Monday 3 February 2014

MOOC-ing Around

This month I'll be taking part in my third MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), with a fourth lined up for later in the year. There's been a lot of talk about these courses in the last few months so I thought I'd use this post to add my own opinions to the mix.

I first decided to take a MOOC to find out more about what they were. I'd read a couple of articles and blog posts describing the courses but I believe that the best way to find out about something is to try it out for yourself. Luckily for me this happened to coincide with the launch of a couple of library specific courses so I signed up. Both of the courses I've taken so far have been library related (The New Librarianship Masterclass and The Hyperlinked Library) as they seemed relevant to my current learning interests. The next course I have lined up is also library related but after that I'm going to try taking one on management. Whilst not library specific I hope that it will help me to develop the skills that I'm interested in. I think this is the main attraction with MOOCS, they help people to develop skills that they want to work on in a way that they can fit around their everyday lives. The courses can give you an understanding of the theory but taking what you've learnt and applying it in the real world is the key to making it a great learning experience. I've completed both of the courses I've taken part in but it was tough going at times. Like a lot of people, I underestimated the time commitment and got in a little over my head. 

To me MOOCs work better if they have a limited amount of participants. Yes, this does undermine their openness a little bit but it makes them more manageable for both student and teacher and helps to create a community. They also need to be well structured with a range of accessible readings and interesting assignments. Quizzes are one way of testing knowledge but I think including some practical assignments is a better way to test understanding and put theory into practice. It's also harder to Google the answers!

I'm not convinced that MOOCs are the future of education and in fact some are already predicting that they've hit their peak. These courses may claim to be open to everyone but we still have the issue of the digital divide which stops some accessing them. I'm not convinced that they're really a substitute for traditional methods of teaching either. That one-to-one in person interaction (and interaction with fellow students) was one of the best ways to learn for me. It also seems to me that a lot of institutions have started to offer these courses just to jump on the bandwagon. MOOCs need to be thought through and planned carefully to be a good learning experience. 

Having said this, MOOCs look likely to be around for the foreseeable future so how should libraries respond to them? The most obvious way is by helping to close the digital divide and providing access to the Internet so that people can take the courses. Library staff can use user participation in MOOCs to help with information literacy skills or compile lists of further reading, a sort of beyond the MOOC learning experience. These are just random ideas off the top of my head and I'm sure people will do more research on this in the future. Below I've included my top tips if you're thinking of taking part in a MOOC as well as a list of resources from the web. If you have your own tips then feel free to share them in the comments section as this is a subject that I think we all need to learn more about.

My top tips for MOOCS:
  • be aware of what you're getting yourself into. Read the guidelines to the course carefully and decide if you can fit in the required work. It's easy to underestimate how much time these things will take but most courses give you a rough idea of the amount of time a course can take a week
  • pick something that you'll find interesting over an extended period of time. This is especially relevant if you're signing up just to experience a MOOC and find out what it's all about. Even if it's not directly relevant to your current CPD goals at the moment, choosing something you're interested in means you're more likely to complete the course and get the full experience
  • don't be afraid to pick something that's not directly relevant to your work. If it interests you then it's worth learning about. You might even find it comes in useful at work in an unexpected way!
  • if you find yourself unable to make a full commitment to the course they why not try auditing it? EdX has an option which allows you to audit selected classes which means you have access to the experience without having to complete the work
  • get the most out of your MOOC experience - engage with other participants. If this is provided through the course itself, for example commenting on the blog posts of others, then great. If not them why not set up your own network on Twitter or Facebook? Working towards something in a community is much easier than doing it in isolation and the importance of peer support shouldn't be underestimated
Resources on MOOCS:

photo credit: publicenergy via photopin cc

photo credit: ©athrine via photopin cc

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