Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What we talk about when we talk about MOOCs

Having never successfully completed a MOOC, I'm always surprised when I read an article that indicates that people are still engaged with the format in a meaningful way. I read a couple of articles recently that made me think about them in a way I hadn't for quite some time.

I read this article from the Harvard Business Review today about the demographics of people who participate in and complete MOOCs. The article goes on to discuss some of the tangible benefits that people who have completed a course say they've gained. According to the research discussed in the article, 72% of respondents reported career benefits and 61% reported educational benefits.

I also read this article from the New York Times about how high school students are taking MOOCs and including them on their college applications. These students don't seem to try to pass them off as academic pursuits but, rather, they list them under extracurricular activities. Given the relatively low completion rate of MOOCs, they're a good way for high achieving high school students to try their hand at classes in a variety of subject areas without the added pressure of dropping or failing a college-level course.

As I was reading all of this, I started thinking that maybe my feeling about these courses is wrong. Maybe MOOCs could be a valuable continuing education tool that could help me expand my skill set. I'm mid-career librarian and at some point, I imagine that the changes in librarianship are going to to be significant enough that I will need to develop a new skill set in order to stay relevant. I can see it happening already with the development of BIBFRAME and the growing interest in Library Linked Data.

Given that cheating is a huge problem in MOOCs, it does leave me wondering what would happen if I managed to complete a MOOC and listed the course on my CV under my professional development activities. Would it have the same perceived value as a certificate course from a professional association or a graduate program?

While they may not have hit the tipping point that we imagined they would, MOOCs appear to still be an important form of skill building for a lot of people. And librarianship has considered the ways in which we will support people from our constituencies who are both participating in and teaching MOOCs. But I'm not sure we've considered how we will support each other as a constituency. I'm not sure we've decided whether we will accept MOOCs as a viable form of professional development. And I think we need to decide quickly, since there is a generation of middle-career librarians like me who are trying to figure out how to develop our skills in order to remain relevant.

Stay positive,

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