The Rules for Online Learning

online learnerRegulators who make the rules for higher education accreditation are being closely watched now for the rules governing online learning. Three industry groups who are concerned have put forward their own policy recommendations. The groups are the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET).

The recommendations are concerned with competency-based education (CBE), regular and substantive interaction, and state authorization. The Department of Education's ongoing accreditation rulemaking session (which may also require congressional action) may develop outcomes-based Title IV eligibility standards for gauging colleges' effectiveness with a wider range of instructional modalities.

One big topic of discussion concerns the current rules around regular and substantive interaction. This is the measure of how much contact instructors and students must have in online courses. Some educators feel the current rules put online learning at a "competitive disadvantage" relative to on-campus instruction.

One of the test cases has been the DoE's case against Western Governors University. But in January 2019 it canceled a $713 million fine owed by WGA that came out of a 2017 audit that concluded that the school's CBE model was not in compliance with federal standards for online education. In its January reversal, the DoE determined that the fully online nonprofit university "made a reasonable and good faith effort" to apply the rules to its model.

The DoE further stated that it is "hopeful that further clarification [around distance learning] will be part of future regulations that will help spur the growth of high-quality innovative programs."

According to Inside Higher Ed, a third of all higher education students take at least one online course. Many of those students live on campus or within a two-hour radius of the college, so that the older term of "distance education" has become far less relevant.

But online learning is still growing in higher education. For example, Florida International University now offers more than 100 degrees fully online, and added more than 15 degrees in the past year. Those offerings include 20+ STEM programs at the graduate and undergraduate level, and new bachelors’ degrees in economics, writing and rhetoric.

Not all universities and educators are as strong in pushing online learning. Researchers at George Mason University and the Urban Institute say students who lack strong academic preparation tend to struggle in an online-only environment. But that research has been questioned by others. And the discussons continue at many levels.

 

Transitions Are Difficult

transitionIf you read the annual Bill and Melinda Gates letter, it includes 9 trends it considers surprising. One that affects educators is the idea that "Textbooks are becoming obsolete." By that, they mean that digital content that is customized and personalized learning can better support students than a traditional textbook. 

The promise here is text online connected to engaging video along with perhaps a game that reinforces the concepts. Your learning is assessed and the software moves you forward appropriately or perhaps sends you back for more review. of the content you seem to have missed. 

We have been told that this kind of learning transition was going to happen - and it has happened,several times. We were told that the printed book would be replaced by ebooks. Some were replaced; most were not.

There has been a lot of talk about replacing the lecture with short video lectures that don't "lecture." That is somewhat the case in online courses, but the lecture in the classroom is still running strong.  

Even bigger than textbooks and lecture is the idea that online learning would replace classroom learning. Add to that the idea that MOOCs would replace online courses and even make degrees obsolete. Hasn't happened yet.

Transitions are difficult. Maintaining the status quo is so much easier. 

Maybe if I was still around in 2050, I would find that learning happens without printed books, without lectures, without classrooms and without degrees. But I doubt it.

We Still Don't Want No Stinkin' Badges

I use that famous line from "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" but I'm talking about badges used for learning. The film says "need" but I say that in matters of learning we don't seem to "want" any badges.

I have been writing about badges for years on this blog 

It seemed like badges used for showing learning progress was going to be a big thing. That was especially true with online learning and then when MOOCs exploded onto the scene around 2011. But badges still hve not made significant inroads in education.

They didn't make any impact in credit-bearing courses, but they should have had more impact with lifelong learning, MOOCs, alternative education and non-credit learning opportunities.

I would compare there lack of acceptance to some reasons why MOOCs never really changed higher education. Badges and MOOCs are really great for non-credit learning, but when the movement to garner college credit from their use started there was no acceptance from higher education. They saw both as threats.

Similarly, some thought badges would allow learners to get "credit" for their learning with employers, either to advance or get a job. But employers also did not take to them. I don't think they felt threatened. It was more that they weren't convinced that the learning was legitimatized. I suppose that idea of validating the learning was also a factor for colleges, though the threat of lost tuition was much greater.

So, the problem is still the same as it was years ago: We need a way to design badgesso that at completion aschool or employer will be confident that the learner has actually mastered the skill for that badge. 

I wrote earlier about a project by the Education Design Lab that tried to involve employers who committed to consider badges in their hiring of recent college graduates. But I don't see much evidence on their site of progress. 

Mozilla's Open Badges standard is still around and their Backpack has tried to unite badge platforms around the world.

I looked online to see if there was any big news in badges recently, but I didn't find anything that changes my perspective. If you have any good news, send me an email.

https://elearningindustry.com/guide-to-open-badges-beginners

https://www.gettingsmart.com/2018/03/a-simple-free-powerful-badging-system/ 

How We Work

wework
WeWork space or studying in the campus cafe? Maybe it is both.   Photo: Wikimedia

I have been in WeWork spaces in New York City and Washington, D.C. because I knew people who were using these coworking spaces. I didn't have any conversations about education there. It was all about work.

But the WeWork people have been having conversations about education. They acquired Flatiron School (a coding bootcamp) and MissionU, which was a one-year college alternative. They formed a partnership with 2U, which is an online program management company.

MissionU has been shut down by WeWork, and they plan to start a network of K-12 schools called WeGrow. I imagine that all these parts will be used together. For example, 2U students can use WeWork’s office space as study spaces.

This is not traditional schooling and Michael Horn, writing in Forbes, thinks that it points to the future of online learning in higher education.

He says that the future is "in bricks, not just clicks." He means that he views traditional colleges as going through a hybrid phase. In this current phase, they are using online learning to sustain their current business model. Students don't save money or time. But they could.

One way Horn thinks online learning might be able to improve would be to give it a physical component. Yes, this is a blended-learning option. Well, that is hardly a new idea. Proponents of blended (or hybrid) learning have always promoted the format's ability to allow online students to connect with other students in-person to create community and a learning network. Where it is that "we learn" is changing, as are our ideas about what a learning space looks like. That space looks less like a "classroom" every year.

Your Personal Learning Network, Environment and Operating System

networkI didn't get to attend a workshop on personal learning networks (PLNs) led by Helen Blunden in Ghent, Belgium at Learning Tech Day. I would have loved to travel to Belgium, but thankfully, someone who did attend posted about it. (I keep reading that blogging is dead. I disagree. And the post I found and I am passing along is some evidence of blog usefulness.)

When I first heard about a Personal Learning Network, I thought "Well, most of us already have a PLN." What I was thinking of was the informal network of people and sites that we use to do our work. Keyword: informal. 

I discovered that PLNs were more formalized. The authors define a PLN as "a trusted network of current and former colleagues or other people that are valuable to you as a professional or in other areas of your life," and Rajagopal, Verjans, and Sloep (2012) refer to it as “the network of people a self-directed learner connects with for the specific purpose of supporting their learning”

I'm editing a dissertation about "Knowledge Broker Teachers" (KBTs). They are those teachers that other teachers go to for help because of their extensive knowledge. The subjects in the dissertation are technology KBTs, but in any type of knowledge work this tends to be more cross-disciplinary. A network that involves people with different skills working together is a good way to add novelty to problem solving.

Not all PLNs are professional. People naturally create them around common interests or practices, to exchange ideas, and give or receive support to others. Blunden is interested in the professional variety. 

PLN plan

Her workshop explored "elements of your personal profile; build trust online; building reputation and credibility; curating learning and experiences; reflecting and sharing your work and projects; working out loud, and then also learning how to use social tools and media for the purposes of building trust, sharing your expertise and building a personal learning community."

Back in 2007, I was noticing that people were talking about Facebook as a PLE (Personal Learning Environment) which was another term that emerged for me about the same time as PLN. Facebook did not become a true Personal Learning Environment though people seemed to think that after MySpace it might be such a thing. 

I was reading in the "Jargon Watch" section of Wired magazine and came across the term "Social Operating System" (SOS) which they defined as "a social network site like Facebook or MySpace that seamlessly integrates activities, including entertainment and shopping, to become a platform for online living."

You can put the PLE and the PLN (and the SOS) under the heading Personalized Learning

In 2013, I was changing jobs and started get more serious about trying to build a more formal network and wrote about creating your own PLN. I did that, but within a larger professional organization. Now, that PLN has formally disbanded because the larger organization decided to no longer support it after a reorganization.

I still maintain many of the personal connections I made in that PLN, but it is again informal. How has the network changed for me? It is weaker. We meet - online and in person - a lot less than we used to connect. Formal is better.