what works and what doesn’t work?
  • Sometime in the future, if and when MOOCs enter the ‘slope of enlightenment and plateau of productivities’, will they then have a real impact on the delivery of higher education?

The answers to these questions remain to be found in the future!

To MOOC or not to MOOC

The question to MOOC or not to MOOC has perhaps been discussed in many institutions’ committee meetings recently, such as this tongue-in-cheek one on Tony Bates’ blog! While some leading universities in North America and Europe have joined Coursera to offer MOOCs, a recently published report from Queen’s University in Canada, which made recommendations about the institution’s policy and strategic planning on online learning, suggested that “Queen’s does not become involved in MOOCs until and unless there is greater support for online learning (within the university)”. It has also been reported that some institutions have been denied the opportunity to offer MOOCs through Coursera because, as a company policy, it only works with ‘elite institutions’, e.g. the ‘top five’ universities in countries outside of North America. No doubt discussions on what institutions should do about MOOCs will continue until the hype cycle has passed.

Coursera recently announced that it made $220,000 profit in the first quarter of 2013 by charging for verified completion certificates and receiving revenue from Amazon through learners buying books suggested by the professors headlining MOOC courses. This ‘brand + content = revenue’ model seems a win-win business proposition. Students pay for certificates from elite universities and the professors sell more of the books they’ve published to a mass audience, publicised via recorded lectures on their MOOC courses. In this case, many would argue that online learning should be considered a pedagogical choice (e.g. cMOOCs) rather than a cynical money making approach to education.

Whether institutions have been involved in MOOCs or not, it is clear that the development of MOOCs has re-focused institutional attention on how to provide effective online learning in order to gain competitive advantages in a global educational market. As the Queen’s University report suggested, the university needs to have “a plan that sets clear goals for online learning, identifies the resources needed, and makes the necessary organizational and structural changes”. Institutions will need to rethink their organisational structures and business models to make teaching and learning more effective, pedagogically and financially, either via face-to-face or online. Following on from the recently published CETIS MOOCs report, we believe that there is a need to make sense of the new pedagogical approaches and business models around MOOCs and other forms of online courses, and produce an analysis to help inform about institutions’ policy and strategic planning with regard to online distance learning.

Developing a sustainable OER ecosystem in HE

I gave a presentation at the Open Ed conference 2010 in Barcelona last week to share some lessons learned from the UKOER projects for sustainable OER releasing and thoughts on developing sustainable OER ecosystems in Higher Education.

The UKOER programme has provided an opportunity for funding bodies, institutions and academics work together to explore cultural, political and financial as well as technical issues related to OER releasing and reusing. In this presentation, I focused on institutional projects funded by the UKOER programme and discussed how different approaches and models have been adopted to address long term sustainability issues regarding OERs releasing and reusing beyond the funding period. Furthermore, I employed an ecological approach to examine the UKOER programme in order to capture the comprehensive views and interactions between stakeholders around OERs and indicate where change should happen in order to develop sustainable OER ecosystems.

The ecological approach provides a useful framework for analysing and examining the development of sustainable OERs in the UK context. It illustrates how government agencies and funding bodies, institutions, subject centres and individuals should engage in the production and reuse of OERs within the particular educational system and articulate the key interactions, dependencies, and influences in OER ecosystems. In this case, the UK government committed to the establishment of a content infrastructure which is professionally developed and organised to support informal and formal education and catalyse innovations in higher education. The UKOER programme used national funding models both as an incentive and as a steering device to encourage institutions, subject centres and individuals to promote openness and culture of sharing in education and explore issues regarding sustainable OERs releasing and reusing. In order to achieve sustainable OER ecosystems, it is clear that higher education institutions will need to explore new business models and improve efficiencies through OERs, e.g. reduction in cost and improvements in quality. Educators and learners will need to participate in communities of practice where OER development and reuse becomes a normal consequence of educational activities. This meso level (national educational system level) OER ecosystem will rely for success on the sustainability of OER projects at the micro level (institutions, subject centres and individuals) and, if successful, will eventually foster the global sustainable OER ecosystem at macro level. The PowerPoint of the presentation is available at slideshare.

#cetis10: Cheaper, flexible, effective institutions

My colleague Simon, John and I will run two sessions on Cheaper, flexible, effective institutions at JISC CETIS conference next week. David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, urged that universities need to find cheaper and more flexible ways to teach in “tough times”. The Browne review sets out a great political imperative for institutions to think about new funding streams and innovative approaches to widening participation. There a growing criticism of inefficiencies in Higher Education, including the costs of teaching and of producing learning materials and resources.

So how can we respond to these issues, in the light of political and economic reality, and in terms of the contribution from learning technology? In the first session, we will look at “technology, politics and economics”. Different political and economic assumptions, attitudes or views are likely to give different solutions to our question. In this session, we proposed five models of higher education in order stimulate the debate and discussions.

  • State funded – HE could be a service provided free by governments funded from tax revenue to enable all citizens to develop their talents and interests to a higher level, and to benefit the national economy
  • Free-market – HE could be a business where HEIs charge full economic fees to students in return for giving them knowledge, skills, professional training and qualifications, networks of contacts, and prestige to use later in working life
  • Business-run – Higher-level education and training could be provided by businesses for their employees, as part of a process of managing their talent pool, and as a way to attract and retain the best employees
  • Charity funded – HEIs could be charities dedicated to spreading learning and its benefits to as many people as possible, including the poor and disadvantaged across the world, using volunteer staff where possible
  • DIY U – HE could be a self-organised system through which individuals decide on their higher learning needs and collaborate with other learners to achieve them using freely available resources where possible.

The participants will be asked to form groups around these positions or suggest other positions for group discussion. We expect that a rich picture for the vision from each position will be presented and some bullet points to cover the practical aspects of learning technology developments that could help to get there, and the role of JISC / CETIS.

In the second session, we will focus on “community and learner support” to explore how technology can help in the processes of learner support at different stages, either directly or through facilitating communities which can support the processes. In each case, who would be the members of the relevant community, and how can technology work for them?

Social software and e-portfolio tools are prime candidates to help with community and learner support, but how can this be done effectively? Can other learning technologies help as well, towards the goal of cheaper and more flexible HE provision that is still effective?

We would like to invite anyone who is interested in the future of Higher Education to share your ideas and thoughts in those sessions. We would like you to think about how cheaper, flexible, effective institutions could function, in terms of technology, politics and economics, and how low-cost, flexible and effective community and support for learners could be provided, how could we practically get there, and how could JISC and CETIS contribute?

OER in action, no limit

I attended the Open Learning conference held by Nottingham University last week. It was a really impressive event which brought together presenters and academics from the University of Nottingham, OER Africa and the JISC UK OER programme. The key note speaker Catherine Ngugi, project Director of OER Africa, gave an inspirational talk about “Open Educational Resources in Developing Countries”. She reflected their experiences in supporting institutions in Africa and other countries to create effective collaboration partnerships for developing OERs on health education. She also outlined how the concept of OER could benefit higher education systems, institutions, academics and students on the continent and around the world. Luke Mckend from Google introduced Google’s YouTube Edu initiative and demonstrated how to use Google data analytic tools to gather useful information for educational usage and how to track where the users come from and how they interact with YouTube’s hosted videos, which I found to be very interesting and useful.

One of the themes of the conference was open learning at the University of Nottingham. Professor Christine Ennew, Pro Vice Chancellor for Internationalisation and Dr Wyn Morgan, Director of Teaching and Learning from the University shared their vision and strategy for making learning materials available openly. A number of academics from Nottingham university also reported the progress and actions on provision of OERs in the University, including The JISC funded BERLiN project, Nottingham’s OER repository “u-Now” and technologies used to support Open Learning at the university, such as “Xerte Online Toolkits”, a tool for creating rich interactivity and “XPERT” for sharing and discovering of OER via RSS. The conference also provided opportunities for a number of other JISC UK OER projects to showcase their work, share ideas and discuss some common issues across different institutions. Jackie Milne from JISC Legal provided advice on IPR and considerations for making material available openly.

It is clear that more and more institutions in the UK and worldwide are joining the OER movement and more and more academics are publishing their course materials on the web for people to use freely anywhere in the world. However, to me, the most inspiring thought from the conference was how we should think about OER beyond resources, institutions and nations. Professor Andy Lane from Open University in his presentation pointed out that designing for Open Learning needed to consider that learners want whole courses with pay as you go and on – demand accreditation. Neil Butcher, Strategist for OER Africa, introduced two OER-related innovative programmes from African universities. One of the universities is developing an entire online distance learning programme based on high quality OERs available worldwide and all learning materials will be delivered to learners’ mobile devices. The university expects the programme to be self-sustaining in 4 years. He suggested that the UK OER community should engage with this demand and build partnerships and networks to make best use of the potential of OERs. I came away thinking that for OER the potential seems boundless and with no limit.