*(This is not a normal post. It is long and is a personal collection of the baseline issues)
There were many reasons to join the Current/Future State of Higher Education MOOC. While I have been following the development of the ‘MOOC’ (as cMOOC) from its origin in connectivist learning theory, for a host of reasons I had not joined one until now. With much of what is happening, this is now central in my daily work concerning transformation across education sectors.
If one has an involvement in educational technology at all, it is almost impossible not to be confronted by the debates raging as to whether MOOCs are a fad or if they will fundamentally change education. The fact that there is debate about that topic probably means the answer is already “yes” and it’s purely a matter of scale. While some investors have big bets on the survival of xMOOC-based businesses that will not make their revenues directly from learning, one would have to say that the jury is going to be ‘out’ for some time on xMOOC’s in general.
In the context of the journey of this course, I thought I would collect some thoughts to act as some form of personal reference point for the ways in which my own thoughts, opinions and knowledge will change between now and whenever ‘then’ might be. So, here are some basic inputs, some of which are evident in various ways in the readings for the first week and others that will no doubt come later.
1. The role of technology in transformation
There is so much being said about the technology piece related to MOOCs that I thought it useful to reground myself in this. For the most part, technology itself does not transform anything. It is probably best regarded as neutral and a catalyst. Genuine transformation is stems from what we actually do with the technology. We know that can be either positive or negative depending on your stakeholder view and whether it actually changes ‘your behaviour’ in enough people to make a difference. There will be more about technology later so for now, it is suffice to say that changes in the methodology of learning change learning, it is not changed by the technology itself. This is not to undervalue the enormous capabilities afforded by Information and Communication Technologies but just to recognise their role more correctly.
2. Pressures to transform
In all the arguments people make about whether some new technology will change education, the one argument I cannot recall hearing is that education is in a perfect state and it should be preserved. The current arguments emanate from a variety of stakeholder views from which the incumbents may be comfortable with more or less change, or from different types of change, but there seems to be an overwhelming case for change. Given that, I am also reminded of the words by Dolence and Norris (1995) that encourage us to understand the difference between change and transformation. The pressures to transform are already well documented but in short can be listed as: (a) an inability to scale education to meet global demand; (b) education is too expensive; c) emerging models for accreditation will displace current models; (d) dissatisfaction with the majority of current institutions has increased sufficiently for alternatives to be both viable and attractive; (e) the proportion of non-consumers ready to engage with [inferior?] alternatives is sufficiently high to propose a disruptive threat of economic significance.
3. Learners are the key to change
While a lot of warm and fuzzy statements are made about student-centricity and the importance of students in the mix of education, I am not convinced that the actions play out in accordance with the “intentions”. The trends I am noticing most right now place a different perspective on the way I see learners (they are only students when they are engaged in an education sector, and students is a subset of learners) selecting where and how they will learn. I also see these perspectives first hand in myself, as well as through behaviours that are more broadly expressed. It is not what one would call hard-core, empirical evidence, but then, I have not found that anyone has researched this to any great extent. Some of things that are quite noticeable are:
a) learners rejecting the concept of paying for content (viz. the growing preference and proliferation for OER rather than commercial content, and MOOCs themselves as a logical extension of that)
b) learners (and students) are increasingly less inclined to pay for seat-time because it does not inherently provide value, but would rather pay for the ‘tradable token’ (refer to Seely Brown, Duguid, et al) that has value in the marketplace (this needs to be balanced by the elite university case for “the experience”, which has validity)
c) learners needs and behaviours are significantly impacted by their geographic location so we should not consider them globally as “the same”
d) if learners, students and the job-market begin to find acceptable alternatives to university accreditation, then the current position and role of universities will change
4. The problem with isolating problems
One of the most significant difficulties in interpreting the current state and/or “predicting” the future of higher education is that we tend to isolate problems and deal with them individually rather than taking a more holistic or ecosystem-based view. Many of the arguments are concerned with the potential of MOOCs to replace our current [higher] education sector. On this basis it is relatively easy to create sufficient doubt that the status quo is under threat at all and that everything will just go back to normal when the fad dies down. If one considers the current pressures in total rather than individually, however, both the status quo and the projected future may be be seen to fit more comfortably within a spectrum that varies from modest to extreme change, all of which are to some extent plausible. So if we add collect the “pressures to transform” together, along with others identified along the way, then we will more realistically determine not only the current state but also have a clearer picture on what things are likely to trend and what those trends will be.
5. Not much is new, but the distribution is beginning to even out
This is a reference, of course, to Gibson’s now famous, “the future is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed”. (I continually appreciate the insight Gibson shared so well with all of us.) So… free content is not new and free courses are not new (viz. OER initiatives in their different flavours including OCW; wiki-types; OpenLearn; etc). Alternative accreditation, certification and badges are not new (vendor certifications; professional certifications; etc). The external source of accreditation authority is not new (professional associations actually determine the validity of a certification not higher education itself; Nursing boards; other medical “college” certifications; engineers; accounting etc). Private providers of education taking business from all eduction sectors is not new (private tutoring; for-profit universities; registered training organisations; etc). Importantly, the flow is not all in one direction either, because universities providing corporate education programs as part of wider degree programs is also not new.
Many other elements we are considering are not actually new, but what is new is the alignment and the “evening out” or distribution of some of the things that have been done in the past. One could argue that maybe this is the secret to the future of universities and the long awaited alignment of certification and qualification (university degrees) may actually become a reality as a form of universities striving to make themselves more relevant to the future. In that model, what would be the difference between a collection of badges and a degree? How should universities recognise and extend on badges rather than fight against them? Most importantly, how will universities develop sustainability as the present versions of the future become more evenly distributed?
6. Indicators of transformation (not change or innovation)
There is a difference between change, innovation and actual transformation. They are interrelated but not the same. The question is, how will you know if something is actually transformative rather than innovative or just changing? As for the interrelationship, transformation requires incremental change because you can’t do it overnight, but unless you have a vision of what the transformation will be, change may take you in no particular direction or even tear away at the strategic objectives of transformation. Still, the question remains, how do we know it when we see it?
Having been interested in educational transformation for some time, I developed my own set of indicators. It will be very interesting if these stay the same by the time we get to the end of the discussions in this MOOC. In my current thinking, the indicators of transformational objectives are:
a) Does the “business model” of education change?
We currently operate on a “seat-time” model (funding in most educational systems and sectors is aligned to students in seats per unit time). Most corporate training operates on that model as well, so education sector is not alone in that one! Breaking this out-dated approach is the most essential step in achieving transformation because it opens the potential for recognition and accreditation to align to different principles. We can stop forcing students to “learn” what they already know. We can effectively recognise informal and prior learning because we release the dependence on the financial imperative of seat time. Through this, the shift to assessment and accreditation will take dominance over staged sages, and a vast scope of alternative learning opportunities will come more clearly into focus (like MOOCs and OERs and just the learning we do every day).
b) Does the system for measuring attainment change?
If the role of assessment and accreditation is going to somehow take precedence over content dissemination in classrooms (physical or virtual), which is a natural consequence of open courses and open education, then how do the current education sectors deal with that as a form of recognition of prior learning (RPL), include recognition of informal learning (RIL) and provide the required credibility in the metrics for assessment and accreditation? In my thinking so far the only viable metric becomes a focus on some sort of capability (competency) framework. It does not matter if one calls it competence, capability, or ties a closer relationship to outcomes or whatever term is acceptable to a particular sector, the principle is the same. You have to somehow measure that an applicant for your accreditation of badge or degree, has achieved the criteria your organisation has specified, and can actually *do* what is required. This again changes many things in our current models. If I publish the criteria for granting my award to the standard applicable to my organisation and you pay me a fee for that assessment, do I care where or how you learned? This approach, again, is not new. I can remember having these discussions in the late nineties with people like James J O’Donnell (at Penn in those days), Jerry Maddox from Penn State (two of the first people ever to do web-based courses), and Mike Zastrocky of Gartner Group. We agreed that this was somehow inevitable in the future, with the caveat that the elite universities globally would probably not accept that change and would still remain viable. Strangely, it is the elite universities who choose to educate the world but not give accreditation to learners that are not their own students that is actually forcing some of this change into the higher education sector. More on this issue is bound to come up during the MOOC.
c) Does the transformed state of the organisation engage in free learning
A logical extension of a) and b) above is the shift to free courses and free resources. The most likely model has already been alluded to by the xMOOCs where they may be able to give the courses away for free but may also consider fees for value-added services (amongst other things). Nonetheless, the model really only plays through well if the reliance on simple revenue from “taught courses” is broken. This does not mean that such things play no part in the transformed organisation, only that it is no longer the primary source of revenue (or funding, as the case may be).
d) Is there an emphasis on more creative learning activities and greater empowerment of the learner?
For many years the call to be “the guide on the side” rather than “the sage on the stage” has been made. While our current institutional models do not prevent this from occurring they certainly do not encourage it. In the new context, however, where the local “teacher” is somewhat overshadowed by students’ opportunities to learn with the best minds in the world or the resources upon which they themselves have created (eg MIT OCW as but one example) the “sageness” of the local teacher is somewhat diminished. What then, is the role of the local “teacher”. Necessarily it switches to someone that can guide the less experienced minds to find their own understanding and knowledge (and in constructivist theory, build their own personal learning environments and knowledge networks) around the subject matter.
As learning progresses in this MOOC, it will be interesting to see what criteria I am able to add, remove or refine in Point 6 above…
The perspectives above not comprehensive, nor are they detailed. As the journey through CFHE12 continues these will be refined as part of, or as a result of, the personal learning that takes place.