Monday, 16 September 2013

Disruptive Technologies and the MOOC

As Clayton Christensen has written, education delivery and structure is in a period of distuption; he feels that education as we know it will change. Why? Because of MOOCs. Massive, Open, Online Courses. Many expect MOOCs to 'overturn education as we know it'.

I too think we are about to see huge disruption in the education industry. Technology I feel will drive dramatic change - and with a sinking heart, I feel it is on a par with the revolution of horse and carriage versus the horseless carriage.

Only it is likely to happen more quickly.

Technology is great: I use technology extensively to add value for my face to face students. All my lectures are recorded and available in 5 minute bites online, as are all the course resources, readings and extension materials. Students can get the technical skills quickly from the online technical skills bank. 

What students don't necessarily get online is good thinking and contextual skills: application, analysis, evaluation and creation. These are the higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy: the levels of learning where we really learn deeply, actively and 'stickily'.

Talking to my students gives me some hope for the continuation of the known academic model, for a while at least. I get nearly a 100% attendance rate in my lectures (though I use a largely flipped classroom model, and lectures are really workshops). I ask students why they come, when everything is accessible online, and they say because I am there and because the in-class discussions have huge value for them. In class they learn application, analysis, evaluation and creation. They hear the views of others, the applications and creation of others, and it broadens their own perspective.

However, I mentioned having a sinking heart earlier. Education in New Zealand is government-funded. I can already see NZ governmental decisions trimming the sector so that fewer of us are needed to 'serve' many more people. Educators are paid less, are paid on contract not tenure, have to accept tighter hours and have more responsibility. This in turn pushes our institutions to cut costs forcing content online, with higher teacher to student ratios and driving so poor response times from over-stretched course leaders. I suspect that education is more likely to become increasingly commoditised. The axing of classrooms, institutions, educators and programmes will continue and the whole industry will continue to shrink. And around, and around it goes. I am hearing that this is happening worldwide.
I would like to be able to say that there will be a global correction at some point in the future.
Perhaps there will be, perhaps not.

I suspect 'not', mostly. Why? Consider vinyl records; music journalists have been saying there is a resurgence in vinyl; they neglect to say that this 'resurgence' represents less than 1% of all music sales. We have made the shift to download and iPods are now the norm. Customers want convenience, choice, portability, and flexibility.

So I feel we stand at a cusp in education. The change is coming, and we 'old fashioned' educators are the horse and carriage. MOOCs are the car, offering convenience, choice, portability and flexibility. Many of we carriage drivers will learn to drive cars, in the scary new and streamlined way, with fewer people and different resources. And once more, each of us will apply technology to increase and leverage what one person can produce.

Those who pay will drive it, both government funders, the employers and education consumers. We must embrace the change, hard though it is, because I feel there is no going back.


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