Is your agency ready for the revolution? (in education/learning?)

Post by Marian Abernathy, LINGOs Director of Membership & Communications

Thomas Friedman’s Sunday Jan 27 column in the New York Times “Revolution Hits the Universities” is right on. Friedman writes about the transformational potential of the “massive open online course” or MOOC. These courses are online, open to all, and for the most part available free of cost to learners around the world. International NGOs that provide learning services to their staff should be paying attention!

LINGOs Executive Director Eric Berg and I experimented with a MOOC last fall offered by Stanford University and VentureLab entitled “Designing a New Learning Environment.” Just as with face to face training, virtual classrooms and eLearning, a MOOC can be designed and delivered from abysmally to beyond superbly.

LINGOs’ vision is for anyone working to reduce poverty and alleviate suffering in the developing world to have access to world-class learning opportunities at little or no cost.  We believe that the more effective they are, the more people will have food, shelter and be healthy, the more people will be educated and the more people will live in a clean and safe environment.

MOOCs, open to anyone, presently at no cost, have the potential to create massive leverage for people who otherwise do not have access to university education. There’s enormous potential for the motivated staff of NGOs to learn along with others from around the world.

Lectures are pre-recorded so that students can attend at their convenience. This is great for students in multiple time zones, or international development professionals and humanitarian relief workers who have meetings pop up, long trips and disasters that may spring up and keep them from attending a set-time event. However, the flexibility has a cost, as it can require more self-discipline than many of us have. I did find taking a course with my boss to be a significant motivator!

A central feature of MOOC is crowd sourcing, which allows the course content to go beyond simple quizzes and interactions that are assessed as correct/incorrect and permit fellow students to review each other’s assignments and give feedback.  This means that individual students, as well as teams of students can submit thoughtful and complex assignments and receive comments and advice from fellow students around the world.

Talk about leverage! The faculty don’t have to respond to the individual assignments of each student (some MOOCs start with over 100,000 students!), but they can learn together and gain from the wisdom of the crowd.

We’ve been experimenting with some of the elements of a MOOC with our blended learning courses on Project Management. We learned from our 5-week PMDPro course last fall and are adapting our lessons and experiences in two four-week courses, one in Spanish in February, and the other in English in March.  These courses include self-paced eLearning, discussion boards, assignments and three hours of virtual classroom training and coaching per week. Given the live instruction, coaching and feedback from instructors and that we don’t have backing from venture capitalists, we aren’t yet able to offer this type of learning free, but can do it at a significantly lower cost than face to face training. We are looking at ways to leverage our learning from the MOOC to learn how to offer this type of learning at lower costs to reach greater numbers of those working to improve lives of people in the developing world.

Our Project Services Team is in the process of designing a “mini-MOOC” on Project Management in Development. This will be an asynchronous blended approach with no direct instructor feedback but with opportunities for interaction and feedback from other course participants. It will probably have a small fee – so not quite free – but will also include the opportunity for a certificate for participants who successfully complete assignments and the final exam. Look for more information on this later this quarter.

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