Success & Failure of MOOCs – Learning from a recent course from CourseEra

A recent course on “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application” at Coursera was taken off in a weeks’ time from its launch, apparently because of some implementation problems. It was disappointing especially because the course itself was on planning & application of online education.

In one of my earlier posts I have highlighted the success factors for designing a robust learning environment. Lets look at this case closely and make an attempt to analyse the success and failure of such programs.

I think the most important aspect of success of such programs is designing the pedagogy to create an engaging model for self paced learning. Such engagements can be created in many ways, first, content and the delivery style, which has been very aptly demonstrated by Khan Academy among others.

Second the engagements should be made seamless by appropriate use of technology, like the user experience, design, group engagements etc. Discussions among participation forms a key part of the learning process and the first problem users faced was “How to join a group”, which highlights a flaw in user experience.

Third the pedagogical model or steps in the learning process, I felt the model should have been more challenging. Sharing video lectures and having a quiz after you watch all the videos is suddenly becoming an old school thought. Appropriate pedagogy model like the ones used by Venture Program was much more engaging, like learning videos supplemented by activity based  learning (with a combination of individual and group activities) for all the weeks, pointers to resources outside the learning environment and using practical examples.

Lastly, simple things like highlighting course progress in a simple graphical way, easy to understand clear instructions for assignments and pre-defined deadlines will go a long way in improving the quality.

Personal disappointment for me: I met wonderful people from around the globe and started engaging with them on serious discussions about Online Education. Some of them have been educators for over 15 years and was eagerly looking forward to learn from there experience, however the abrupt end of this course didn’t allow many of us to move our conversations to other mediums like mail, social media.

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Importance of Technology, content, pedagogy and values in a Learning Environment

Use of Learning Technologies in Education

I recently stumbled upon this educational initiative by Stanford University and found this fascinating course “Designing a New Learning Environment” by Prof. Paul Kim.

Prof. Paul advocates the use of contextualized content and technology to suit the needs of learners, he rejects the idea that localization of content (i.e. simply converting content into local language) would be useful. Examples used in a course in India, may or may not be relevant in US or Africa, and a need for contextualization arises in such cases.

He further claims that the success of any Educational Initiative depends on four important factors,

  1. Technology
  2. Content
  3. Pedagogical Model
  4. Values

Technology forms the base of the pyramid, appropriate use of technology is of utmost importance. It acts as an Enabling Agent and helps create new possibilities for ex: with the surge in use of mobile devices, mobile technology could play an important part in educating kids, who otherwise could not be reached through traditional education models. However Technology alone cannot serve the purpose. One cannot just install projectors, and provide state of art computer laboratories to schools in areas with no electricity, a numerous such initiatives have failed to serve the purpose.

Content: Next comes the content, the underlying technology should support rendering of the opted format of content. Content could vary from a SMS based content to Video / Audio animation,  technology requirement would vary accordingly. Foremost is applicability and contextualization of content as already mentioned earlier.

Pedagogical Model: Most of the education programs fail because of lack of structure, somehow it’s just assumed that teachers at the ground level will figure out how to use the technology to enhance learning. Educators must ensure that they define the use of content and technology in a particular pedagogical model, which could vary as per the needs of learners. Dumping of content on the  technology, usually platform doesn’t work very well for any organized learning environment. As Prof Paul says “Clear Meaningful Feasible Pedagogical Model must be in Place”

Value: While designing a learning program, all the stake holders in the learning ecosystem must be identified and one must find out their interests and value perception. Some stake holder in any learning ecosystem are students, teachers, parents, administrators etc. and how they perceive the learning initiatives, what motivates them. And this becomes the most important component in a learning environment.

To design a robust learning environment one most consider the use of relevant technology, keep the content appropriate and updated, change the pedagogical model to suit the requirement at that time and more importantly to suit the value perception. Each of these factors have to evolve with time.

Learning in the Clouds – Benefits of SaaS learning platforms

Off-late we have seen a shift in the way learning is looked at, and it is no longer viewed as a series of training programs. The approach has been changing to a learner centric process and cloud based learning technologies are enabling this paradigm shift.

Cloud based Learning Platform enhances teaching and learning in today’s world. It enables educators to manage a wide variety of digital resources to develop pedagogical models of the 21st century – Blended learning, Personalized Self paced learning, Flip Classrooms to name a few.

Benefits for SaaS based learning platform are,

Accessibility: It allows greater level of accessibility and up-time of learning environment via internet at all times enabling the trainees to choose the time of learning.

Scalability: Organizations don’t need to plan for the server space. While conducting online training programs, the hardware requirement could vary based on the usage. If additional infrastructure is required the cloud architecture provisions that at run time on need basis, optimizing resource utilization. With cloud based learning platforms, one won’t have to worry scalability as the SaaS provider will handle these things for you and will increase / decrease ones resource requirements and users end up paying for what they use.

Security: Data security is one of the most important aspects and Cloud based platform providers could offer improved improbability, centralized data storage and monitoring of data access.

Backup & Disaster Recovery: The provider ensures that your LMS data is backed up and can be restored immediately to ensure business continuity.

Enhancements: For the provider, the SaaS based product offering is her core business so she will ensure to offer of the best and latest product feature enhancements at zero or a very little OpEx driven cost while you focus on your core business.

Flipped Classrooms – Moving away from traditional learning environments

Let’s use video to reinvent education – Salman Khan, Khan AcadFlipped Classroomemy

We have grown up in environments where a teacher delivered lecture in the class and gave homework, without knowing whether the kids have understood enough to take up the difficult home assignments.

Problem with such environments is that they don’t consider the learning capabilities of each student. However, each student has different learning abilities and the pace at which a student learns is different than others in the class. So, to create level learning fields educators around the globe has been experimenting with “Flipped Classrooms“.

Flipped classrooms is the use of technology to leverage learning in classroom in a way, that instead of lecturing, a teacher spends more time interacting with students and helping them with their queries. This method of teaching was first used in 2007 and has been very popular with educators in the US, backed by substantial research proving it’s benefits.

There are various flavors of flipped classrooms, however the most common being use of recorded video lectures. Theory is delivered as part of video lecture, which the student is supposed to watch before he comes to the class. During the class, teacher ensures that the concepts shared in the video lecture are well understood and facilitates further discussions on problems (which otherwise would have been a homework activity).

The role of the teacher in a flipped classroom changes from a lecturer to a guide by the side of every student. Students on the other hand love to attend and participate in such classrooms rather than the ones with boring and monotonous lectures.

With traditional methods (one size fits all) of education delivering poor results, a widespread use of such methods is called for in all forms of education.