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Open Educational Resources (OER) and Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have made it possible for several people to learn topics and subjects they would not otherwise have had access to. Furthermore, many MOOCs enable students to learn topics by listening to lectures by world-leading academics in their respective fields. While students have never had it so good, what about the teaching community? Will OER and MOOCs irrevocably change the role of teachers to something akin to knowledge managers? Will classrooms and classroom lectures ever be the same again?
In his excellent book, Tony Bates (2019) argues that “The role of the instructor then will shift to providing guidance to learners on where and how to find content, how to evaluate the relevance and reliability of content, what content areas are core and what peripheral, and to helping students analyze, apply and present information, within a strong learning design that focuses on clearly defined learning outcomes, particularly with regard to the development of skills.” (Bates (2019)). He forecasts that “students will increasingly look to institutions for learning support and help with the development of skills needed in a digital age rather than with the delivery of content.“(Bates (2019)). Therefore, according to Bates, the teaching landscape will indeed change radically, with teachers tasked with facilitating a student’s learning and Universities responsible for supporting knowledge acquisition rather than imparting that knowledge to students.
Tony is absolutely a world expert on this topic, but I do find myself at odds with some of his opinions. I do agree with him that MOOCs will not be a panacea to student learning, but rather might largely replace the one-to-many classroom lectures on core topics of a subject. This is what MOOCs do best – allow students to learn these core topics at their own pace, from world experts. However, I believe this will free up teachers to provide teaching services on what MOOCs can fundamentally never do, provide personalised instruction and feedback to deepen a student’s knowledge, guide them to form connections between a topic and related topics within a discipline as well as across disciplines, and essentially inspire them toward mastery of a topic. This process requires both professional mastery and sensitivity from the teacher, which I believe a MOOC or any computer programme could never provide. Hence, I believe the teacher’s role might shift to guiding the student’s learning, rather than guiding students on ‘how to learn’ as I think Bates suggests. Such personalised instruction and feedback has been demonstrated to substantially improve student learning (Bloom (1984)), though note this paper studied one-one instruction rather than small-group supervision. Notably, both Cambridge University, UK and Oxford University, UK, have for many, many years offered such small-group tutorials by domain experts, in addition to classroom lectures.
What would this mean for Universities? Will the most preferred Universities be those that offer the best learning support services? I am not so sure. I feel the most-valued Universities will still be those that offer the best teaching, leading to the best learning outcomes. Of course, the syllabi will be a combination of fundamental topics in a field and those particularly relevant to a modern-day digital context, for e.g. communication skills and knowledge management. Following on from my point above, I believe the emphases in Universities will shift toward teaching through interactive small-group supervisions while classroom lectures will be replaced by University-validated online resources for students to gain knowledge on the core topics on a subject. I believe assessment will remain a combination of coursework and classroom examinations, both assessing the understanding and depth of knowledge acquired by a student in a subject.
Most importantly, I have come to see OERs and MOOCs as an opportunity for higher-education institutions, rather than a threat. The opportunity is for OERs and MOOCs to free up time-resources for teachers to meet with much smaller groups of students, in interactive settings, to actively guide them toward mastery of the subject content and making connections across disciplines. Teachers would be valued and rewarded for the depth of their knowledge and their felicity in imparting it. The best and most valued Universities would be those that invest in substantial numbers of high-quality, teaching faculty to offer such small-group supervisions. Such a path would keep learning at the centre, which after all is what education is all about! It promises to be an exciting time.
- Bates, T. (2019) Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for Teaching and Learning. (2nd edition)
- Bloom (1984) The 2 Sigma problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring. Educational Researcher. 13:6, pp. 4-16