The Learners We Need
So, the whole MOOC thing has been on my brain of late for a variety of reasons…the Coursera announcement, the figuring out of which of the many MOOC-ish variations is really a MOOC, and the implications of all of it (if any) for the K-12 set. Let me just say at the outset that I’m most interested in the Canadian style MOOC (a la Siemens, Downes, Cormier, Couros, et al.) which fully puts the onus of learning on the learner and the community of learners that form around the topic. As opposed to the Coursera model, there aren’t any canned videos being flipped, just big questions and interactions among the participants attempting to answer them.
What interests me is what qualities it takes to be successful in a true MOOC environment, and what qualities it takes to be a successful self-directed, more-or-less informal learner online in general. To that end, Peter Gow has an interesting reflection on his experience in the MOOCMOOC class that is looking at the MOOC experience as learners experience it. (Meta, I know.) . As Peter says, the learner is in charge:
The MOOC MOOC is all about “connectivist” learning—a model that puts a considerable burden on the “learner” for figuring out what’s going on and for developing the skills and tools for using all the amorphousness of the cloud and a wealth of social media to bring a connected structure—it’s sort of pattern recognition, sort of gestalt—to the learning process…
But that takes some qualities that we don’t cultivate very well, imho, in the current education systems we put our kids in. Here’s Peter’s shortlist of requirements for success:
Genuine interest. I have to care enough about the course material to wrestle with the big ideas and small details—and the homework—all on my own. If I don’t actually care that much about what I am supposed to be learning, each task becomes drudgery. Without this, the rest is irrelevant.
A certain amount of online extrovertedness and confidence. I’ve got to be able to jump into conversations, offer critical analysis and even critique, in multiple online media. The inherent risks in online commentary—that my dry sense of humor won’t be understood and that we’ll all just say nice things to get our participation “checked off” with no troubling downside—are all present, and I’m working on this.
Comfort with the medium. This may mean downloading, installing, configuring, and learning how to use new software or new online tools. Fortunately I’m more or less okay here, although I’m not ready to code, which seems not to be even a possibility.
Dedicated time. This is not a pop-in, pop-out activity; I need to clear a bunch of time to get through each element of the work. This is more of a challenge than it should be, given the time of year, but it’s not insurmountable—where there’s a will there’s a way (see #1 above).
It’s actually that second one that has me thinking more than the rest. It begs the question “Can kids, or adults for that matter, who are not disposed to transparency and interactions in public social spaces be expected to succeed in the types of learning opportunities that MOOCs offer?” And, further, if we find that quality to have significant value in a person’s learning life, is that something we can help students cultivate in our K-12 schools?
I don’t think anyone knows exactly how this all plays out, but is it fair to say that if we’re not shifting our emphasis to helping kids develop as learners who can take advantage of these informal (perhaps soon to be accredited) learning experiences, we’re shortchanging them?