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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Be Careful What You Wish For: MOOC Edition

The Past

Back in 2015 I wrote a post on this blog titled Location Advantage Dropout. In it, I detailed my experience in Esr's Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) focused on GIS use in business. Depending on your perspective, I was brutal or honest as I described what convinced me to drop out of the course. I also provided suggestions on how to make the course better.

The Present

Today I'm Esri's MOOC program manager. I'm charged, along with my team (second to none, by the way), to develop and offer the best possible MOOCs. I like to think my passion for MOOCs and my evaluation of the course helped get me this position. I think it's time to respond to the points I raised, now that I'm on the inside. I want to address each of the suggestions I made in turn.

Responding to my Suggestions

1. Find a way for students to access all three platforms via one login.

The good news is that Esri MOOCs now require just two platforms, Udemy and ArcGIS Online, so that's a step forward. There are other places students can interact (GeoNet and LinkedIn) but those are totally optional. The education team is working to integrate ArcGIS Online into "single sign on" (SSO) solutions for companies, universities and ourselves. This is not a simple thing to do, but we certainly understand the friction managing so many sets of credentials brings to the student experience. I can say that we've made some changes, at my urging, in how students learn about and document their various credentials. I even wrote an entire quiz about the different platforms and credentials students use. If nothing else, at the end of section 1 of one of our MOOCs, students will know the term credentials!

2. Have the course "host" be active across the week.

The education team seems to have made that change before I joined Esri. The two newest MOOCs, Do-it-Yourself Geo Apps and Earth Imagery at Work have hosts who you see regularly. Brendan (who I believe is one of the disembodied voices I heard in The Location Advantage) and Kevin are interesting and interested people.  I for one just love Kevin's interview with Helen Thompson, Esri's commercial sector lead. We are continuing this tradition of a single host guiding you through the material in our next MOOC. And, I'm quite sure you'll find our latest host entertaining, energizing and challenging.

3. Have instructors instruct!

This too has been addressed in the most recent MOOC offerings. In newer MOOCs, instructors seem to use scripts little, if at all, so their "talking head" videos and two person interviews are informal and chatty. They remind me of the hallway conversations you might in between sessions at a conference. 

4. Consider discussion groups based on geography or industry.

That's something we've not been able to do. But we are working on new ways to support social learning. One of my team members, Amy, stunned us with some new ideas. It left me speechless and I'm notoriously hard to impress.

5. Find a way to engage students from the outset. 

That's something I'm hoping to incorporate as we update existing MOOCs and develop new ones. I want there to be more active learning (doing) and a bit less passive learning (reading and watching videos). I've got some ideas and we may try out one in Earth Imagery at Work during its current run.

6. Simplify the first exercise.

The hour long 45 page PDF first exercise in The Location Advantage overwhelmed me. I'm considering how to get students up and running and successful early on. They can tackle longer more complex activities as they gain more confidence. I've also learned that the 45 page PDF is mostly graphics, so it's not as long as it seems!

7. Offer motivation beyond the certificate of completion. 

I've learned that for many students the certificate of completion is a key motivator. We regularly have students scrambling to complete their coursework in the last days of the course. I was pleased to see them working so hard as I supported them over Christmas and New Years holidays last year. I've also learned that the bulk of student motivation must come, not from Esri, but from the students. Our job is to offer the best experience we can; it's up to students to make the most of it. And, they do! I was humbled to read this LinkedIn post from a MOOC student who got a job based on his studies in these free courses, including some of ours.

Looking Ahead

I closed my post with this statement: "I think corporate MOOCs in general, and this course in particular, have great potential. I look forward to seeing future iterations." That's still true as I grow into my position behind the scenes with the Esri MOOC team.