The social platform for learning is changing

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‘Karen McCoy’ from the International Baccalaureate Organization (IB Global Centre) interviewed me a few days ago, here its transcription.

Question 1: Could you tell us a little more about your key ideas?

Lately, I’ve been focusing on three key ideas in education.

  • First of all, moving more into context rather than content. Proper context will stimulate different synapses and connections between people.
  • Secondly, I have really been inspired by the work done by George Siemens. The value of information is changing in a dramatic way and has a different flavour than when we tried to access knowledge 20 years ago. This network of knowledge challenges the structure of learning.
  • Last but not least, the idea of entrepreneurial driven initiatives within schools. This can be socially driven and creates new business.

Question 2: Who have been the key educational thinkers who have influenced your own thinking on teaching and learning?

  • John Seely Brown is a senior promoter of innovation.  He originally comes from the industry world, but switched to new forms of learning. His work brings up challenges in thinking about knowledge.
  • Larry Cuban is a researcher and academic from the Stanford University. His contributions are on the incorporation of technology in classroom. He gives a thought provoking critical voice to the matter.
  • Neil Selwyn has a comprehensive approach on how knowledge has been brought into the classroom and addresses failures that have been replicated systematically.
  • George Siemens and his ideas on connectivism. I was a little suspicious of connectivism, I think it’s challenging, but it has lots to do with the amount of information that kids have to deal with these days.
  • Ivan Illich gives harsh criticism to school, but is a thought provoking read on highlighting  the combination of formal and informal education.

Question 3: If you could recommend one book for our Diploma Programme teachers to read, what would it be and why?

I would recommend the book Knowmad Society. ( Moravec . J. 2013. Knowmad Society. Education Futures LLC) It focuses on one of the key ideas I mentioned in the previous question – integrating entrepreneurship initiatives in formal education. It focuses on the idea of knowledge workers by Peter Drucker and talks about permanent flowing not only in terms of territory but flowing in terms of knowledge and highlighting the relevance of resilience and adaptability in students. It is linked to “Flat World” knowledge by Friedman.

Question 4: What do you think is the biggest difference between education today and education 30 years ago?

My criticism would be that we are increasingly more obsessed with assessment. Every time we want to explore potential innovation in the classroom, the concern that we will fail in national and institutional assessment comes up. Innovation suffers because of concern we may fail.

Positively, we are beginning to open the door from formal venues of learning into informal learning venues and the hybrid approach to learning. By hybrid I mean formal and informal, individual and collective, and online and offline.

Question 5: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing teachers today? What do you think is the biggest challenge facing students today?

Teachers are knowledge workers or “knowmads”. Knowledge is becoming a commodity, and if you have the proper switch activated then you will always find valuable knowledge to be learned from.

The challenge is how to deal with information that is always changing. Knowledge is liquid – it is always going to be moulded or reshaped. For example, we use books but updating them is not the fastest way to update our learners. The analysis of how difficult it is to update contents in comparison of how knowledge flows means finding other currencies and recognizing teachers that are doing good stuff in assessing.

As for students, the world is complex and no one understands well where we are going. We tend to talk about the future because we don’t know what is going on in the present. This puts a lot of pressure on our students, because we have no idea which direction they need to go. They need to decide early on different strategies and mechanisms beyond formal education. They need to know that what they get from school is not going to be enough – that grades will not be enough. Students have to be their own engineers of their own learning path, to dedicate as much time as possible in laboratories of innovation out of school and within school, to embrace social entrepreneurship initiatives, and to promote ideas of lifelong learning.

Look at the “geek” community and the way they collaborate on the internet. Their collaboration is based on “digital badges” (flexible competence-based systems),  as a way to recognize the achievements of others within the community. There is an increasing agreement that the social platform for learning is changing.

Delivering higher education in the digital age

 

See also the great report from By Simon Knight.

The workshop for the Oxford Internet Institute, “What does it mean to be an ‘expert’ in the web age”, took place on Wednesday 28th May at Oxford University’s Research Centre in the Humanities. Here the members of the panel:
- Doug Belshaw @dajbelshaw from The Mozilla Foundation.
- Hannah Gore @HRGore from the OpenLearn at the Open University.
Ken Skates @KenSkatesAM from The Welsh Government, Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology.
- David White @daveowhite from The University of Oxford,

The workshop comes against the backdrop of new ways of engaging with higher education, including Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

The panel discussion reviewed and discussed these new emerging learning opportunities, exploring how the Web influences our understanding of what it means to be an ‘expert’, and the manner in which universities and disciplines should respond to the opportunities offered by the Web.

Particular attention was given to understanding how traditional and novel forms of education, as well as non-traditional forms of certification, presented a more complex future for higher education.

Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology from Welsh Government, Ken Skates presented on the findings of the Online Digital Learning Working Group which published its report for the Welsh Government in March.

The Group was set up to advise the Welsh Government on the potential opportunities offered by new technologies for the Welsh HE sector; the extent the sector is working together to maximise these opportunities; and to what extent technological developments would increase participation in part-time and full-time education.

The Group made a number of recommendations, namely using open and online resources as a way of improving skills of learners and practitioners and to encourage Welsh higher institutions to use MOOCs as a means of widening participation and promoting excellence within the sector.

The Deputy Minister said, “I would like to thank the Oxford Internet Institute for inviting me to take part on this Expert Panel and I look forward to hearing the views of the other panel members. I’m sure that there is much that we can learn from each other.” [Press Release Excerpt]

Event: #Unplugging > Beyond Hyper-Connected Societies



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Workshop on 20 June 2014 at the University of Oxford, led by Dr. Igor Calzada (Research Associate Future Cities, COMPAS & InSIS - University of Oxford) and Dr. Cristobal Cobo (Research Fellow Oxford Internet Institute- University of Oxford). 

Technology is never neutral, it has the potential and capacity to be used socially and politically for quite different purposes, argued Raymond Williams in 1983. Indeed, recently we both watched #HER, the newest movie by the filmmaker Spike Jonze, and we realised that this hyper-connected future is already not either as neutral or as far away from our current human interactions. Are we already living at present in such hyper-connected societies and cities as Jonze describes in his film? It sounds surprisingly contradictory how a film that makes you feel anxious about the self-deterministic way technology is dominating our lives can at the same time tele-transport us to the future of the technologies and their impact on our human emotions. Moreover, we could argue that is not that unrealistic a science-fiction storytelling. Could you imagine yourself falling in love just with a voice even if it belongs to an artificial operative system?

The real truth seems to be that the impact in our lives is occurring without us being aware of it. Shall Mr Jonze provoke a reflection on the consequences of the quick, risky (Beck, 2013) and liquid (Bauman, 2013) real-time cities (Kitchin, 2013)? This notion brings us to the so-called debate on the suitability of the Smart Cities (Greenfield, 2013) and their applicability. Are we altering our social relationship because of the new technologies? Moreover, one of us did even not know about the existence of Siri, the real device embodying what #HER represents in the fiction movie. Moreover, that could actually be perfectly believable! Another example of the trend on the techno-determinism consequences is the bookThe Circle by Dave Eggers who reflects on questions about privacy, democracy, and human fragility in the technological broad realm. What happens to us if we “must” be online all the time? To live entirely in the public realm can be a form of solitary confinement. Is there any added value in the possibility of remaining voluntarily #unplugging?

Thus, being conscious about this novel trend and subtle notion for the 21st century societal challenges and their research in societies and cities, we have both organized a workshop the next 20th June in Oxford supported by The Oxford Research Centre of the Humanities (TORCH). This event aims to gather scholars from different disciplines to debate open and critically about #Unplugging. The idea is to better understand the social and cultural implications of hyper-connected societies and the possible research agendas associated.

Even though we note some dark side effects of the technology (Ippolita, 2008). Our purpose is to draw on a critical social innovation pathway as a transition towards alternative digital humanities practices for our daily life. Nevertheless, there are plenty of pending questions about this subtle notion, that we have clustered as #Unplugging.

For instance: Will unplugging be a right or a privilege of a few? Will being constantly plugged improve our wellbeing and happiness as a society? In addition to the digital divide’s effect on the information society structure, is hyper-connectivity stressing another extra social divides between a few privileged unplugged people and a large plugged crowd (online almost 24/7)? Are we heading towards an individualistic society? Or simply, does it seem that this is the natural way the world will be ruled in micro-communities (in bubbles) in the future? Who designs the technology that we consume? Will devices serve citizens more than the citizens serve the devices? Therefore, are there real alternatives to the technocratic business-led dominant top-down governance model in the Smart Cities? Or, in contrast, is this still wishful progressive thinking?

Is the idea of big data, an empty buzzword? Is it possible to combine an open access civilian deliberative system within a confidential and espionage-obsessed paradigm? Will we see changes in which context-collapsed information will be contextualized to enhance social interactions? Will technological devices be designed based on peoples needs more than on corporate or infrastructure interests? Will the socio-political establishment suffer any shift towards free and community-driven processes? Or by contrast, is the myth of digital democracy (Hindman, 2009) the one debunking popular notions about political discourses in the digital age? Has the Internet neither diminished the audience share of corporate media nor given greater voice to ordinary citizens? Finally, can we anticipate any relevant change in the Smart City practices as a consequence of changes among stakeholder interactions in the definition of a new political economic balance?

To sum up, what are the societal challenges in the current hyper-connected societies? How to explore new policy strategies as well as new research agenda by focusing on the implications of hyper-connectivity? If you are interested in discussing these issues come along and join us in the #Unplugging workshop.

For more information on how to register, please visit the #Unplugging website or view SIE’s event calendar.

HER

[cross-post from here: webgate.ec.europa.eu/socialinnovationeurope]

 

 

What does it mean to be an ‘expert’ in the Web era?

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We are delighted to extend an invitation to our next workshop which will bring together interested parties from Oxford and other organisations to critically analyse the tensions between traditional and new-modes of delivering university level education .
When: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 11:00am to 4:00pm
Where: Radcliffe Humanities, Seminar Room (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities).

Framework:

In recent years many new ways of engaging with higher education online have been developed.  Some of these educational initiatives known as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), led by major universities such as Stanford, Harvard or MIT are generating a great deal of interest for a large volume of learners online (millions of users in some cases). Interestingly, MOOCs and other Open Educational Practices (OEP) are also becoming a good test bed for universities to experiment new pedagogical models; as well as new forms of assessing and certificating the knowledge and skills acquired by learners.

This phenomenon has already brought to the fore a number of questions around the role and purpose of traditional institutions in the context of the global adoption of ‘virtual’ and open forms of teaching. This in turn is creating a tension between the values of traditional forms of institutionally based knowledge and new forms of online learning.

Aim:

The event will offer the opportunity to analyze and better understand with different stakeholders, relevant dimensions of the future of higher education as a platform that can foster innovative educational practices and knowledge transfer.

The understanding of the future of higher education is increasingly tied to the Web via novel forms of knowledge generation and exchange. Particular attention will be given to understanding how traditional and novel forms of education, as well as non-traditional forms of certification, are generating a much more complex and diversified higher education horizon.

Methodology:

During this workshop, experts in higher education and technology will be engaging with different stakeholders such as social scientists, economists, policy experts, and other individuals to discuss to what extent the latest open educational practices are influencing new socio-economic realities.

A panel discussion will review and critique emerging learning opportunities and the value of new forms of knowledge creation, exploring how the Web influences our understanding of what it means to be an ‘expert’ and the manner in which universities and disciplines should respond to the new currency of the Web.

Thematic panels will be arranged to discuss: formal and informal continuous learning experiences; new forms of academic visibility; new means of knowledge recognition/certification; and open access and open educational practices.

Please click here for the programme

Booking:

Participation is free, but space is limited and registration is required. Please click here to register.

Convenors:

David White, researcher at Department for Continuing Education – University of Oxford

Cristobal Cobo, research fellow Oxford Internet Institute – University of Oxford

 

Education, complexity and Internet


Above an excerpt of the presentation given during my last talk at the Universidad Europea, in Spain. The text is cross posted from the institutional website - and here.

Universidad Europea has launched the second edition of the discussion cycle Education. Educate to Transform with a lecture given by Cristóbal Cobo, a researcher at the University of Oxford, on the opportunities technology offers education.

During the session, Cristóbal Cobo set out his vision of how technology has revolutionized society to the extent it has exerted an increasingly greater impact on the field of education: “The value of knowledge and the way in which we learn has been redefined. If we made a tower out of all the reference books there are in the world, the tower would stretch from here to Pluto 20 times over”. The challenge, as such, is no longer having access to information but lies in the possibility of having sufficient time to handle it.

There are those that insist that the problem of education using new technologies is the same as those of the ice makers when the fridge was invented. However, we do not offer ice, but cold. We, as educators, teach how to learn“, continued Cobo.

To conclude, the researcher emphasized how new technologies enhance education: “I believe that we should not fight technology, because it brings together many interests, not only the educational. We have to introduce technologies into the classroom, at the same time as developing a methodological change in the way the professor is trained so that they use technologies without fear”. As a result, in this new educational context, the professor has to become “a driving force, putting forward challenges so that the student learns to learn using the tools they have to hand. In this highly complex ecosystem that is the Internet, a greater level of learning is achieved by the student and greater dedication and effort by the professor”.

Cristóbal Cobo is a researcher affiliated to the Oxford Internet Institute and collaborates on different projects undertaken by the European Commission. He is co-author, together with J. Moravec, of Invisible Learning: Towards a new ecology in education, among other works. His speech marked the start of the second edition of Education, a forum that this year will be attended by experts including the former Minister for Education, Ángel Gabilondo and Adrian Kearney, director of the International Baccalaureate Foundation for Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

[More information available in Spanish here]

digital badges: new currencies that can redesigning the economy of talent

The Higher Education Achievement Report Introduction from The Higher Education Academy on Vimeo.

Learning takes place in a variety of settings as an ongoing process of skills and knowledge development in changing contexts. With the growing popularity of technology-enhanced learning initiatives, Cristóbal Cobo makes the case for more flexible methods for skills and knowledge recognition. The challenge is to create more versatile ways of recognizing uncertified forms of learning – both for formal qualifications of informal learning as well as wider social recognition of uncertified knowledge. [Cross-post from LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog]

Drawing on comparative and historical analyses of education, sociologist Randall Collins argues, “The expansion of education can contribute, under certain conditions, to the aggregate economic well-being on the population” (2000, p.237). It’s hard to disagree with that statement, but as always – the devil is in the details and those details refer to ongoing, rapidly changing conditions.

Take for instance, the credentialization of knowledge. Between the 14th and 17th centuries universities faced extreme bureaucratization. Collins highlights how this circumstance created a “credential inflation”, which affected the trustworthiness of universities at the time:

There have been several episodes of expansion of universities [in Europe], with accompanying formalization of examinations sequences, interspersed with periods when the demand for education collapsed in favour of informal alternatives to schooling (…) Between 1300 and 1500 half of all university foundations were failure. The market for educational credentials was expanding explosively, but at the same time such credentials were flooding the market, raising risk of failure and losing its former prestige (…) By the Enlightenment period of the 1700s, in the eyes of self-conscious progressive intellectuals and educators all over Europe, the university system was a medieval anachronism best left to die on the vine (…)

(2000:229–232)

The so-called “inflation of educational credentials” also came after the rapid European expansion of higher education around 1970. The inflation of educational credentials differs from inflation of a monetary currency; printing more money is relatively cheap, but minting new degree-holding persons requires a huge apparatus of teachers, administrators, testers, buildings, etc. While monetary inflation reduces the value of currency, credential inflation reduces the value of the college degree. Because so many people have it and/or are getting it, the degree qua degree is giving up its scarcity, and thus its relative value. There is no sign whatsoever that runaway credential inflation is about to slow down any time soon. The next couple of decades are likely to demand an increasing credentialization expected to escalate still further (Collins, 2000 and Scanzoni, 2005). Trow (as early as 1974) with visionary clarity foresaw that higher education was going to face a process of expansion and massification. He described after World War II only the elite had access to education (0-15% of population), later a larger portion (16-50%), subsequently, with information technologies becoming a vehicle for universal access he predicted a “universal higher education” (with more than 50% of the population).

 

Though, as a large number of authors pointed out (NonakaPolanyiWengerBenettFreire, among others) learning does not only take place in formal settings. The claim for lifelong learning should not be understood as hanging around at University for ever but “learning to learn” as an ongoing process of skills and knowledge development in changing contexts. Colardyn and Bjornavold, (2004) explained that validation of non-formal and informal learning become a key aspect. Lifelong learning requires that learning outcomes from different settings and contexts can be linked together. “As long as learning, skills and competences acquired outside formal education and training remain invisible and poorly valued the ambition of lifelong learning cannot be achieved,” they added.

Nowadays, we are living times where (almost) everyone seems to be dazzled by  flashy style of technology-enhanced learning initiatives, such as CourseraUdacity or Edx (now with “local” players inGermany or Brazil) but also Khan AcademyTED-Ed and a growing number of lifelong learning initiatives (see the Edupunks’ Guide). Instead of an over-bureaucratization of these learning initiatives (some more promising than others), and as Colardyn and Bjornavold proposed, more flexible methods for skills and knowledge recognition are required (i.e. signature track, skills passports, competency based credentials, independent examiners, portfolios, open badges, etc.).

cristobal credential inflation

Image Source http://www.cedefop.europa.eu/EN/Files/3048_en.pdf

As the illustration shows the challenge is to create more versatile forms of recognizing (and making visible) uncertified forms of learning (informal or non-formal). It is understandable that this flexibility might not be applicable to all the activities and professions (I wouldn’t want to fly with a DIY pilot, for instance). However, there is still a lack of research exploring the extent to which these more flexible models of certification are acknowledged by employers. Interestingly, the recent report published by Department for Business, Innovation and Skills: The Maturing of the MOOC (pdf) suggest that concerning MOOCs, “In the UK environment, the accreditation issue is not as pressing” (p.79) but this lack of interest is not applicable in all contexts. There is much to explore in this area:

  • Formal qualification of informal learning: In 2013 Coursera started offering ‘signature track’ services to earn a verified certificate. In other words, a soft certification validated by identity verification (proof of ID and unique typing pattern) as well as sharable course records (with employers as previously done with Yahoo!, for instance). Now, Coursera has gone further widening the field providing “official” verifiable electronic certificate by offering more academically rigorouscredit-bearing versions (which include a fee). Here, the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service has evaluated and recommended and accredit some of the non-traditional courses offered by Coursera.
  • Social (peers-based) recognition of uncertified knowledge: A badge is a symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, skill, competency, or interest. The Mozilla Foundation has promoted the adoption of online Open Badges (likewise DIY.org) that can be used to represent online and offline achievements, communicate successes, and set goals. These Open Badges can support learning that happens beyond traditional classrooms (today particularly relevant for promoting Computer Science’s skills in UK schools). Badges can illustrate a wide set of achievements providing evidence that be shown in the “places” (or spaces) that matter. Similarly, LinkedIn invites users to endorse people’s skills.

The cases suggest different equivalencies and currencies: while US ACE CREDIT College Credit is providing formal accreditation, the Open Badges initiative is promoting a greater social awareness and recognition of skills.

However, the bottom line is that conditions have changed (i.e. progressive mobility worldwide, as well as the increasing need for recognition of migrants’ qualifications). While some authors warn about the risky “inflation of educational credentials” others go even further claiming that “The university has already lost any claim to monopoly over the provision of higher education” (Duke, 1999). The initiatives described here are still in an embryonic stage but at the same time are promising in terms of new possibilities for more flexible tools and, as @daveowhite suggests, they provide new currencies that can redesigning the economy of talent (find more in UNESCO UIL or the EU ESCO).

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our Comments Policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

About the Author

Cristóbal Cobo (@cristobalcobo) is a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford. He coordinates research on open knowledge initiatives, emergent learning practices andalmetricsCristóbal is an active promoter of open access. Further information: blogspresentations,talks.

 

Can Coursera or Mozilla Foundation provide new methods of recognizing informal learning?

Despite the fact that the concept of ‘knowledge society’ is broadly adopted in our days, the management of knowledge, experiences, skills and capabilities is still something not necessarily easy to manage. Similarly the recognition of learning (assessment, accreditation, validation) can also become something extremely challenging, specially when the learning process occurs outside the structure of the formal education system (i.e. schools, higher education, e-learning, etc.).

Having said that international organizations such as: the EU (via Education and Training 2020), the OECD or UNESCO are constantly claiming for the need of new instruments and tools for a better recognition of non-formal and informal learning outcomes, as drivers of either mobility, migration or life long learning.

This presentation was given at the seminar: ‘New forms of provision in education’ in Barcelona (jointly organized by the University of Barcelona and the Autonomous University of Barcelona, GIPE), and it discusses to what extent initiatives such as the accreditation given by the the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) to some non-traditional courses offered in MOOC (Coursera) or the Open Badges (Mozilla Foundation) should be taken into account as alternatives mechanisms of knowledge recognition outside formal education.

* Delighted to see that the University of Washington and HASTAC will continue this discussion in the US.

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As the recently launched Oxis (2013) Internet is increasingly used as a platform for informal learning.

Digital Humanities and (a more) Open Science

state-of-dhDigital evolutions are increasingly affecting humanities research and education particularly since the final quarter of the twentieth century. Online resources, data sets, electronic teaching environments, open access publishing, data visualisation and data capturing have become ubiquitous.

In this context, the KU Leuven Faculty of Arts decided to organize a digital humanities summer school last week in Leuven (Belgium). The event was a great opportunity to learn more of all the transformations (and the lack of it, in some cases) that are currently taking place in the academic world.

The buzzword  was ‘open’ (i.e. o-science, o-education, o-learning, o-resources, etc.), as Erik Duval suggested there is also room for other areas of openness such as ‘open accreditation’, something that we would like to see more ubiquitous.

Here you will find my presentation also discussing about openness in academia (the video of the lecture might be published soon-ish). The subject of my presentation was Open Publication and Authority 3.0 (enlighten by Michael Jensen works).

Summary: Digital Identity is the virtual reflection of how data referring to a person are created, managed, verified and used by themselves and/or others (individuals, businesses or government) in life and death (EPSRC, 2013). Despite having such a ‘digital identity,’ academics and their research outcomes and impacts are more usually assessed using bibliometric techniques (H-index, data citation, journal impacts, etc.).

A number of initiatives have highlighted the importance of recognizing different and equally effective means of assessing academic outcomes (i.e. ACUMEN, WISER, EICSTES). For instance, the EU research framework ‘Horizon 2020’ and the 1st EU Digital Humanities Manifesto (2011), are clear examples, the latter stating: “The diversity of digital media and publication genres need to be accepted as genuine means of scientific communication”, including “ repositories, publication platforms, social media networks and blogging”, where “Peer-reviewed texts in print journals can no longer be the only publications to be considered in application and proposal procedures”. Terras (2012) adds that academics need to work on their digital presence to aid the dissemination of their research, to both their subject peers and the wider community.

Assessment of the performance of individual researchers is the cornerstone of the scientific and scholarly workforce. It shapes the quality and relevance of knowledge production in science. However, there is a discrepancy between the criteria used in performance assessment and the broader social function of scholarly research (Wouters, 2010). Peer review and citation counting measures are useful but not sufficient anymore (Priem et al, 2010). It is therefore necessary to design a comprehensive set of “citation data” that simplifies and stimulates the recognition of academic contributions in the digital world (i.e. measuring social engagement, web base indicators, digital outreach).

 

Many thanks to Dr. Fred Truyen (Research Unit Cultural Studies, KU Leuven) for organizing this summer school as well as for inviting me there.

(*)The image posted at the top of this blog was borrowed from Northeastern University.

Webinar: Skills & Competencies for Knowmadic Workers

Life in the 21st Century has become international, multicultural, and inter-connected, requiring new skills for educators to succeed. What are the so-called “21st Century skills,” and which key conditions are needed for the development of these skills within and outside of formal educational settings? Learn what it means to learn in a “knowmadic” society [eBook], and explore the shift from what we learn to how we learn in this free, online webinar.

cobo-webinar

 

Event co-sponsorsEducation Futures LLCMinnesota Association of School AdministratorsTIES education technology collaborative, and Whitewater Learning

Twitter hashtag for discussion#knowmad


[Source: Cross post from Education Futures]

Can MOOCs offer new patterns of knowledge accreditation?

To what extent Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) could diversify the existing mechanisms of skills recognition and knowledge transfer? Lack of evidence in this field make challenging to distinguish between speculation and reality. However, there are promising potentials in tools such as the “Verified Certificates” to become a new academic accreditation and therefore an instrument to ‘bridge’ between educational institutions, companies and governments. This presentation aims to retrieve and compile useful sources to better understand the potential of MOOCs in order to enhance employability in emerging and developed economies around the world.

MOOCs are a relatively recent online learning phenomenon. During the last months they have generated considerable media attention and interest from Higher Education Institutions (HEI) and venture capitalists, who see a business opportunity to be exploited. The expansion of MOOCs has opened up discussions about their transformative potential to HEIs by opening up the possibility of online learning and Open Educational Practices (OEPs) as strategic choices for the future (Yuan & Powell, 2013). One of the business adopted suggests that everyone who registers for a course is not charged but those who seek credentials certifying that they have mastered the content are charged a “small fee” for such certification (Bowen, 2012).

Pros Cons: Some accounts of MOOCs are positive: they provide novel educational formats (Haywood, 2012); they open up learning to more people (Mackness et al., 2010), improving quality, reducing cost and speeding up certification (Shirky, 2012).  However, MOOCs also attract criticism. A recent survey of UK university vice chancellors indicates that only 8% think it is highly likely that MOOCs will lead to reduced fees for “HE services” (Morgan, 2013). While some academic institutions, such as the Open University in the UK, see MOOCs as a prioritization of quantity over quality (Bean, 2013), others note the extremely high level of dropout (Zellner, 2013; Parr, 2013). MOOCs have also been criticised for adopting a knowledge transmission model that lacks any innovation (Cuban, 2013). Among others, there are two problematic elements in this debate. It has been stated that MOOCs play a key role in providing opportunities for engaging in lifelong learning outside of the confines of an institution (Kizilcec, Piech, Schneider, 2013). In that sense, MOOCs are praised for being a transformative force for the existing education market, providing more flexible methods for skills and knowledge recognition (i.e. signature track, competency based credentials, independent commercial examiners, open badges, etc.). There is still a lack of research exploring the extent to which these more flexible models of certification are acknowledged by employers (Gorissen, 2013). The second challenge is to develop an empirical study focused on the understanding of MOOCs in non-English-speaking communities. Since “language differences, cultural barriers, local relevance of materials, access concerns, and the availability of adequate technical resources (infrastructure)” (Klemke et al. 2010) can hinder a broader adoption of these kind of open education initiatives, it is important to conduct research in this area in order to establish how some of these barriers may be overcome (Hatakka, 2009; Rossini, 2010; Klemke, Kalz, Specht, & Ternier, 2010).

Emerging economies: Most of the literature that discusses the applicability of MOOCs in ‘developing regions’ primarily addresses problems associated with connectivity and broadband, however there is evidence to suggest that the problem might not only be technical, but that there are more complex issues including institutional, cultural, contextual and even pedagogical factors that make MOOCs not necessarily an ‘exportable’ solution.

In sum, a number of key questions need to be addressed:

  • To what extent are MOOCs perceived as a beneficial innovation?
  • Should one-size-fits-all vendor-designed massive courses become the norm?
  • What are the barriers when foreign educational models are adopted in different cultural settings?
  • To what extent a “local” customization of these courses and certificates should be developed?
  • What benefits/challenges are observed by the education and employment sectors?
  • How are non-traditional forms of knowledge transfer valorized from the employer’s perspective?
  • Can the ‘soft certification’ contribute to meet the local demands of employability?
  • What recommendations should be adopted in order to consolidate MOOCs?

 

* This text is an excerpt of a larger document written by Dr. Edgar Gómez Cruz and the author of this blog.