Friday, August 7, 2015

MOOC Providers Moving to Shorter Vocational Courses

In "Coursera changes course on courses" (The Australian Higher Education Supplement, 5 August 2015), it is reported that the Cosera is part of a trend by MOOC providers for skills training and professional development, rather than liberal arts courses. This should not be a surprise for those with a background in distance education (DE). MOOCS are just a recent form of distance education and one of the lessons you learn as a student of distance education (as I am) is that the primary motivation for most DE students is vocationally related. DE students want skills to get them a job, or to qualify for further education to then get a better job. This is not to say that there are not some students who want to learn for the sake of learning, but these are in the minority. It can be especially hard to keep doing the work required for a DE course unless you have a powerful motivation to learn. The thirst for knowledge is a motivation, but getting a job (or a better job) is a powerful one.

When English universities (including Oxford) started offering extension programs, more than one hundred years ago, it was intended to improve the general education of the population. But the universities soon discovered that the students did not want to just broaden their minds, they wanted practical training in subjects which would help with employment. This same lesson was re-learned more than fifty years ago when the Open University UK started offering distance education. A significant proportion of students were teachers who wanted to improve their career prospects.

The first MOOCs were adaption of semester long university courses. The MOOC courses have tended to get shorter and more vocational, resembling those which have been offered for vocational education at Australian TAFEs and privative colleges for decades. While vocational teachers are used to preparing courses in small practically orientated modules with pass/fail assessment, this can be a difficult skill for university professors to learn and a difficult goal for them to come to terms with.

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