Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) iTunesU, and Learning via YouTube

Does Online Learning Equal Competency?

I love Learning; lets get that one out of the way right from the word go.  I love to be able to look for a solution to something by searching google, then reading and article or watching a YouTube video on whatever I need to know.  I have iTunesU on my IPad, I watch Khan Academy video’s, in essence I tend to devour learning and information from whatever source I can get it.  Do I learn things by doing this – Yes I think I do.  Does this kind of Learning make me competent – I am far less sure of this one, and I guess this is where my headspace is with these kinds of courses and programs.  In most cases there is no real assessment of outcomes for the participants and where there, will they, or do they fit what employers etc might consider to be relevant outcomes.

Consider two applicants for a position one who has done a degree via traditional delivery and assessment and one who has done and equal amount of ‘online’, ‘free’ programs.  All other things being equal, (even without them being equal in my opinion) who are you going to give the job to.  I would think hands down the person with the degree and would challenge anyone to justify to me, why they would choose the other candidate.

What about recognition of prior learning, some which is a core component of the Australian VET system, do these freely available online courses count as acceptable evidence of competence or is there still further work that needs to be done, perhaps independant assessment of competence, before they are recognised?

I have a deeper issue though with this kind of learning which is one of transfer and application of skills.  Let me give you an example of what I mean.  A number of years ago I was in a training role, where after the courses had ended, clients would often contact me with a range of technical questions around some of the software that was use as part of the course (even though the course itself was not a technical course).  I quickly learnt that it was simpler for me in most cases to Google their question and give them the answer there and then, rather than  say I wasn’t sure and try and get back to them at a later date.  It kept them happy, value added to what we did, and positioned me a technical expert in a piece of software, that I actually knew technically very little about.  Was I competent; I dont think so, I never had any background knowledge about how the system worked or why some of the things worked the way they did.  I was just following the instructions of someone else.  This is not to say that I did not learn things I certainly did, but learning things does not in my opinion equate necessarily to competence, and if I am being compeltely honest most of the solutions went straight out of my head after I had given them to the client, simply because I did not need to know.  If a got multiple clients who wanted the same or very similar information I would bookmark the site or video so that I could simply go back to it when needed and pass the instructions on. The other thing that I could never understand about this situation (and this is a bit of an aside) is why clients rang me in first place, when they could have simply searched the web themselves and found the answer just as quickly as I had.

The other and final issue Ihave with all of these programs is how do we integrate them into the range of informal learning with our organisations and more importantly for me at least, how to we evaluate the learning that comes from them for both or staff and the organisation as a whole.

I would be really excited to hear any ideas that you have around this subject.

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About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

One Response to Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) iTunesU, and Learning via YouTube

  1. My thoughts are that most online corses are poor experience, lacking deeper learning, applied knowledge as you say, and often though they no better, or ‘just as bad’ as most face to face training available. I accept your challenge previously stated, to justify why I WOULD consider hiring the person who did the online course, as it is a sign that they are self motivated, early adopters of technology and understand how to utilise resources available to us on online.

    I may pick the person with the degree, however. It’s not the qualification so much that’s important to me as a business owner but the applied skills demonstrated outside of any educational setting that matter, also a good work ethic, reliability, creativity and a hunger to learn more.

    How much if any credit we should give to online courses, is a tricky one, a great dilemma you have raised and I don’t have an answer ‘yet’, but something many of us in Adult Education will need to work out.

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