I’ve noted a sea change in education and learning about which there has been quite a bit of virtual ink spilled. The phenomenon known as a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) has been added to the education lexicon, much to the joy of futurists, learners everywhere, and to the consternation of a number of university and college administrators. Like most things, I can see the light and the dark, along with the difficult.
While the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and several others have been posted a body of free post-secondary courseware content on the Internet for some time, and the idea of having access to free learning/information on the Internet can be considered a basic tenet, building and implementing an instructional model that actually works has taken time. While online learning has been taking place, there just hadn’t been a tipping point at which it took off for a number of reasons:
- The need for basic Digital literacy
- Broadest possible access to the technology needed to participate globally
- A large enough base of learners for whom digital learning is not foreign (or at least less of a stretch for their learning styles).
- …there are a lot more, but you get the idea.
A number of large and prestigious universities worldwide are adding select courses to the catalogs of the platforms for MOOCs (a couple of them are Coursera and Udacity). Some are really excited about it, some are “trying it out” and others are publishing a course or two because they don’t wish to be left behind.
There is a lot of good to be gained by this effort and working to improve the success of learning transfer in these scenarios can only help learners. There’s something about this that jumped out at me about MOOCs that is the real point of this post.
How do you measure the actual learning transfer in a way that is recognized in such a way that an employer can know that the success is real?
I used to work at Microsoft in the Microsoft Learning business unit and one of the top goals was to create both professional certifications that are valid and recognized by employers, and the learning materials (courseware, books, e-learning) that would help a learner be successful in attaining that certification. So the goal here was to help someone either get a job or improve in the job she or he had in a way that was measurable. Microsoft is not the only technology company to this, obviously. Cisco, Oracle, Adobe and several others have certifications that validate expertise and knowledge.
So, how could this work for MOOCs? The institutions involved are global, so this cannot be a U.S.-centric solution. There are few, if any, real global educational attainment standards, although there are levels of value of degrees received from certain institutions. I’m not going to digress into a cage match comparison of, say, an MBA from (1) Harvard University, (2) University of Michigan, (3) University of Sydney, and (4) Henley Business School. But what if there were an international standard that could be used to create assessments and exams for MOOCs? Anyone could then know that a learner had attained a certain mastery…..and the assessment could be optional for the learner. That way, those who learn for the joy of learning can just lurk, learn and move on. Having a validated assessment could help the rest of the learners with their goals.
Learning has several benefits for the learner. One is the gaining of knowledge and how that adds to the body of knowledge and wisdom each learner has, which can be used or enjoyed for what it is. Another is utilizing that knowledge for the betterment of the learner’s life and the lives of those around her or him. Lastly, there is demonstrating or showcasing the knowledge and expertise to an existing or potential employer to make a living, or maybe get a promotion. Employers need a way to see the value that’s relatively easy. In that way they can be easily assured that the learner really does know “it” (whatever “it” is, in this case…) and take appropriate action (hire, promote, reward, etc.).