What’s next for MOOCs?

I’m not going to get in to the detail of whether MOOCs have been the disruptive element for learning as many opined four or five years ago, many have written much more eloquently on this than I ever could. For more just search for related terms or read this and this and this and this.

I will, however, pass a few words and a little judgement on one aspect of some of the developments I’ve been following for ‘online learning’ – accreditation. 

Firstly, has anyone else noticed that the original MOOC platforms don’t refer to the courses that are offered through them as MOOCs anymore? Even the platform that pushed ‘free online learning’ at every opportunity has dropped the ‘free’ from nearly all pages and courses. Obviously the ‘free’ business model was never going last long once the platforms realised that they had massive overheads to cover (staff, hosting, support, development, etc.), and that doesn’t cover the costs incurred by partners to develop the courses either.

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For me online learning, whether it’s an degree awarded from an established College or University or a ‘free’ MOOC-esque course, has always been about the value the course is able to offer the student taking it. That value is both about the actual content and subject as well as the value the new knowledge has to the individual who has taken (and presumably passed) the course.

This value could be the

  1. personal satisfaction in gaining new or further knowledge,
  2. learning about a new skill or subject that has semi-professional interest (a subject at the periphery of the individual’s profession, but is not essential to it) or
  3. something that is specifically relevant to the individual’s immediate role or career progression.

Learning is but one side of the reason someone will invest time and effort into learning. The learning needs a purpose – undertake a course on Shakespeare because you’ve always like his plays and want to know more about the plays and playwright. A family member is diagnosed with dementia and you want to know and understand more about the condition, etc. This is all well and good, but people who take courses for these reasons are unlikely to buy any kind of certificate or further learning opportunity from it. They are likely to go on and take other related courses, again to further their understanding.

People who take online courses who are doing it for a professional purpose (changing job or role, career progression, professional interest, etc.) are more likely to purchase some form of certificate, but it’s still not guaranteed. I’ve taken (well, started!) a few MOOCs related to my job and interests, and finished one (the #EDCMOOC)! 

For me, the future of this kind of learning is what the course can really offer those people who complete it. A certificate is not enough – being able to show I completed 75% or 95% or another arbitrary number of the steps and all test questions means next to nothing. The certificate does not give any indication to whoever I show it to about what I had to do to get those steps completed or whether the test were 5 questions or 50. Did the course have an active educator or was it facilitated by an academic (not the course creator) or student from the partner institution? Was it facilitated at all, or just a click-next learning journey with a few tests or discussion points?. No, for me, if I’m going to pay for the course ‘certificate’ it needs to show something much much more. It needs to show how valuable it is to the industry I work in. Sometimes even the institution that created course isn’t enough pull for the certificate to mean anything.

A medical MOOC certificate would mean so much more if it was accredited by the International Council of Nurses, a marketing course accredited by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, etc. Not only could / should the course offer the opportunity to earn valuable CPD points but the accredited course outcome should be something a current or future employer would look at and immediately see the value to them; that this candidate is coming to work here with a good resumé, has shown initiative by taking further learning opportunities and is showing the skills to find and evaluate the courses that will offer them the best opportunity to further themselves.

I don’t think the way forward for MOOCs is for degree-credits either but it’s a popular route, probably as it’s easier to sell to the University partners than anything else. Only time will tell.