Universities Using MOOCs – Style Matters Too

Unis And MOOCS Style Matters Too

Today I read an article featuring comments from Jeff Maggioncalda, the CEO of Coursera. He was discussing how universities are shifting to make use of online platforms and what this means for the future of higher education.

Here is an extract from the article from Times Higher Education:

“Students will sit in the classroom on computers, interacting, asking questions and taking notes. It’s a much more engaging interactive learning session.”

Mr Maggioncalda highlighted how the universities of Leeds and Illinois already offered Coursera Moocs to campus-based students.

Coursera’s strategy is to offer more online degrees. The California-based platform recently announced that it was offering its first degrees from UK universities, a new public health master’s from Imperial College London, as well as a computer science bachelor’s from the University of London. “We currently offer four with six more coming, but ultimately will have hundreds,” Mr Maggioncalda said.

Mr Maggioncalda also predicted that degrees would increasingly be divided into micro-credentials. As the idea of lifelong learning takes hold, “you will be able to earn parts of degrees, maybe just the part you want then, and come back later”, he said.

Mr Maggioncalda concluded: “The university degree isn’t going to go away but it will evolve.”

I agree with what Maggioncalda is saying here, but I think a lot of the focus from universities is being misplaced. Of course, it is extremely important for education to move with the times and shift more learning onto online platforms. After all, this is what students want and this is how they are interacting with things in their everyday lives.

Gone are the days of meeting in the university library at 3pm each week to discuss your group project. Instead, a group chat on WhatsApp does the job in most cases. Therefore, the overall approach to education obviously needs to reflect this sort of evolution.

However, in the process of shifting content online, I strongly believe universities are missing a crucial aspect for providing world class online education.

It isn’t good enough to simply take the same approach that has worked in physical classrooms and move it online ‘as is’. That is just a box-ticking exercise: “Do we offer online learning? Yes. Check.”

Instead, universities need to consider how the online platforms can be used to actually enhance the content being delivered. From our own experience in online education, we found the style of delivery and production values of the lessons were critical in keeping students engaged and learning effectively. Having a great platform was secondary to that.

The same approach used in physical classrooms can come across as dull and unstimulating once it’s transferred to an online learning environment. It may be acceptable in a lecture hall where students have fewer things to divert their attention, but the internet is like a Pandora’s box of potential distractions. Retaining the focus and engagement of a student becomes an on-going challenge.

This is something we are trying to achieve at The Duomo Initiative. There are some fantastic EdTech platforms being created and it’s great to see these being embraced by higher education institutions. However, more focus needs to be given to the style and production of the content itself; merging the teacher’s knowledge of the topic with proven models for efficient and accelerated learning, and an overall understanding of the rapidly changing online culture.

With all that being said, I do side with Maggioncalda and think Coursera are doing great things, which I am fully behind. I’ll leave you with another excerpt from the article that I found very interesting and encouraging:

“In the future, lifelong learning is going to be a necessity,” he argued, since, as automation becomes more prevalent, jobs will be made obsolete and workers will require new skills. “People will be scrambling to upgrade themselves,” Mr Maggioncalda said.

Mr Maggioncalda said the “most intense version of this” was taking place in India, where there is a huge population with many people working in industries at risk of automation. “The rate of growth of Coursera in India is higher than in almost every other country, though in Latin America we have very high growth rates as well,” he said. “In some developing countries it is Darwinian: learn or lose your job.”

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. I found university education incredibly boring. In particular the lectures, which I ended up skipping a lot of them because I was not engaged. It’s great that you actually research effective teaching methodologies, and a real shame universities do not. You might have amazing material but if not taught properly then does it even matter?

    1. I totally agree. The traditional lecture format didn’t suit me at all and it’s discouraging seeing universities just trying to replicate that online.

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