Not long after educational providers and students alike clocked on to the fast-rising and game-changing trend of free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) programmes, it quickly expanded to factor in the option of paid MOOCs, otherwise known as MOOC+. And now, just as people were getting comfortable with this possibility, another new and far more futuristic acronym has hit the streets.
This one is called SPOCs and stands for Small Private Online Courses. And they do exactly what it says on the tin. They use the same concept of MOOCs, as detailed in my previous columns, in that they develop online programmes and professor-led tutorials and make them available for free online to large bodies of students - but they do so on a smaller and more limited scale. Enrolment sizes could still be in the hundreds, but they veer decidedly away from the thousands.
Does this mean that we have entered a 'post-MOOC era', so named by the academic chairing Harvard's latest online experiments and reported on the BBC, before the trend has even had lift-off? The simple answer is no. Both will survive and can happily co-exist. The excitement of either option lies in the fact that technology is now sufficiently mature and flexible enough to deliver what equally mature users demand. The result is higher value, lower cost learning environments - which, with sky-rocketing tuition fees, is exactly what the world demands.
There is a reason why these trends are impacting higher education specifically. That is because, beyond primary and early secondary education, part of the task of the educator is to not only provide knowledge but also employability skills. That being the case, it is no surprise that MOOCs and SPOCs are on the rise, as mass education addresses the fundamental requirement for any successful business leader: collaboration. In essence, education is the process, technology is the tool and collaboration is the ultimate goal. Both MOOCs and SPOCs successfully bring all three of these elements together.
So whether we are post-MOOC or pre-SPOC or somewhere in between, there is no debating that we are facing a significant transition in the world of education. And in my opinion, the common denominator for both is yet another acronym, LAPs (Local Access Points).
With IT-driven education as one of our core competencies at London School of Marketing, and considering that international students are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain a visa to travel to the UK to study, we have set up LAPs across the world to allow us to take our qualifications to students instead of expecting them to travel to the UK. We use our expertise and technology to remove the boundaries to education, and empower students all over the world to develop their skills and improve their career prospects by providing a globally recognised British qualification.
The design and development of LAPs are about much more than e-learning. First of all, they offer a physical presence and a local touch, while conventional e-learning does not. Secondly, the tools are increasingly complex, particularly when compared to those in a traditional classroom-based environment. LAPs also provide two additional components which will be of increasing value in the modern, competitive and increasingly borderless world of working.
These are virtual collaboration and the management of projects in virtual environments.
Virtual Collaboration: Most people know how to use social media to communicate, but that is only one part of the capabilities needed to collaborate. A full understanding of collaboration demands additional communication, combined with feedback tools and experience. LAPs provide collaborative working tools, specify requirements in a virtual environment, offer feedback both from educationalists and students and combine offline local presence and mentoring to use tools effectively.
Managing Projects in a Virtual Environment: This is the next stage of sophistication in learning how to operate in a virtual environment. It requires additional skills in terms of project and client management as well as team communication. This is even more important for students in the developing world who will be better positioned to find employment with global multi-cultural companies, where most of the work will be done by teams working in a virtual world.
Factoring in these benefits, we believe that the learning opportunities of LAPs are six-fold and include understanding:
1. How to evaluate team members and form a team using cloud tools
2. How to use collaborative tools while factoring in their benefits and pitfalls
3. Appropriate client communication and management
4. How to run, manage and lead a video conference
5. How to create common understanding across all team members
6. The appropriate level of communication required to succeed in both the virtual and off-line world
Global leaders have been quick to identify the opportunity to be had, which means more opportunities will be quick to follow. As reported in The Economist, Bill Gates calls this "a special moment" for education. The article goes on to report that "Rupert Murdoch is allowing Amplify, his digital education business, to run up losses of around $180m this year in hope of dominating an edtech market that News Corporation reckons will soon be worth $44 billion in America alone." So it seems, as the media can attest to and the growing trends support, we are not the only ones to believe in the power of technology with the support of LAPs to completely transform the world of education.