In MOOC s, thousands of ‘students' join online, which changes the notion of what is the ideal participant to facilitator ratio
There is a quiet revolution underway in education. These are early days, but the signs are clear. When books went online, it changed not only the economics of a book store, but also how people read books using their eBook reader. The purists said that it was not the same as curling up in bed with a book. But, no one was listening. EBooks are growing exponentially. Newspapers have been struggling to see how they can use online news to their advantage. In the age of Twitter, the urgency of news cannot be made available in print.
Friendship got social when Orkut and Facebook redefined what it meant to have hundreds of friends. First, it was about discovering the thrill of seeing an old friend from the yesteryears sharing the same space. It is much the same as bumping into a classmate at the airport. It reenergizes the relationship. The socialization of friendship then meant going beyond the traditional norms of friendship. Strangers and acquaintances also crept into the friends list. Social media now gives people a chance to locate others who share their passion for a cause, a book and create fan clubs. The next stage is to use it to transact business.
Education is being socialized through MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course). The NY Times has declared 2012 to be the year of the MOOC. A MOOC is a type of online course aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the web. Coursera is one such disruptor. They make higher education overcome the boundaries of geography, time and money! The best of Ivy League education is now available for free to thousands across the world. 34 universities like Princeton, Stanford, Duke and more are offering courses. The courses range from liberal arts based History of the World since 1300 (offered by Princeton) to Probabilistic Graphical Models from Stanford.
Why is it such a big deal? When the dominant media of our times change, it leads to a significant shift in behavior. It changes relationships, expectations and even the power base. With change in media, ownership undergoes a change. There is no producer of knowledge and a consumer, as it used to be in the traditional classroom. The professor is at best a curator. They encourage the students to fall in love with the subject.
Where the knowledge is being consumed has also changed. The majority of the students are not inside, but outside the classroom. The largest class size used to be less than 500 students inside the hall listening to the college professor. When MOOCs took the classes online, as many as hundred thousand ‘students’ joined online. It changes the whole notion of what is the ideal participant to facilitator ratio.
Whose job is it to create the content? It is no longer the domain of the professor or even the expert. People are learning from novices. They are creating it together. There is a co-creation of knowledge as well as consumption. Knowledge is no longer like pre-cooked and preserved food in a can. It is an opportunity of co-creating a meal with the guests. It is fresh and caters to exactly what the customers want. Such a move makes the term ‘Knowledge Management’ an oxymoron.
Knowledge can no longer be managed. It becomes what it is supposed to be – like a Wikipedia page updated by the anonymous reader and in real time. There will sometimes be errors. Leave it to the crowd to manage. The slickly produced training videos produced with actors is getting replaced by jerky amateur videos uploaded on social media. Knowledge is created even as participants get their answers from peers in the classroom.The relationship between the facilitators and the participants has changed. Even though it was called adult learning in academic circles, there was no difference in the approach.
The participants need to take charge of their own learning. That also means assumptions have to change along with our mental models. We learn from experts as well as novices. The corporate training department has to look at its assumptions about the employee. Some of the outdated models are: (a) That employees have to be mandated to learn and upgrade the skills. (b) They do not know anything about the subject and that there is no way for them to acquire that knowledge. (c) Instructional design is a skill known to only a few. Will the corporate universities get replaced? Will MOOCs replace the in-house learning and development teams? We are seeing early stages of its development. MOOCs will become all pervasive. Some corporations will start to create their own version of it –especially those who have large geographically distributed workforce.
Facilitators will need to learn how to manage these interactions. What can they do to prepare for the way their role will evolve? Here is what I have learned:
a. Try to bring in technology while designing your content. Become digitally literate. Think of yourself as a curator. Create short 2-minute videos that will help people understand how to apply all the information they have or will gather.
b. Leverage participants to search for and add to the knowledge database. Ask them to find YouTube videos, SlideShare slides, blogs and other information in the public domain they can read up before they come together. Let the alumni of the program create the repository that the later batches can all learn from and update.
c. Learning to engage and manage a community takes time. Try creating a Facebook page and see what keeps the community engaged. Create quizzes and games that the learners can take to keep connected, learn and have fun – all three are important objectives.
d. Build a network of people you can connect to who your community can leverage. I know a person who interviews experts on GooglePlus and then hosts the interview on her website for all to see and use.
Critics speak of technical difficulties associated with reliance on computers and Internet and the difficulty of testing students in an unsupervised environment. These are temporary blocks. Storage prices, bandwidth costs and cost of developing platforms to host MOOCs will drop. Organizations will start recognizing the degree granted by some of these providers. It is too tempting to miss this bus.