Massive Online Learning Communities, The Future of Education?

Philipp Schmidt (CC-license by Joi Ito)
Philipp Schmidt (CC-license by Joi Ito)

Philipp Schmidt from the Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) talked about big online learning communities. P2PU is non-profit organization that runs an open source platform that you can use to run courses. Their starting point (and that of their community) is not the institution. Their three values are: peer learning, community and open. Here are my quick notes on his talk.

There is a wave of Massive Online Courses that has captured the imagination of academics. Philipp considers things like WordPress and Wikipedia the starting point for collaborating at scale. Another thing that is at the roots of this movement is the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig from Stanford have shown us that it is possible not only to scale content, but also scale assignments and assessments. More than 100.000 people registered for the course and around 25.000 students actually finished this very hard course. Thrun has now left Stanford and has started the for-profit Udacity in which he is trying to help companies with finding good computer programmers by selling the performance data of students in their courses. Other people from Stanford have started Coursera. Another example is MITx which will offer a portfolio of MIT course for free for virtual communities around the world.

This part of the MOOC universe has received a lot of attention, but there is a parallel reality of people who have been experimenting with this for a long time. Jonathan Worth, for example, teaches photography. Jim Groom is the poster boy for Edupunk. He runs a course called Digital Storytelling 106. At Virginia Tech they are running a course titled The Plaid Avenger. Nearly all these courses use open source and free tools that they open to the world. They invite people in and manage to attract great speakers because of the amount of students they manage to sign up for these courses. There is likely a much larger community than we can expect.

So what does this all mean? Thrun has said that he cannot go back to Stanford again to teach a normal course. Lots of people online are denouncing the university because of the alternative to them that these massive open courses show. Philipp is interested in thinking about how you would scale online courses in a way that doesn’t stink. P2PU has done some experiments in their School of Webcraft with self-paced and self-directed problem-based (“challenges”) courses. There are a few areas to consider:

  • Open content
  • Allocation of expertise
  • Assessment
  • Recognition/Certification
  • Community

I will definitely continue the conversation with him on each of these topics.

4 thoughts on “Massive Online Learning Communities, The Future of Education?

  1. If you had titled this, “Massive Blended Learning Communities, the Future of Education?”, I would agree completely. The affordances of face-to-face modalities are too compelling to ignore.

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