Sunday, July 16, 2017

What are We Missing?: Looking at MOOCs and BlockChain Technology

Near the end of last year, I signed up for my first MOOC, a popular Coursera class called Learning How to Learn. I made it through the first two weeks before I got behind and stopped doing the readings and participating in the course. I could list 100 reasons why I didn't complete the course, but most studies suggest that the completion rates for MOOCs are abysmal. 

The idea of MOOCs, though, is promising. The notion that people have the ability to be taught university courses by some of the most renowned professors in the world, often for free, is intoxicating. Like many, I see MOOCs as an opportunity to bring education to the masses in ways that traditional institutions never could. Yet when I bring up MOOCs in general conversations, many people have never heard of them, and those who have, don't seem very interested. For the most part, those who typically express a genuine interest are my colleagues and friends from universities. 

Despite the small sample size, my anecdotal evidence is pretty much on par with what the research suggests. In fact, Bergmann's 2015 article  reports that 80% of those who enroll in MOOCs have already earned a college degree and 44% have attended graduate school. Numbers that the author suggests are a far cry from our "utopian vision" of  MOOCs bringing education to those who couldn't otherwise have it. 

However, today's MOOCs are changing, evolving in ways that will hopefully improve their success rates. Much like OERs, I think we have an opportunity that we haven't quite realized yet. It's all still so new that I find most of the backlash against them to be shortsighted. But what happens once we do have better success rates? Like our struggles with accepting experiential learning, will these credits be embraced in a way that is meaningful outside of education for education's sake?

Along those same lines, a few weeks back, I heard about BlockChains being used for higher ed credits for the first time. I'm not someone who knew much about Bitcoins, so the entire concept seemed foreign to me. From what I understand the same technology that was used for Bitcoins can be used to verify courses students have taken, across multiple platforms, irrespective of any one institution, to allow students to, essentially, piecemeal together a college degree. I have no doubt that I am oversimplifying the process, but what an interesting idea. No longer would students be bound to a specific institution, and the nightmare that is transfer credit evaluation, it appears, would fall away. I always try to see the benefits and complications in every situation, bit I fear I don't understand enough about this to fully weigh the possibilities. 

What are your thoughts? Considering the ways OERs, MOOCs, and BlockChains could all drastically change the role and recognition of higher education, what are the pros and cons? What are we seeing, and what are we missing? 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Melissa,

    This is a great post that really got me thinking. First of all, I do not think your reasons for "not completing the course" is trivial. Over the last few modules, I have read a few articles about MOOCs, and the reasons usually gravitate towards (a) a mismatch of desired learning and actual coursework, (b) poor user interface, and (c) poor pacing.

    You would definitely know better than I do the "education fads" that seem to come and go. Flipped classrooms, blended learning, and many other constructivist approaches come to mind. Some were accommodated, others thrown out almost as quickly as it came in. I am no professional, but I think it comes down to one thing, and that is we try to take old content, slap on the new learning approach without fully understanding the theoretical basis, and hope to see results.

    Perhaps OERs and MOOCs suffer the same problem. We are expecting high take-up rates just because it is free. However, putting the same content that is typically shared by a lecturer in a class, in a repository will not achieve the same outcome. Not many people have the ability to self-teach, or even have the discipline and commitment to do so.

    My two cents, and sorry for the rant! Thanks for sharing this post!