MOOCs have attracted hyperbole and scorn in roughly equal measure, or so it seems to me. Intrigued by all the fuss, I’ve taken a couple of MOOCs, and the experience has been informative. I completed one and got half way through the second; in both cases I was deeply impressed by the content and the blend of learning activities; and I loved learning at my own pace and places, and also valued the lack of guilt about leaving when I’d got what I came for.
That doesn’t make me a MOOC-maniac. There are all sorts of problems with them, and quality issues will be critical, as will the availability – or lack – of preparation and support for those who aren’t well placed to undertake self-paced technology-enhanced learning.
Nevertheless, I do think that the combination of digitization and mobile technology plus good pedagogic design might turn out to be a game changer for parts of the lifelong learning system. And judging from the knee-jerk negativity, I am guessing that many of my colleagues suspect that MOOCs might be bad news for them personally.
In the field of adult learning, there is every possibility that MOOCs will thrive while organised face-to-face provision nose-dives. It doesn’t take much imagination to conceive of a policy maker or two who asks why the state is funding courses in adult education centres when tens of thousands can follow a MOOC much more cheaply.
But MOOCs and publicly funded adult education can rub along quite nicely. That’s the message I take, at any rate, from hearing that this year’s National Adult Education Prize in Austria was awarded to a MOOC called ‘Gratis Online Lernen’ (‘Learning Online for Free’).Its aim was to offer an introduction to online learning for people who have only mastered the basics of using the internet.
Taken by 1,500 people the first time it was offered, the MOOC was developed jointly by researchers in e-learning and worker education working in collaboration with the Austrian Adult Education Association and over 40 different providers.
The prize was duly handed over by Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, a Minister in the current government. That’s nice. Our ministers, sadly, are more likely to sneer at adults who need an introduction to using the internet. But we do have plenty of experience of celebrating adult learners and providers, and we should be happy to welcome the creators of MOOCs to our ranks.