MOOCs for Life


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 I remember years ago when I was in university our education department motto was “Teacher as Facilitator of Student Success”. I graduated in 1996. Almost 20 years later we are still moving slowly in that direction. Even back then we recognized that the teacher was not doling out knowledge, just fascilitating the learning. Of course then the Internet was alive and well (I think I was still getting AOL diskettes in the mail though…) so it was true. You could learn anything you wanted all by yourself. You did not need an expert to teach you. Honestly I think this has been true for more than a century at least. The Internet and Web 2.0 has made things easier and faster, but haven’t you been able to learn just about anything that you desired if you were well connected enough? First there were correspondence courses, then the radio, then TV, then the Internet. You’ve been able to learn almost anything imaginable for quite a while. For some reason the School of the Air in Australia always stands out as a favorite example for me.

I love MOOCs. (can you picture the t-shirt?) The idea that organizations are putting up their content for free/low prices is insanely great. I am also a strong defender of the the concept that we should be able to prove what we know, diploma or not. I honestly wish that employers would look strictly at a combination of our character, knowledge and skills, and experience. In too many cases the person with the degree will get the position, regardless of whether or not they are better suited to the job. MOOCs transcend that problem and do a lot towards eliminating it. Udacity in particular has made a move over the last year or two to target people who are looking to advance their career but who recognize that they can gain a lot from not only another degree, but also what they call “nanodegrees” – certifications in particular areas.

If it were up to me and if it were more widely accepted I would certainly LOVE to proceed with using MOOCs to get numerous nanodegrees/certifications. Currently I am not sure an employer would “recognize” the effort put into my MOOC participation. There is, of course, a bump in pay for graduate degrees. I have been told, and I know, that my career path will be limited without more letters after my name. Okay, I don’t want to digress here, but I just want to show the opposing forces here. To oversimplify it’s “real learning” vs. “the system”.

I think the walls of traditional higher ed are being shaken. With programs like Harvard’s Open Learning Initiative the concept of credit and degrees is being disrupted. When you can take a course, even get assessed (graded) on how you did, then how much does it matter that you can show an official “for credit” transcript?

MOOCs are bound to be a major part of education in the future. Of course there are certain things, at least for now, that we all need to know as a foundation to learning. Reading, for example, is pretty important. Certain other skills such as tech skills are not something we can do without. But the need for courses that fill in certain gaps in your knowledge will only increase. Sure we can Google things when we need a quick answer but when you really need to understand a concept there is nothing like a structured, well-thought out course. Think about it, we do not typically offer a PD with no title. (Okay so we sometimes do an open lab type of PD) Most of the time we run a PD like “Save Time with Google Docs” There is a structure and a focus because we as the teachers of the PD know how the teachers will best absorb the content. My point here is that the course structure will not fade away, but rather we will need particular courses to fill certain needs in our career paths. That’s where the real power of the MOOC will be.

I only hope that employers and organizations will catch on and recognize the MOOC as the real life, just right learning that it is becoming. I for one, will do my part to recognize their value in my organization.

So what about you? Are MOOCs a good fit for your career path? Will you avoid them because your employer will not give you “credit”? Or will you take the plunge and learn something new over the next few months, regardless of the payoff?


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