MOOC or something more real…


I am not the only educator to be drawn in principle to the Massive Open On-line Course structure that the American Ivy Leaf and now UK Universities are making available to students across the world. In many ways it seems a no-brainer to develop on-line lecturing; rather than insist that students ‘read for a degree’ as they used to do. Looking at the concept of ‘Reading for a Degree’, whilst including a greater number of students who should study to degree level, it was spotted their relative literacy levels were challenged by such an instructional method (reading that is), so they were then ‘lectured at’ as University education changed to cope with the increase in less skilled undergaduates, in ‘classes’ since the 1970s.  Now that technology can make it so, those Universities with the bravado (and the lecturers to match) are now choosing to put their first year courses on line so that students can study from afar, be educated by (gathered as a brand ‘capture’) and become an alumni of the said University.  As the media would call it “Sexing up a correspondence course for the purposes of student enrollment”.

Not so fast Pal.  Since the opening of the Open University in the UK in 1971, we have had a MOC here in the UK.  In the first year, the OU recruited some 25,000 undergrads, probably the biggest first year cohort of its generation.  And because of its remit to reach out and connect with those more difficult to engage, the OU has pioneered all sorts of access  programs from that very start, You can read more here –  Suffice it to say, their innovations including ‘going to the cloud’ have continued apace, so OU are on iTunesU, in Second Life with their own island, and in Grand Theft Auto 7 as a dysfunctional learning space for a Clockwise Orange Droogs ‘horror-show’ (I made the last bit up).

The thing we know about learners is that actually they ‘don’t know’.  Which is why they have a need ‘to learn’. And as the ease has grow about what facts need to be known, so the emerging difficulty is all about the skills that need to be acquired to support that body of evidence. To exemplify, 100 years ago we did not even know that antibiotics existed in a formal sense. They came in to general use after the Second World War. Almost 60 years on, today scientists are challenged to develop new forms of such medication in order to save us (and the medication) from the consequences of our actions – we need to do even better in the labs than before.

The more practical an academic discipline becomes, the greater the human contact time required. Look at Medics today, and they’ll work their socks off for 20+ hours a week in their first three years at Uni (it get’s worse after that), whilst the most cerebral reading History are able to graduate after 3 hours a week for 3 years and a Library access card (Urban myth, University of Bristol).  As ‘any fule kno’ (as stated by Nigel Molesworth,, times are hard, and parents and their student ‘kin’ seek VFM from undergrad life at Uni, so our Centres of Learning are now booking more contact time for their students.  Now that could be a mixed blessing, but in the main, I think Unis are gaming the system less and appreciating even more the need to give their population of learners enough time to collaborate, engage, discuss and acquire the more complex skills needed to make progress in their discipline/vocation in the 20Teens.

At every given development of technology, some have imagined that they have invented a ‘Silver’ bullet that makes learning easier. There is no way that Magic circle Unis have found the Silver bullet with MOOCs. Some of the best scientific books for students I have read have come from the OU; that did not tempt me to study with the OU, because I went to Uni for so much more than the lecture hall or the Library (though I did earn to love them). Extensive lab and field work time off campus was needed to study my Biology component, whilst seminar time with Professors to explore the workings of the mind in Psychology were equally valuable. I cut my political teeth as an elected University counselor (Liberal), wrote the for the Uni paper and edited the University Rag Magazine (in 1974) among many other more dubious accomplishments at University.

So as with the BBC, ITV and Channel 4/5 and now 1000 channels of world EDU available from a myriad of independent broadcasters, please bring on the MOOCs and the concept of self-organised learning. They say ‘University is wasted on the Young’; the reality is that it is the ‘Young that need education organised for them’, and for me post school-age, no-body does that better than the UK Universities (to be honest, Leicester above all). The Oldies of course can organise it much better, hence the U3A – read more about that here – And if you want to learn more about MOOCs, click here.

What I know I acquired at Leicester in the 1970s is the most amazing education; 3 years spent in a deep and diverse environment in which my peers dug deep into my own pysche and helped me find my talents – here’s Sir Ken – – who summarises in ways only he can – danced to by Brady Sanders.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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1 Response to MOOC or something more real…

  1. Esme Bates says:

    Yes, the requests for skype learning is prevelant. Not the same as interaction with “real people” though. Talking of the 1970s…does anyone else remember this track starring Kermit The Frog? If one person believes in you why not two or three or more….. We believe in you Year 11- enjoy your work experiences and follow your ambitions! Be the best that you can be! In the words of your Life Coach “Rhino style!”

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