Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Professional Learning through MOOCs

Back for another review of a chapter in the book titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (an IGI global title).  This time I am reviewing (a little) chapter 3 and jumping off from there.  The chapter title is "Professional Learning through MOOCs?: A Trans-Disciplinary Framework for Building Knowledge, Inquiry, and Expertise", and based on the title it really had me hooked! This is a chapter that I was really looking forward to reading because it seemed like a good chapter to tackle workplace learning, professional development, talent development, and where MOOCs fit into this arena.  If you remember last year, some people had professed 2015 (or was it 2014?) to be the year that MOOCs made it into the enterprise (LOL).

Anyway, the abstract for this chapter is as follows:
This chapter will locate debates around MOOCs within a discussion on the purposes of higher education for professional learning and trends for trans-disciplinary approaches in designs for networked learning. The authors revisit the meaning of a ‘higher' education in contemporary tertiary contexts and within professional learning degrees and also examine the types of expertise required when designing for and facilitating learning in a MOOC open-style environment. In response to these aims, they offer a trans-disciplinary framework (Wadsworth, 2010) drawn from complex systems thinking in health, community and human services, to assist our enquiry into educational innovation. The authors suggest that a more nuanced understanding of the types of expertise required by those involved in macro-level learning occurring in MOOCs will lead towards a greater role in creating the next generation of multi-professional experts. They draw from the learning sciences, epistemologies on ways of being and becoming, and innovations with educational technologies.
This article, in the end for me, over-promised and under-delivered.  It's not that it's not that bad, but rather it's not that good.  I would have expected to read this article back in 2012 when xMOOCs were starting to become a 'force' in higher education and everyone was having their 15 minutes in the limelight when they were announcing MOOC platforms, MOOC offerings, MOOC initiatives and so on.  In 2015 the article does not really provide much new thought and perspective into the xMOOC discussion.  Seeing as the article is more of position paper, rather than empirical research, it's hard to see the value of adding their voice to the "MOOCs have issues, we need to address these" chant.

Another problem I had with this article is that it reinforces certain ideas and rhetoric around MOOCs and academic quality, research, and discourse in general.  For example the authors write that "The benefits of these open and online courses were their potential capacity to deliver high-quality education from the best institution and instructors to very large groups of people" (p. 48).  We've seen this before with "elite" institutions claiming that they are the well or watering hole where you can find self-proclaimed "the best lectures" from the self-proclaimed "best institutions". This type of discourse is highly problematic on many fronts (as I think I've written before on here), one of which being pedagogical in nature: the equation of lecturing at and learning. Another issue, related to the various "elites" is the reported (in this article) dearth of research articles about MOOCs in high impact academic journals - as if the impact factor of an academic journal has any bearing on the quality of research that is conducted and published.

The authors write that "neither the cMOOC or the xMOOC s seem to be adequately equipped to deliver educational outcomes at the higher knowledge domains and will therefore remain a testing group for various pedagogical approaches, rather than a viable alternative to a traditional university course" (p. 51).   I call BS on this, and it seems to me that the authors have little to no first hand experience with MOOCs (or any type).  My first issue is that the authors fail to identify what sorts of educational outcomes they are talking about.   Are we talking about undergraduate courses? graduate courses? introductory courses? advanced courses?  Not all courses are the same in terms of the requirements they have, and their educational outcomes.  I've been in quite a few cMOOCs, for example, that would give a graduate course a run for its money.  That said it was also up to the learner (me in this case) to maintain my motivation and pull through with my own goals within that given course.  All MOOCs might not be good for All educational outcomes, but you need to pair appropriate outcomes with appropriate modes of delivery and learner background.  I would not, for example, put a learner who is barely prepared to college into a MOOC on college writing.  That person needs much more personal feedback and support than current MOOCs can provide. That doesn't mean that a Creative Writing MOOC won't be useful and challenging to someone a little further with the skills they have.

Finally, the authors argue that you need experts to produce experts, so experts teaching other people who will become experts and providing mentoring.  While this may be one approach to developing talent, I don't think it's the only one.  I am reminded of many occasions where a whole lot of us 'peers' worked together to collectively increase our expertise in something.  We weren't experts, and didn't have experts to hold our hands, but we did it anyway.  That's how science progresses.  We collectively work together to explore the unknown, and in the process we become experts. I am also reminded of self-paced eLearning, where I had no peers online, back in the early 2000s, when my training in classroom A/V equipment came on CD for the multimedia and I logged into an online system for the self-placed text and image parts.  I worked at becoming an expert, through distance education, when no one else was around - not even an instructor.  The notion that you need experts to make experts is a bit off to me.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on this article. Your thoughts?

Lodge, J. M., & Lewis, M. J. (2015). Professional Learning through MOOCs?: A Trans-Disciplinary Framework for Building Knowledge, Inquiry, and Expertise. In E. McKay, & J. Lenarcic (Eds.) Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (pp. 48-60). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-8324-2.ch003
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