Julie Stone is Director of University of Derby Online Learning (UDOL).
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are underestimated when it comes to providing formal training and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunities for businesses.
As a Director of online learning, you may find it a surprise that I was once cynical about MOOCs and what learners would get out of them. Online learning is about expert knowledge, support from tutors, certificates, communication and integration with fellow students from all over the world – at the expense of paying for it. Within the best online learning organisations it is a structured learning process, Universities that had never been engaged in online learning before suddenly offered MOOCs without understanding why or indeed having a purpose or objective.
So when you remove the core values of online learning and provide a free service to the masses I was concerned that this would sacrifice the support, quality and engagement and purposes of online learning.
There is no doubt that they will be a great vehicle to solve and aid staff development and CPD, but I also think they could help inform and deliver on big societal issues
Having observed the MOOC landscape, what I am delighted with is the dialogue it has opened up about online learning and providing Higher Education to a significant proportion of the global population, who cannot attend campus-based programmes for numerous reasons and in this respect MOOCs have played a huge role in transforming online learning for the Higher Education sector. This is what Sebastian Thrun, Research Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University set out to do when he launched the first MOOC in 2008. Sebastian wanted to get access to a wider audience and he was amazed when he got 160,000 learners engaged, because he had never had so many leaners throughout the whole of his career at Stanford. Yet here in one place, through one lecture he had a captive audience. Which is why so many universities have invested in MOOCs, so they could engage with the masses – but with what purpose in mind.
So when we decided to get involved in MOOC developments at the University of Derby we had clear objectives around raising awareness of our credit-bearing online offer and of exploring new pedagogical approaches within the MOOCs. We have ensured all factors of online learning have been implemented in our Moos, and we went through the same robust quality processes as for credit-bearing courses to ensure a quality higher education offer. We have been surprised and delighted by the response to our MOOCs and the rich dialogue with our participants that has informed knowledge and information.
Since 2008, MOOCs have developed rapidly and I feel the next phase will be the role they play in formal training and CPD for businesses. A great example of this is dementia. The Prime Minister through his Dementia 2020 pledge has encouraged all businesses to become dementia friendly and has invited all employers to include information about dementia in their formal induction programmes.
With the implementation of MOOCs, businesses can work with universities to offer a flexible, free mode of learning to address this, with more tailored and certificated learning packages offering a refined and fee-paying basis but on a more affordable scale
With the implementation of MOOCs, businesses can work with universities to offer a flexible, free mode of learning to address this, with more tailored and certificated learning packages offering a refined and fee-paying basis but on a more affordable scale.
There is no doubt that they will be a great vehicle to solve and aid staff development and CPD, but I also think they could help inform and deliver on big societal issues. For example, mental health is an illness that we all need to understand, not just NHS professionals but family members, friends and carers and this is becoming a more prominent policy agenda for the Government. Therefore we need bring all of these people together to discuss these important issues and for us to educate each other through engagement and debate, which is where the role of MOOCs comes in. Our MOOCs have certainly provided feedback from participants, in many instances, has had significant impact on feelings, perspectives, understanding, practice and policy. If utilised successfully, MOOCs can be a powerful weapon for engagement, education and impact on a global scale.
A recent CIPD study found that businesses rated online learning as a method of staff developments 6th, but in a study about how they feel online learning will be used in the future, businesses rated it as 2nd choice – clearly indicating that a significant change in workforce development will occur.
As MOOCs continue to progress in the Higher Education landscape, the real development for me is the transition to staff development for businesses and the potential for societal impact – but we must articulate the purpose of MOOCs so we can successfully use them as a vehicle for transformational change.