We interrupt this week’s Obviousity Experiment to talk about today’s announcement by Coursera of their new Global Learning Hub program.
As they describe in this press release, these new Learning Hubs “will offer people around the world physical spaces where they can access the Internet to take a Coursera course, while learning alongside peers in an interactive, facilitated setting.” Initial partners for the program include the US Department of State, and a variety of international universities and private learning organizations.
Apparently, the program grew out of discussions with State Department personnel interested in finding an inexpensive and effective way to deliver educational programs via US embassies. And recognizing that anywhere/anywhen online learning doesn’t have to contradict the notion of people working together in a shared space, Coursera decided to programitize the idea around three delivery models for blended learning.
- Discussion based – Where a facilitator would manage conversation around a week’s course lectures and encourage students to continue the conversation on the Coursera discussion boards
- Tutoring based – Where the facilitator would both lead discussion and support students on their weekly assignments
- Project based – Where the facilitator would work with the class to come up with a set of projects students can work on independently or together to supplement regular course work
You’ll notice that facilitators are tasked with a key role in the success of a Learning Hubs. And given the wide range of environments where Hub-based learning might take place, Coursera does not seem to be pushing any pre-requisites for this role (other than enough understanding of MOOCs and the material to be able to implement one of the three learning models noted above) – a reasonable approach, given that Hubs could spring up anywhere from Anniston Alabama to Zwibi Zaire.
If you read the series I wrote a couple of weeks back about the challenges surrounding group learning, you can understand why I find this new Learning Hub strategy compelling. For as good as discussion boards and social media might be for some kinds of class-based communication, anyone who has experienced both great MOOCs and great traditional classrooms can immediately identify the superiority of community-based interactions in the latter vs. the former.
If you ever watch a presentation by a leader of one of the major MOOC providers, slides will inevitably pop on the screen showing how schools in places like rural Pakistan have built their curriculum around freely available massive online courses, creating their own “Learning Hubs” in soccer stadiums or school courtyards where students listen to lectures during the 1-2 hours a day when electricity and Internet are available.
What these institutions have in common with places like US embassies (and, one assumes, other institutions that have already signed up for Coursera’s Learning Hub program) is that a community of potential learners (such as students in a school or employees at an embassy) already exist and are looking for new and interesting ways to learn together. And if the program is targeted at other communities that share this characteristic, it could open up new avenues for MOOCs to make a difference.
So where might such communities exist? Well earlier this year, I gave a talk to a group of working and retired professors at Brandeis University who were associated with Osher Lifelong Learning Foundation, a non-profit which supports groups across the country who get together regularly to study whatever subjects interest them (or whatever subjects they can recruit teachers to teach). Might such organizations benefit from MOOCs and a program to implement them on a classroom basis? Just asking!
While I expect Learning Hubs (and equivalent) programs will find some decent initial uptake, their long-term success will likely derive from distilling whatever works inside the better facilitated MOOC classrooms into scalable programmatic elements. For instance, while adept and connected facilitators may be able to find or create group exercises for Hubs built around Coursera’s project-based learning model, other course leaders might need help from either Coursera or its partner institutions to find projects that can be easily implemented in the blended classroom.
So stay tuned as this latest sub-experiment of the wider MOOC experiment gets tested in the field. And here’s hoping this is just one of many tries to create new avenues for community creation, one of the areas of MOOCdom that needs the most attention.