Wednesday, July 10, 2013

MOOCs International Organizations Expand the Supplier Base While MOOC Supplier Competition Goes Global

MOOCs have been understood as the creature of academics and the institutions they serve.  Universities, along with their business partners, or when joint ventures of universities are created to develop and profit from this form, appear to have a lock on the form.  That is useful, especially where MOOCs are viewed as a revenue generating and labor leveraging device.
(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

Two interesting developments may change the planning horizons of American universities in the  MOOCs market.  Both may represent potentially substantial market competitors to universities.  Yet at least of them offers the possibility of reaching market's for learners beyond those that universities may view as potentially available for revenue harvesting. One shows how international organizations may be turning to MOOCs in their capacity building and knowledge dissemination objectives.  The second suggests that MOOCs (and revenue competition ) may be going global.  

One of the most interesting uses of MOOCs combines the technical expertise of academic MOOC-producing ventures and the international policy objectives of International organizations have begun to understand the utility of MOOCs as a method of capacity building for any number of important objectives. The International Monetary Fund has recently announced that it will add MOOCs to its capacity building methodologies.  It has partnered with elite academic MOOC producer ventures to deliver MOOC based education to enhance its policy objectives--and principally capacity building with targeted audiences.

The target audience for now are elite--the principal "clients" of the IMF.  But the ability of international organizations to reach target audiences through MOOCs suggests much more broadly based applications.The entry of international organizations suggests that, where certification from licensed academic institutions is not required, markets for MOOCs suppliers may expand to meet the wide and quite varied consumer market demand for knowledge production.  That will raise the most interesting issue of all--whether academics at MOOC producing institution may be able to freelance MOOCs or whether their services have been captured by their employers and in that way made unavailable for the production and dissemination of knowledge except in the service of their employer-master.may so

IMF Launches Online Economics Learning for Global Classroom
IMF Survey Magazine
June 19, 2013

New IMF initiative to offer core economics training online
edX e-learning platform to reach new audiences
Positive reactions to interactive online learning pilots

In the virtual classroom of tomorrow, central bank and government officials will be able to supplement what they learn in physical IMF classrooms by tapping into an online network of economics and financial training courses.

And courses that have thus far been restricted to IMF member country officials will be available to students, bankers—anyone who’s interested and has an internet connection.

Thanks to a new partnership with edX, the nonprofit online learning initiative founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the IMF will soon start offering economics courses online to officials from around the world to complement its traditional training delivery. Free public access, through so-called massive open online courses (MOOCs), will follow in 2014.

“Taking our training online opens up a whole world of possibilities,” said Sharmini Coorey, Director of the IMF’s Institute for Capacity Development, which runs training courses in economics and finance for officials from the IMF’s 188 member countries—mostly those working at central banks and finance ministries. Topics range widely, from economic policy and forecasting to financial stability, legal frameworks, and compiling official statistics. “Online learning not only means we can train our member countries officials better—it also means everyone can join in.”

Better understanding of key economic policy issues raises the level of public debate and can help positive policy reforms gain traction and support. Last year the IMF trained 7,800 officials from around the world to help them make better policies. But the same analytical skills are in demand in a host of other walks of life: academics, journalists, financial sector workers, legislators, civil society and labor organizations, to name but a few.

“In terms of the number of people we can reach, this is a game-changer,” Coorey said.

Learning by doing

The IMF has successfully experimented with e-learning on partial segments of courses in recent months. The modules developed thus far have been used to ensure participants are fully prepared before traveling for a face-to-face course at the institution’s Washington headquarters or one of its seven regional training centers around the world.

“It brings participants up to the same level, and saves precious time in the classroom,” said Ales Bulir, a Czech economist who lectures full-time for the IMF. “Time saved explaining the basic facts can be used for policy dialogue.”

Courses containing segments on designing fiscal frameworks for natural resource-rich countries, techniques to calculate the output gap, and the effects of monetary policy on the economy have already gone partly online, and more are set to follow. The online course segments include recorded clips of lectures and slideshows of data and graphics, interspersed with interactive multiple-choice quizzes and hands-on workshops. Participants download datasets and crunch the numbers themselves to ensure they have understood the macroeconomic analysis tools and to help them commit the lesson to memory. Their understanding is therefore tested more frequently and systematically than would be possible in a classroom setting. Wrong answers trigger a helpful hint, while correct answers prompt an explanatory phrase to reinforce the lesson.

“E-learning is really a mixture of lecture and workshop—learning becomes much more interactive and effective than in a straight lecture format,” Bulir said.

Hour-long classroom lectures are broken down into 10-minute segments for e-learning, since people’s attention spans online are significantly shorter than they are in the physical classroom. As a result, the segments tend to be more focused and structured than a conventional face-to-face lecture format.

“It’s a true disciplining device for the instructor,” Bulir said. “I cannot assume someone will be watching it in one block—someone will be knocking on the door, a phone may be ringing, kids may be calling dad for dinner, so I have to assume that each of these individual 5-10-minute videos is watched in isolation.”

Building blocks

Some subjects lend themselves more easily to online learning than others: for example, manipulating data to estimate the output gap—that is, the difference between what an economy could produce and what it is producing—can be broken down into step-by-step lessons more easily than a broader debate on finding the right policy mix to achieve a set of economic objectives. E-learning doesn’t spell the end of classroom-based training, but it opens up training in certain key economics skills to a mass audience.

“We are creating building blocks that can be dovetailed with other sections of training,” said Bulir, the lecturer.

Ray Brooks, head of the Europe and Middle East Division of the IMF’s Institute for Capacity Development, has experimented this year with e-learning modules within a physical classroom context.

“With e-learning, people are able to go at their own pace—and the counselors are still there to handle questions,” said Brooks, previously the IMF’s representative in China, as he scrolled through a course on an iPad. So far, feedback is positive: participants like the online format and the mix of tutorial and practical sessions. Many participants repeat online exercises until they achieve a higher score, reinforcing the learning experience through repetition.

What’s more, once they have online access, they dip back into the course weeks or months afterwards, refreshing their memories on specific sections of courses as they crop up in their real-life jobs. E-learning becomes more than a one-off course, Brooks said; it becomes almost a virtual coach.

“This innovative approach changes the way people learn,” he said.

On the other side, competition for academic MOOC production has gone global.  Sara Grossman has recently reported for the Chronicle of Higher Education that
Although talk of providers of MOOCs, or massive open online courses, has centered mostly on American companies and nonprofit organizations like Coursera and edX, MOOC platforms in other countries have made it clear that they are also looking to stake a claim in this growing realm of higher education.

Japan’s answer to Coursera and edX, Schoo, announced this week that is had raised $1.5-million from venture-capital firms, including Itochu Technology Ventures, the Anri Fund, and the Incubate Fund. Offering more than 130 courses, Schoo is aimed at a Japanese audience of mainly office workers in their late 20s and early 30s. Although it has only 40,000 users now, the company says it hopes to have more than a million students by the end of 2013. (Sara Grossman, "American MOOC Providers Face International Competition," Chronicle of Higher Education, July 10, 2013)

Ms. Grossman identifies the possible new competitutors:
Some of them are:
Open2Study (Australia): Open2Study has partnerships with eight Australian universities and offers courses on such as topics nutrition, anthropology, and business.
Veduca (Brazil): Veduca was the first MOOC provider in Latin America, and it curates publicly available educational videos from universities like the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard and Columbia Universities, adding subtitles in Portuguese. The company also offered the first Latin America-based MOOC from the University of São Paulo.
FutureLearn (Britain): FutureLearn has partnerships with 22 universities in Britain, as well as one in Australia and one in Ireland. Partners in Britain include the Universities of Birmingham, Bristol, East Anglia, Exeter, Leeds, Southampton, and Warwick, as well as Cardiff and Lancaster Universities, Queen’s University Belfast, and King’s College London.
iversity (Germany): iversity offers 10 courses in a variety of topics, including art studies, economics, and chemistry. It recently ran a contest for professors and others interested in creating and offering massive open online courses, promising a prize of 25,000 euros to each of 10 winners. (Sara Grossman, "American MOOC Providers Face International Competition,"supra).

These entities, like their American competitors, have tapped into financial markets quite successfully. That will raise the more interesting issue--whether international capital will, by the power of their own needs for revenue generation and sufficient return on investment, begin to shape in more discernible ways, the shape and direction of MOOCs and MOOC programs offered through their financed enterprises. their

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