From education to employment

What can we learn from institutions that have taken on learning on a massive scale?

Maren Deepwell is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology

Whether you think MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, are a fad that will be forgotten come January, or whether you see these courses as an opportunity for your institution’s future, there is not much UK-based evidence of their recent popularity.

What is the impact on institutions? What are the costs? What are the aims? What are the business models?

These are the questions that we explored at a recent conference in Southampton, organised with ALT’s MOOC Special Interest Group and supported by the DigiChamps from the University of Southampton with the title No way back? Exploring the impact, data and potential of MOOCs.

As a blended event, the conference featured speakers including

• Don Nutbeam – Vice-Chancellor, University of Southampton

• Simon Nelson – Chief Executive, Futurelearn

• Helena Gillespie, Senior Lecturer in Education and Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of East Anglia

• Amy Woodgate, Project Coordinator Distance Education Initiative (DEI) & MOOCs, University of Edinburgh

• Doug Fisher, Director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Digital Learning

• Jonathan Worth, BA and MA course director in Photography, Coventry University

• Martin Hawksey, Innovation and Technology Manager, ALT

MOOCs come in varying shapes and sizes. Some are massive, others only attract small numbers of learners. Some are run by established institutions, others are the culmination of communities’ efforts. There are a number of different business models being explored, but little consensus about their future.

Jonathan Worth from Coventry University spoke about his experience of running a face-to-face course for undergraduate photography students, which he also makes freely available online so that thousands of other students can blog, tweet questions and participate.

Amy Woodgate from the University of Edinburgh showed how engaged staff are in the development of new online courses.

Meanwhile, the presentation from Martin Hawksey examined the data collected via MOOC style courses and the use of learner analytics. Participants were encouraged to consider what information they would find useful and how this may be generated.

The day closed with a panel discussion considering the future of MOOCs across sectors, across countries. One of the key questions throughout the day was the potential of MOOCs for FE, skills and adult learning.

Online courses are here to stay. They have been part of the learning landscape for decades. Using Learning Technology to provide effective learning is an equally essential part of the future of learning, teaching and assessment. Open learning, whether more personalised or social, formal or informal is to be embraced. That leaves us with the scale of MOOCs, their most distinguishing feature. Learning at a massive scale is what gives us new potential for the use of learning analytics, for better understanding the design and delivery of content and assessment and for engaging new communities across the UK and globally.

Find out more, watch the presentations here and view the slides here.

Maren Deepwell is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), an independent membership charity whose mission is to ensure that use of learning technology is effective and efficient, informed by research and practice, and grounded in an understanding of the underlying technologies and their capabilities, and the situations into which they are placed


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