After the MOOC Revolution

MOOC revolutionIn 2008 when I read about a professor making his course "open learning," I wasn't prescient enough to see the rise of MOOCs or any coming revolution in learning, especially online. 

The term MOOC, for Massive Open Online Courses, became the popular terminology for the concept behind that 2008 experiment. Almost everyone was saying it was a revolution that would disrupt universities. Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of Udacity, famously predicted that in 50 years there would be only 10 higher education institutions.  That didn't happen. 

I wrote a book chapter with my wife a few years ago about whether or not the "MOOC Revolution" was in fact a revolution or rather an evolution of learning and learning online.  And recently I saw that Jeffrey Young, author of that 2008 piece, has posted this year asking "What if MOOCs Revolutionize Education After All?"

His new post and podcast on EdSurge focuses on Barbara Oakley, a professor of engineering at Oakland University, who thinks a lot about how people learn particularly because she has been teaching a lot of them in one of the most popular online courses ever. "Learning How to Learn" has had more than 2 million participants and teaching it has her believing, despite the cooling of the MOOC Revolution hype, that free online courses might still lead to a revolution in higher education.

 

Professor Oakley thinks that MOOCs will enhance classrooms and also serve as competition, which will force schools to jump over a higher bar.

In our chapter on MOOCs, we said that "Most technological change involves massive disruption whereas economic ‘bubbles’, like the trillion-dollar student loan bubble in the U.S., tend to burst, not slowly deflate. Initially, the disruption of the MOOC may have appeared to be a rapid revolution just a few years ago, but it seems more likely to become a gradual evolution over the course of the next decade." I think that prediction is holding true.

Through this blog and a LinkedIn group called "Academia and the MOOC" that I started in 2013, I have met many people from around the world who are using MOOCs. The group is for or anyone interested in how MOOCs have impacted education and how they might in the future, and it began with members of the MOOC of the same name hosted in the Canvas Network in Spring 2013 and taught my myself, my wife, Lynnette Ronkowitz and Mary Zedeck.

On of the people I have met virtually is Muvaffak Gozaydin. He contacted me last fall about a "crazy idea" he had to provide no-cost graduate degrees using MOOCs. He contacted me again this summer to tell me that his crazy idea was launching. He wants to offer "professional learners" the opportunity to get an MS degree online by selecting courses offered already courses from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Duke, Yale and other top schools. His site is at mguniversity2017.org and he has organized it to direct students towards a course catalog for five degrees currently. His project is not accredited in any country, but all the universities and courses offered are accredited and he hopes that holders of "degrees" from MGU can use them to find or advance in jobs internationally. 

Is his idea crazy? He asked me that again this year before he launched his site. It reminded me of something Dhawal Shah, the founder of Class Central, has said recently: "...there’s been a decisive shift by MOOC providers to focus on 'professional' learners who are taking these courses for career-related outcomes. At the recently concluded EMOOCs conference, the then CEO of Coursera, Rick Levin, shared his thoughts on this shift. He thinks that MOOCs may not have disrupted the education market, but they are disrupting the labor market. The real audience is not the traditional university student but what he calls the 'lifelong career learner,' someone who might be well beyond their college years and takes these online courses with the goal of achieving professional and career growth."

That last sentence was one of the conclusions of our book chapter. Maybe the revolution is bigger than disrupting universities. Maybe the revolution is about learning and not only in schools at all grade levels but also in business, industry and professional learning. All will be disrupted.

Shah, Gozaydin, Thrun and others have concluded two things about the MOOC revolution:  1) The real audience is the professional learner working in a field and with an undergraduate degree who wants to advance.  2) There are already plenty of online courses available from top universities and other providers to offer in packages (call them degrees, certificates, mini-degrees etc.) either free or with a fee smaller than that of a traditional university that carries some evidence of quality and completion.

The biggest issue with the truly open and free online courses, massive or not, has been since the beginning using them for advancement, either towards degrees or professional advancement. If you are looking to advance your own knowledge and skills without concern for official "credits," the MOOC is ideal. 

You can find more than 1,250 free courses listed at openculture.com, but what does a learner do with those courses? Minimally, which is not to say inconsequentially, is that Gozaydin has done the work of organizing the many scattered MOOC offerings of the world into five intelligently planned paths for learners to coursework from the leading universities all on one web page. 

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