In October 2013 I engaged in a discussion with fellow online learning scholars in the Association of Learning Technology Mail-list (UK). We discussed various issues related to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and their perceived and actual value for enhancing learning in Universities. Perhaps the most well thought out contribution was made by Professor Diana Laurillard from the Institute of Education, University of London. She wrote:
- Formal education is not a mass delivery consumer industry but a client industry – we do not deliver knowledge to students, we try to nurture each individual’s intellectual knowledge and skills to their highest potential level.
- Formal education is not an emergent property of group discussion but a contract with a student to take them to a criterion or normative level of capability, which it is objectively agreed and therefore not up to them to define.
- A university degree requires personal guidance, feedback and accreditation in terms of this agreed standard – and this is labour intensive and therefore expensive.
- Higher education for some proportion of the population should not be free because it would have to be funded out of taxation, and yet it confers a financial advantage on the beneficiary, which lower-paid unqualified taxpayers should not be required to fund (so a graduate tax would be a better way to fund HE).
- Experimentation with online pedagogies of the kind found in MOOCs has been available to us for over a decade. We should not have needed the MOOC phenomenon to start experimenting with technology-based pedagogies for the benefit of our existing students.
- MOOC pedagogies fit the ‘professional development’ pedagogic format of ‘presentation + peer discussion’, with no expectation of feedback, assessment or accreditation, as in the cMOOC, with an optional certificate of ‘attendance’.
Universities could offer a more or less cost-free spin-off from campus-based pedagogical innovations using learning technologies. But offering a ‘course’ creates expectations, and academics are clearly responding to those expectations from a very demanding group of ‘students’.
So I think our most interesting challenge is to work out the new forms of pedagogy that support valuable learning experiences by using technology to provide much higher gearing ratios for academic teaching labour.
And these new and better pedagogies should begin with our campus students – they are the ones paying for the academic time that creates all these free-at-the-point-of-use courses for rich professionals. They are the ones who deserve better pedagogies along with the labour-intensive guidance, feedback and accreditation. Universities may then use these outputs to create spin-off cMOOCs. Wouldn’t that be a fairer way forward?
Panos Vlachopoulos is a Senior Lecturer in Higher Education Development in the Learning and Teaching Centre at Macquarie University. His research interest include online learning design, student-driven learning and reflective practice.