ALT 2013 – MOOCs and More.

Taking the temperature at ALT 2013 was an interesting day out, and an enjoyable one as well. ALT is both very friendly and very informative even in just 1 day.

The event was very well organised and the ALT ethos of sharing best practise was very enjoyable. However the overwhelming topic that attracted most interest and intrigue was the M word….MOOCs!

The MOOC momentum in HE is now very common currency and the awaited launch of FutureLearn and the UK Governments simultaneous publication of its literature review on MOOCs were hot topics. The review of MOOCs – imaginatively titles the “Maturing of the MOOCs” led  by Stephen Haggard even attracted the attention of Private Eye.

The announcement of edX and Google’s role in that MOOC certainly added fuel to the conversational fires. Where next for Google, Course builder, edX and the global war for the education market

While there were many views, it was the view of many of my unscientific sampling (and of Stephen Downes the closing key-noter (more later)) that MOOCs were over-hyped, failing to learn from the past and are more than likely going in the wrong direction.

The collective wisdom of 20 years of Alt it was felt was not always being listened to by policy makers and decision makers in institutions and in the higher echelons of the education establishment.

To be fair, one can see the fear of the UK education establishment and UK Government of the latest US orientated MOOC revolution. Given the recent publication of the UK’s education strategy highlighting the importance of Higher Education in particular to UK PLC it is understandable why a speedy response to a “perceived” educational paradigm shift (in the eyes of several commentators) is required. You can see our views on this policy in a previous blog piece.

The UK has moved very fast with FutureLearn, and many institutions have taken decisions to move very fast as well. The MOOC shock appears to be acting as a catalyst or wake up call to HE decision makers and a growing class of Academic Extroverts to enhance the use of technology in the delivery of courses.

The parallel with the corporate world is worth making for a moment, Talent Management attracted huge attention as it was considered sexy by CEO’s, but was little more than a re-brand of the Learning Management System (LMS) which was considered as dull. At HE MOOCs are getting the sexy (or scary perhaps) status and perhaps Learning Technologies are considered dull and boring!

It is to be hoped that the collective wisdom of ALT is not lost in the furore of MOOCs.

MOOCs are not cheap as you need much more than just a platform, £30,000 or so cost for a single MOOC course from one University that generated no revenue that attracts no actual registered students to an institution is a significant investment.

Fundamentally we are all still attempting to understand what role the MOOC will play and as Stephen Downes argued in his closing key note address the present trajectory of MOOCs is not the one he anticipated or conceptualised when he and colleagues conceived the concept of MOOCs.

Downes came close to admitting the “Course” element was a mistake when coining the term! The “Course” is purely included to ensure that there is a start and end to the Massive Open Online learning experience. The experience is based on collaboration, sharing of ideas, of open learning in the truest sense and by implication not the “drill and grill” model of many MOOCs now coming to market.

This is probably an over-simplification of an entertaining speech, with the obligatory tweeting (but I can live without the LoLCat obsession of many tweeters) that centred round the concept of networks and how they are organised to best effect for learning.

It must be said that not all MOOCs, even drill and grill MOOCs are bad things. HE and FE will have to adapt and react to the changes these developments are bringing. Education is both “globalising” and “branding” at a rapid rate and technology will play an increasing role in the delivery of HE and FE.

One telling figure in the UK Governments International Education: ”Global Growth and Prosperity” (July 2013) Accompanying Analytical Narrative illustrated on page 41 shows how shape of provision presently offered to overseas markets by the UK, and the race is now on in the global education market…hence the Government Strategy.

So MOOCs will play a role and HE and FE will have to come to terms with them, and the hype froth will likely settle down and we can look at some of the really interesting things at ALT which deserve attention.

Assessment technologies are an area that will in our view prove to be of huge significance. Matt Wingfield chair of the e-assessment association felt that the ALT event had highlighted the role that e-assessment would play in future learning and particularly in MOOCs and in more mainstream Higher Education.

Adaptive Learning will be a major trend in the coming years, as institutions work harder to provide improved educational experiences and the role Open Data will perform as we discussed in a previous blog, and Desire2learn where flying the flag, along with new start up business Selflab.

In our view the hot topics emerging (into which MOOCs will be a mere subset) are Adaptive, Assessment and Analytics, and we see this trend emerging from the US with its Datapalooza development of open educational data as we and others including Virtual College have highlighted.

I was also taken with a presentation from the University of York in developing some quality standards for on-line learning – interesting stuff.

All in all ALT was enjoyable and informative, if a little too MOOC obsessed on the one day I attended.