Guardian live commentary: Online learning: pedagogy, technology and opening up higher education

Apologies first of all - the actual discussion is going to happen on The Guardian at 12 GMT - however, I will update the main points that people make here.

The discussion is, in a nutshell, a live debate about MOOCs - pros and cons. Panel at the bottom below - I will be updating the post during the debate and giving a summary of the points made.

Initial thoughts: (11:34 GMT)

The Deniers

Clay Shirky has summed up the argument of the “Deniers” very well. Talking about how the music industry viewed the advent of online music, he said:

“The recording industry concluded this new audio format would be no threat, because quality mattered most. Who would listen to an MP3 when they could buy a better-sounding CD at the record store?”

Napster proved them wrong and the rest is history.

It is interesting that the people who have argued that MOOCs will not threaten universities (including in the Conversation) are the people who stand the most to lose from their rise in popularity. In fact, commenters have seen the MOOC supporters as “attacking” the very notion of universities and all they stand for - in much the same way that newspapers attacked Google for aggregating the news - or bloggers (amateurs) for daring to subvert “quality” journalism.


The discussion has surfaced some of the same points that are usually raised about MOOCs:

  • business model (or lack of one)
  • no substitute for face-to-face teaching
  • labs that can’t be done online
  • high attrition

Not sure why people think that Coursera doesn’t have a business model - apart from raising Venture Capital and charging fees for licensing of content, they have “contributions” from joining institutions. They can also, like Udacity, charge companies for recruitment of students taking MOOCs - there will be other ways that they can monetize.

My comment regarding face-to-face teaching:

I don’t think that MOOCs are proposing to be a complete substitute for a university learning experience - but even here, people are filling in the blanks - they are meeting up in person and conducting collaborative projects and discussing their experiences on forums and social networks. This may come close enough for many who aren’t in the position to do anything else anyway. I think it is too early to say whether someone doing an entire degree through MOOCs would come out substantially different someone doing it through a university - especially if they were working at the same time

MOOCs as Recreation

Interesting thread that probably hasn’t been discussed is the role of MOOCs as recreation - or simply contributing to life-long-learning.

Final Thoughts

My parting thoughts:

MOOCs are here to stay - they will be driven by people’s desire to participate in a social event centred around learning and by academic’s desire to provide that opportunity They will develop rapidly and be more influenced by research and support a range of flexible approaches to engagement. They will provide opportunities for higher learning to people with no access to the possibility of a university education - whatever their constraintPeople will continue to deny their relevance until it is too late

Josie Taylor is director of the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University with more than 20 years’ experience in research, development and evaluation of interactive media and innovative pedagogies

Peter Scott is director of the Knowledge Media Institute at the Open University @peter_scottJohn Daniel is assistant director-general for education at UNESCO. He served as a university president for 17 years in Canada (Laurentian University) and the UK (Open University) before assuming the presidency of the Commonwealth of Learning in 2004

Helen Keegan is senior lecturer in interactive media/social technologies at the University of Salford and a UK national teaching fellow at Higher Education Academy @heloukee

David Kernohan is responsible for the JISC/Academy OER programme and other work around learning resources and activities @dkernohanTony Bates is president and CEO of Tony Bates Associates Ltd, a private company specialising in the planning and management of e-learning and distance education

Jesse Stommel is assistant professor of English and digital humanities at Marylhurst University in Portland @Jessifer

Jeff Haywood is vice-principal for knowledge management, chief information officer and librarian at the University of Edinburgh

Bonnie Stewart is a writer, PhD student and sessional lecturer in theUniversity of Prince Edward Island’s faculty of education @bonstewart

David Glance is director of the University of Western Australia’s Centre for Software Practice. The UWA CSP is currently collaborating with Stanford University to build a MOOC platform Class2Go @david_glance

Michael Thomas is senior lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire and editor of a four-volume major work on online learning