In recent years, a global increase in access to the Internet, a demand for quality and affordable higher education and the willingness of some international higher education institutions (HEIs) to experiment with Web 2.0 tools and concepts, has resulted in the substantial growth of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
These courses allow for new ways of learning skills and gaining accreditation and, as such, offer much in the way of skills development.
In this section, the concept of MOOCs will be introduced and their application for digital media skills training explored with reference to some of the major resources available.
MOOCs: An Introduction
MOOCs are simply a kind of distance education, taking the form of online courses, open to any users via the web. While there are some variations in the kinds of content they offer, the basic elements are:
- Course material (readings, video and audio lectures, problem sets)
- Online community components (forums connecting students and lecturers, collaborative learning)
- Testing (online multiple choice assignments, essays, peer review, etc.)
Most MOOCs follow the format of traditional “offline” courses, requiring users to work through the coursework according to a set schedule, before taking some form of assessment to test the comprehension of the knowledge gained. In addition, many MOOCs encourage interaction between users and teachers, and amongst users, adding an extra dimension to the learning process, a collaborative element that can aid users. This can take place through online forums, chat rooms and email correspondence.
The accreditation offered for completing a MOOC varies from course to course, as does the cost. Most courses are free, while some providers offer paid courses (often with premium content). Accreditation is often simply nominal and does not provide recognised academic credits (though some Higher Education Institutions are experimenting with using MOOCs as course alternatives). MOOCs can also be completely open, allowing anyone to adapt and reuse the course material, or they can be closed, allowing anyone to take part but enforcing copyright on the course material.
MOOCs: The Benefits and Challenges
MOOCs offer many benefits when compared to the alternatives (distance learning, self-study, etc.). Some of these, taken from Moocguide (2014) include:
- Ability to organise a MOOC wherever there is internet connectivity
- Courses in multiple languages
- Ability to start with short notice
- Relatively short time frames
- Ability to work at own pace (within a framework)
- Access to content from different contexts
- Informal, online setting
- Ability to learn from other participants
- Low barriers to entry – no degrees required
That is not to say, however, that MOOCs are not without their challenges. As a new field that is still in the process of defining itself, the challenges that MOOCs face (as identified by MoocGuide) include:
- Lack of structure
- Some digital literacy required
- Organic nature requires user to direct the course at times
- Requires self-regulation by the user
While MOOCs cannot fully replace a comprehensive degree or diploma, they offer a good way to fill skills gaps in a digital project’s team. They are more accessible than independent learning/research and many MOOC providers offer a wealth of content around digital/knowledge management skills. The content of many of the leading MOOC providers is adapted from actual university courses, which means that there are often quality resources available for those who seek them. MOOCs are particularly useful for developing digital competency, helping project team members to gain the skills they need for a particular project as well as develop skills such as project management and research techniques.
When investigating whether a MOOC is appropriate for members of the project team, the following factors should be taken into account:
- Skill level: does the stated level of the course match that of the team?
- Content: does the course adequately cover the required skills (see outline for information)?
- Commitment: does the project member have the time and energy to dedicate to the course?
Some examples of MOOCs relevant for digital projects are:
MOOCs can be a valuable resource for filling the skills gaps of a digital project team. If skills development in ICT marginalised communities is one of the aims of the project, MOOCs that offer some form of accreditation for course completion, can be especially beneficial. Though not without challenges, with proper planning and consideration, MOOCs can provide an accessible form of skills development.