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The changing face of learning – rise of the MOOC

18 June 2015

The changing face of learning – rise of the MOOC

We’re all familiar with the idea, but maybe not so much with the term. MOOCs, or massive open online courses, have been making waves to education and how people access it for the last few years. Aimed at unlimited participation and open access online, MOOCs have emerged as a dominant mode of learning in recent times. Open online courses have sprung up all over the world on every conceivable topic. If you want to learn something new, add a skill that will make your CV that little bit better, or even engage in a full-blown qualification, MOOCs offer the facility to do that in manner that is inclusive, and often innovative.

The advent of the digital age revolutionised countless aspects of human life, but education initially seemed a bit slower to adapt and exploit the possibilities of the ever-improving technology available to us. Taking learning online has been the real innovation of the last 10 years or so and several companies were quick to spot the viability of free online courses as something that would appeal to a great many worldwide. Coursera is one such business that offers free online courses working with leading universities. As of May, 2015, 13 million users from 190 countries enrolled in more than 1000 courses from 119 institutions[1]. In our interconnected, digital world, the pursuit of knowledge and learning is stronger than ever.

Principles of openness inform the creation, structure and operation of MOOCs. They come in many forms, from video lectures by esteemed experts, text-based learning, and online assessments. At the core of all of them, however, is the interactivity and usability of these courses. Accessible on your smartphone on the train, at your desk in work, on your laptop at home, these courses enable you to take your learning to a different level. You don’t have to be a student to avail of these either. For example, 7,200 people completed an electric circuits MOOC, offered by Agarwal, in spring 2012. Participants included an 81-year-old man, a single mother with two children and a 15-year-old prodigy from Mongolia who got a perfect score on the final exam[2].

Echoing the inclusivity, and accessibility, of MOOCs, Grainne McGuinness, writing in the Irish Examiner, said: “I came across an article about MOOCs and they seemed like an ideal way to ease myself back into learning without a major financial or time commitment… Committing to and completing five hours study for the course duration was the perfect reintroduction to learning, and before it had even finished I had signed up for a one year journalism diploma from a traditional college. The MOOC had given me the confidence in my ability to study[3].”

Another participant, Carl, found unexpected benefits to completing his MOOC course. He said: “There is company to be found in MOOCs but only if you really engaged within the course… Getting involved with discussions and asking questions will result in some very lively conversations, and I’ve found a new social circle through my online course[4].”

A common criticism made of MOOCs, especially compared with more traditional forms of learning, is its very low completion rate and this is undeniably true. Completion rates are typically lower than 10%. To focus on completion rates may actually be missing the point entirely. Justin Reich and Andrew Ho wrote: “After digging deeper into the data, however, we decided that completion rates are at best an incomplete measure. Our data show that many who register for HarvardX courses are engaging substantially in courses without earning a certificate. In these courses, “dropping out” is not a breach of expectations but the natural result of an open, free and asynchronous registration process, where students get just as much as they wish out of a course and registering for a course does not imply commitment to it.”

Completion rates, clearly, aren’t everything. If I take a MOOC in learning Japanese, for example, in preparation for a fictitious holiday I would dearly like to go on, trying to cover the basics via an innovative and effective learning platform would not necessarily mean that I had to finish the course in its entirety to get what I needed from it. Yet, if I needed to derive something from it, for example to have some sort of accreditation, perhaps, then completing this MOOC would grant me what I needed.

As Professor Neil Morris, from the University of Leeds, puts it: “Whenever anyone accredits a course in a way that is meaningful to an employer or for further study, you reach completion rates of 70%[5].” When a company, or institution, is able to accredit a MOOC in a meaningful way, in a way that really benefits the user, then it enhances the likelihood that they will complete the course.

Although a precedent has already been set in regards to dental MOOCs, with FutureLearn’s Dental Photography course (their Chief Executive, Simon Nelson was delighted with the impact it had, saying: “one of the quotes on the course was from a dental practice in Paraguay about how a particular aspect of their discipline had never been taught in their country and how several practices were pulling together to learn together[6].”), Healthcare Learning’s new online offering Healthcare CPD marks the latest breakthrough in online learning for dentists and healthcare professionals alike.

Dental and medical professionals in the UK are required to complete a certain amount of mandatory hours of continued professional development (CPD) in order to stay registered to practise. CPD can often involve long treks to conferences and attending training courses on your own time in order to fill your obligatory quota of CPD time. The idea of viewing it as a necessary evil, or a time filler, removes the idea of continuing your knowledge, expanding it further and bringing it into practise.

Healthcare Learning have already provided award winning CPD programmes but their new offering is something different entirely. Healthcare CPD is an online platform which is, in effect, a series of MOOCs, allowing you to complete the required hours of CPD in an interactive, engaging and innovative way. Over 400 hours of verifiable CPD can be accessed completely free. It provides the very best elements of MOOCs and puts an indelible spin upon them. Made with leading experts, each course can be accessed and done as many times as you want. If, upon completion, you want to download the appropriate certificates, only then does a fee apply.

Using this model, learners are free to choose what they want from the programmes without any obligation. The biggest provider of MOOCs, Coursera, believes this model to be the future of online learning in this manner. Julia Stiglitz, their director of Business and Market Development, said: “the place I see MOOCs in right now is in the space of lifelong learners, who are really looking for educational opportunities that are either for their career or just because they love learning and they want to take courses… As industries change more and more rapidly, people are going to be looking for these types of credentials that you can update throughout your entire career and that are focused and specialised.”

Streamlining training needs into one online platform has huge potential for compulsory education across many industries. The accessibility and functionality of MOOCs like those found with Healthcare CPD provide the essential courses that one needs to retain their status as a registrant with the relevant body but allow the flexibility for very different people to get what they need from it. Coursera CEO Rick Levin highlighted a specific case where this was already being put into practice.

He said: “We will also see the use of these MOOCs as a foundation for in-house training programs by employers and government agencies. In Singapore, they are paying more than 1,000 people to take our data science sequence of courses. We’ll see more of that kind of thing because it is such an efficient way to give training[7].”

The key selling points of MOOCs have already firmly established themselves, respected by learners, institutions and industries worldwide. So where does it go from here? The Chief Executive of FutureLearn has no doubts as to what will decide MOOCs’ development. Simon Nelson said: “The tools and technologies that are available to deliver learning online are still in their infancy and are only going to get more sophisticated as the power of the social web brings even more collaborative learning opportunities[8].”

Kiren Shoman, the executive director of books at Sage, believes that MOOCs form a crucial part of the increasingly dominant mode of overall online learning experience. He remarked: “I do think that blended learning, in a sense, is the home run. Many people are engaged with this now… and MOOCs can really set it off and have made it obvious that this is an absolute way to go[9].”  Healthcare Learning, with its blended MSc and MBA programmes, are clearly already on trend in the changing face of learning.

Healthcare CPD recognises this growing, emerging model of learning and development and has placed itself at the forefront of these growing trends. It draws on the quality and experience of its previous work, in courses, webinars and qualifications and combines it all in a medium that places accessibility as its highest priority. It opens up the possibility of expanding knowledge and develops learning to all. Online learning is fast becoming the norm and, in Healthcare CPD, we now have a series of MOOCs that are certainly ahead of the game.

To find out more about Healthcare CPD, and to access over 400 verifiable CPD courses for free, please click here. To find out more about the MOOCs you can find on so many different subjects, you can find them on Coursera, here, and FutureLearn, here.


[1] "Coursera - Free Online Courses From Top Universities"Coursera. Retrieved2015-05-16.









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