Is 2012 the year of the MOOC? It certainly seems so since I’m discovering new providers of free open learning every week. The latest to turn up on the radar is a new development from Udemy offering university teachers a chance to offer courses for free. Udemy has been around for a year or two now and their main aim is to provide people with a platform for creating and marketing courses in just about anything. Create your course, place an ad for it in Udemy and see if it takes off. Courses may be free but most have small course fees attached.
The new venture for Udemy is called the Faculty Project. Here university teachers can make their own courses open to all, including video lectures, presentation material and texts. Students enroll for free and progress at their own rate through the material using a discussion forum for collaboration with other students and even with the teacher according to the information. The initial list of courses available covers a wide range of subject areas from Operations management to Ancient Greek Religion and this is planned to expand as rapidly as they can recruit new teachers. They promise to keep the courses freely available indefinitely.
Here’s yet another example of people getting together to offer free education to a global audience. The course material itself can teach you a certain amount but by adding the input of a mentor/teacher and gathering students together into study groups using discussion forums or even better through all the other collaborative learning tools available today (eg VoiceThread, Skype, Google Docs, OpenStudy etc). Different students will learn different things; some will take the whole course, others will take selected parts. You learn what you need to learn.
There may not be any university credits on offer for all these open courses but tangible rewards may still be available. The open badges initiative that I have written about several times is gaining momentum and a new article in none other than the business establishment magazine Forbes highlights the potential of alternative credentials: Why Get a Pricey Diploma When Badges Tell Employers More? They see the potential of badges to harness the energy of informal learning but point rightly to concerns about validity and quality assurance. If these concerns are addressed a real power shift in education will take place:
“… once we find empirical ways to verify competency via accredited and ranked badge providers, not only might traditional education brands and their pals in the standardized test industry lose their monopoly on credentialing, but badges themselves might gain the widespread legitimacy they currently lack. If that happens, we will be a step closer to destroying the time-consuming, budget-busting, bubble-inducing myth that everyone must have a four-year college degree to succeed in America.”