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'MOOCs have burst out of higher education into vocational learning. VOOCs have arrived.'


Donald Clark, a trustee of the Ufi (University for Industry) Charitable Trust, writes:

Yannis is someone I met in Berlin, who literally cried when he completed his first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). He talks eloquently about what makes him stay up until 4am doing MOOCs.

I’ve also spoken to Innes, a 14-year-old boy, who hated school so much his parents took him out, and has taken several MOOCs.

Time and time again, I come across people who have been energised into learning again through MOOCs. None of these people are undergraduates.The MOOC movement is not about replacing universities, it’s about opening up learning for all.

Indeed, at the EMOOC (European MOOC) conference in Lausanne last week, the real buzz was about the way MOOCs have burst out of higher education into vocational learning. VOOCs (Vocational Open Online Courses) have arrived.

The data shows that the vast majority of the millions of MOOCers are not undergraduate-age students, but older, life-long learners; people who work in corporates, government and other sectors. They are largely professionals who are learning for the sake of learning or up-skilling.

Udacity has moved wholly into this market and Coursera and EdX are following suit. This is NOT about 18-year-old undergraduates, it is about almost everyone else.

It is this data that sparked off interest in VOOCs at the University for Industry, a charitable trust that focuses on vocational learning. We have already funded a vocational maths MOOC, the world’s first ‘adpative’ MOOC that personalises the path taken by the learner through a network of maths topics. This is not about GCSE maths, but functional maths, the maths that most people find useful in the real world.

Our latest VOOC, on ‘blended learning’, will be ready later in the year. Targeted at teachers in further and adult education, it opens the door on digital learning through the topic of blending digital into your teaching. We have consulted experts on teacher training in vocational learning and feel that this could be of great help in the vocational and adult learning sector.

The advantage of ‘blended learning’ as an opening concept is that it is a well known concept that leads with ‘learning’ not ‘technology’. It also has the advantage of being flexible enough to cope with a range of confidences, competences and context issues.

Vocational and adult learning is a complex business and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. However, optimal blends can be designed that take advantage of a blend of offline and online activities. Blended learning, in a sense, forces you to rethink your teaching in response to different types of learning and learners. Remember that it is called ‘blended learning’ not ‘blended teaching’, as the idea is to be more sensitive to the needs of learners.

Take one example, the use of video. YouTube has become far more than a repository for videos. It is now a learning platform. Young people routinely use YouTube as a search engine when they need to find out how to do something. If you are using a piece of software, repairing something or looking at a skill, YouTube is a better source than Google.

More than this, YouTube allows you to upload, edit, caption and annotate your own videos – for free. Beyond this you can create a YouTube channel and use your videos in other MOOC platforms. This is just one of many practical skills that a vocational teacher may wish to learn. We have identified a whole range of practical approaches and skills that teachers may want to use in teaching and learning.

A common objection to MOOCs or VOOCs is the fat that many learners drop out. I think this is a category mistake. I’ve taken seven MOOCs, finished some, dropped out of others. I’m a 'drop in' not a 'drop out'. The charge goes back to an old mindset, the idea of the university drop-out, the school drop-out.

This is not about institutional learning, it’s about lifelong learning. The mistake is to take the concept of dropout from an institutional context and apply it to online courses, where one can sign up without too much commitment. There’s nothing wrong with trying a few MOOCs out to see if they’re at the right level or suit your needs.

We’ve gone for a solution that taps directly into subject matter expertise – experienced practitioners, experienced course designers and a delivery mechanism that goes straight to potential learners. That’s really what the  ‘Napsterisation’ of learning is all about, the democritisation, decentralisation and disintermediation of learning.

The double-dividend here is, first, that the course if free; second that learners will be using blended learning and technology to learn. It will not be an esoteric, abstract academic experience but a practical course designed to get you going.

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