Early research findings about MOOCs point to who actually benefits from these courses. What some of the early findings seem to indicate is that these are people who already have a traditional credential or two under their belt. Of course, there are plenty of well-credentialed people who never take or complete MOOCs, so it is about more than just being formally educated. In fact, this leads me to wonder (since I don’t have the data at this point) if MOOCs are not surfacing a certain breed of learner. Consider the following:
- While there are exceptions, MOOCs are rarely required learning activities for the participants as part of a larger formal education program or an employer requirement.
- People who complete MOOCs do not earn a highly sought after or valued credential.
- There are no traditional letter grades associated in most MOOCs.
- People take MOOCs based upon individual goals, interests and aspirations.
- One study indicated that many MOOC completers tend to be taking the MOOC for career advancement, developing new and valued knowledge or skill.
- People tend to work on MOOCs during evenings and weekends.
Look at these different features, and we start to see that people who complete MOOCs are learners. As much it is might be a cliché to some, these are lifelong learners. They value learning, not just earning grades or credentials. They value enough of it that they are willing to replace other leisure activities with the work that it takes to complete a MOOC. They are self-motivated, self-starters, even self-directed learners.
In other words, if you are browsing the digital landscape in search of great learners, MOOCs are not a bad place to look. They are havens for people with a genuine love of learning and curiosity, or people with a drive for personal growth and development. Where else do you find people who want to study big data, ancient history, American history, design thinking, or international law for fun, personal interest, and professional gain (apart from getting a new degree)? We might find them in libraries, public lectures, online communities of practice and by browsing the comments of social media; but MOOCs as online learning communities represent a concentration of people who understand several important aspects of life and learning in a connected world.
- Learning is about more than earning credits, grades and credentials.
- The digital world is a new frontier for the willing and self-directed learner.
- Learning apart from formal credentials has practical and professional benefits.
- There is power is taking ownership for one’s learning, designing personal pathways based upon interests, professional aspirations, and personal goals.
- Valuable learning experiences are freely available to those who are willing to seek them out and take advantage of them.
Not everyone approaches life and learning with such insights and perspectives, but the development of MOOCs over the past years puts a spotlight on these learners. Of course, MOOCs are not the only way to embrace the joys of open and connected learning, but they are a noteworthy congregating place for such people.
This leads me to muse about the implications for education. While some have touted MOOCs as a replacement for traditional higher education, I’m increasingly to what MOOCs tell us about self-directed learning. There is a treasure trove of insights to be gleaned from studying the people who congregate in and benefit from these massive online learning communities.
Too often we look to the technology and its capacity for changing education. I’m the first to argue that technology amplifies and muffles different values. As such, what values are amplified by MOOCs? One is clearly self-directed, uncaged learning. Not everyone is thriving in MOOC learning contexts, but those who are have the capacity to motivate themselves, manage their time, set their own learning goals or at least act upon their learning interests, and follow through on commitments to learning goals. This doesn’t sound too different from some of our most successful learners in traditional learning environments, does it?
This also points to what I consistently refer to as the new digital divide. The divide is between those who have the confidence and capacity to take initiative for their learning in the connected world and those who remain largely passive and dependent upon others to direct their learning. As such, learning from MOOC participants is something that reminds about one of the more imporant aspects of a quality educational experience, developing the agency and skill to take cotrol of one’s personal learning journey.