Exploring the world of online education, MOOCs and social media


November 20, 2015 read

Exploring the world of online education, MOOCs and social media

MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses - are changing the face of online education, opening doors and creating opportunities for millions of people around the world. They are a wonderful example of how the Internet can be 'The Great Leveller', and of course social media plays an important part in their success. So naturally we jumped at the chance to talk to Sally Ballard, Director of Lapwing Media, who designed and delivered Warwick University's first online courses back in 2009. 

How did you first become involved in online learning?

I researched the benefits of online learning for the University of Warwick’s lifelong learning department in 2008. It had become obvious in face-to-face lectures and workshops that time and location were impediments to many who wanted to attend valuable career-development programmes. Putting the lectures online – in a form which was engaging, offered feedback, which allowed the participant to work at their own pace at a time and place which suited them – was an obvious solution.

How, in your opinion, have MOOCs changed the face of education?

The question here asks whether MOOCs have changed the face of education. I think one would have to define education – and I don’t think taking a six to eight-week course via an online platform would provide an education. 

However, I do believe they have changed the face of learning opportunities. Participating in a free course delivered by a top university opens horizons, offers understanding of theories and subjects which are delivered by subject experts, while a discussion forum allows engagement and sharing of thought between participants – which in itself is part of learning.

What is the value of free-access online education?

The value of free-to-access online courses is to bring subjects delivered by experts to millions who would otherwise not have that opportunity – either due to finances, circumstance or location. MOOC short courses are hugely valuable as a step in offering learning to all; offering the student the opportunity to explore a subject which could otherwise be denied to them.

The completion of a MOOC course has shown to benefit CVs and job applications. A study by Coursera – the educational technology company which has partnered with universities worldwide to offer MOOCs - shows ‘positive career and educational outcomes’ for MOOC learners. And then there’s always ‘enjoyment’ as a reason to study.

But if we think beyond MOOCs – the value of online education is already being embraced by universities, schools and organisations. It benefits those whose location, financial or personal circumstances makes it impossible to attend higher education institutions.

As online education develops, it will help serve minority groups allowing them to keep up with their peers such as children who are bullied, school phobics or those who are recuperating from long-term illness – or those who just don’t have access to good, if any teaching.

For example, online education has infiltrated the slums of Mumbai and supports education programmes in Mongolia.

The video tutorials produced by the not-for-profit Khan Academy are used by schools and school children the world over. The organisation launched in 2006 after Salman Khan started remotely tutoring a cousin. In 2009 he left his hedge fund job in the US with a mission: to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.

How does social media enhance online courses?

Social media enhances online courses in various ways. One, it acts as a conduit for the course provider to ‘market’ itself and reach an audience which regular ‘advertising’ might not reach. It acts as a platform to deliver learning in words, pictures, videos. It provides engagement and a channel for feedback.

From the learner’s point of view, social media allows learners to share their knowledge. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest are invaluable for online courses. Blogs and wikis have enormous potential as vehicles for students’ learning. Apps such as Instagram, Pinterest, Periscope – can enhance engagement – and learning.

Social media applications can supplement a course - notices, videos and pictures can be posted, messages exchanged, assignments delivered, and resources shared.

The great benefit of various social media platforms for online learning is that conversations do not have to be synchronous. They can take place at a time which suits participants who may be living in different time zones.

Why do you find MOOCs and online learning so fascinating?
I live in the UK. It is very easy for us in the West to take for granted our (generally) fantastic, free-thinking, and open-to-all education system. There are millions in the world denied these opportunities. Now, with the rise of mobile use and internet connectivity, these learning opportunities have become global.

But even in the West, the opportunity to engage with subjects once kept within the walls of universities can open a whole new world of learning and expand thinking, which can only be good.

I find online learning fascinating because it is such a simple form of delivery, and the forums which accompany the courses allow a huge amount of engagement and sharing with fellow students worldwide from all walks of life – which is what learning is all about.

What websites do you recommend for anyone who wants to get started?

I would definitely recommend the following websites:

Coursera: This US-based organisation works with around 150 education institutions in more than 25 countries. The courses are mostly free-to-view and are often part of the university’s degree programme. Coursera now offers certificates from participating colleges which students can use to demonstrate completion of a series of classes.

Future Learn: The company, wholly owned by The Open University in England, was launched in 2012. As of March 2015, it included 54 UK and international university partners and, unlike similar platforms, includes non-university partners: the British Museum, the British Council, the British Library and the National Film and Television School.

Khan Academy: A non-profit educational organisation created in 2006 by Salman Khan to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. The organisation produces short lectures in the form of YouTube videos. The project is funded by donations including backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Other great free-online course providers are Udacity and edX.

You can check out Sally's website Lapwing Media - Media Consulting, and follow @SallyBallard on Twitter.

Image from www.leanforward.com

MOOCs bring subjects delivered by experts to millions around the world

The great benefit of various social media platforms for online learning is that conversations do not have to be synchronous. They can take place at a time which suits participants who may be living in different time zones.

— Sally Ballard, Director of Lapwing Media