MOOCs

Posted Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - 16:25
Two takes on how massive open online courses (MOOCs) may affect librarians and library services

Point

Paul Signorelli, Learning advocate and consultant, active MOOC participant

Are MOOCs here to stay? Why?

MOOCs do appear to be here to stay as part of the overall online learning environment. The fact that they gained so much attention last year speaks well of the possibilities they offer in extending the reach of learning opportunities. The best of the connectivist MOOCs—those connecting learners across a variety of platforms (e.g., Google+ communities, Twitter, and live and archived learning sites)—have been particularly creative and effective in fostering sustainable learning communities.

What impact do you see MOOCs having on the library’s role as the “people’s university”?

Just as libraries provide “free” and open access to learning resources, MOOCs provide free and open access to learning opportunities that many might not otherwise have. There is no reason that libraries and those designing and providing MOOCs can’t work together in the same way that the New York Public Library system has been working with Lynda .com, or the San Francisco Public Library and others have been working to provide free access to the Learn4Life site.

How will MOOCs affect library services?

Library staff and users can benefit from MOOCs because of their shared common goals. Libraries thrive, in part, as organizations that meet just-in-time learning needs and foster a strong sense of community; connectivist MOOCs in particular might inspire similar positive impacts and augment library learning services.

Should MOOC developers be reaching out to libraries for support and collaboration?

Yes! Library staff also need to reach out to MOOC developers. Though I don’t expect to see any libraries taking the lead in developing and delivering MOOCs in the immediate future because of other priorities, I do believe library staff—especially those already immersed in providing formal learning opportunities—have much to offer anyone involved in developing and delivering learning opportunities online and face to face.

How do you see MOOCs evolving? How do you think they will fare in various settings (i.e., academic vs. public)?

MOOCs have already passed the phase of being mistakenly seen as a panacea for “all that’s wrong” with learning (unresponsiveness to learners’ needs, too costly, inaccessible to many who need it). We are now more realistically determining what MOOCs can accomplish in teaching-training-learning and determining how they fit into our overall learning environment. There’s clearly a place for them in academic and public learning venues, but we have to overcome resistance from those who judge them against traditional grade-based learning programs.

Should librarians accept MOOCs as a legitimate form of professional development for themselves?

Library staff members should accept all learning as a legitimate form of professional development. MOOCs, like so many other learning opportunities, can be tremendously transformative if they are well-designed, well-delivered, and responsive to learners’ needs. David Lankes’s “New Librarianship Master Class” MOOC offered through the Syracuse University iSchool in 2013 was a wonderful example of how a MOOC can provide a first-rate learning experience. We need more of these.

 


Counterpoint

Amanda Hovious, Candidate for Master’s in Instructional Design and Technology

Are MOOCs here to stay? Why?

I don’t think MOOCs in their current state have the staying power to remain successful. There is nothing innovative about their current format except their ability to deliver instruction to a massive audience. The resulting interest and curiosity is more reflective of a fad than a long-term trend. If MOOCs were to be redesigned as a community of practice rather than an online course, I could see a future potential for them.

What impact do you see MOOCs having on the library’s role as the “people’s university”?

I don’t see MOOCs taking over libraries in the role of “people’s university.” To me, MOOCs are simply another learning resource that libraries have an opportunity to curate. That is, if MOOCs end up sticking around.

How will MOOCs affect library services?

Librarians should look at MOOCs in the broader context of online education. I see MOOCs themselves, in their current state, as having a negligible impact on library services. Students enrolled in credit-based online programs are creating a larger impact on library services. These are students who are more likely to ask for research-related help. It’s important to remember that those who are taking MOOCs tend to already have a college degree. As a result, they may be less likely to ask for, or even need, library services.

Should MOOC developers be reaching out to libraries for support and collaboration?

MOOCs are still experimental in terms of development, so I would caution careful consideration. Before getting involved in MOOC development, librarians should ask: What is the purpose of the MOOC? Who is the target audience? How will it support the community that the library serves? What are the costs to the library (e.g., time, human resources, budget)? At the present, many libraries are thinly stretched in terms of resources. A library should not get involved in MOOC development if it negatively affects its ability to serve its primary users.

How do you see MOOCs evolving? How do you think they will fare in various settings (i.e., academic vs. public)?

MOOCs are evolving in the wrong direction and are not reaching their target audience. They are not designed for people who are new to learning; they are designed for people who already know how to learn. I would like to see MOOCs evolve from online courses to online communities of practice, more focused on lifelong learning interests or professional development than academic coursework. They would be less about video lectures and quizzes and more about collaborative teaching and learning. There wouldn’t be a central teacher; all participants would have an equal opportunity to share, teach, and learn.

Should librarians accept MOOCs as a legitimate form of professional development for themselves?

I don’t feel the current design of MOOCs is conducive to effective professional development. If they were to be developed as online communities of practice, where a course was ongoing rather than time-sensitive and its learning environment characterized by participatory teaching among members, MOOCs could serve in that capacity. However, the most effective form of professional development can probably be found through face-to-face peer support.

 

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