Trends: MOOCs, big data and the quality of education

ydp_logo_p312_2_0When you go to good educational conferences like ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN, you meet people who know that – in most cases – the current way of educating students does not work. You also get to see many examples of good practice that are… spread unevenly all over the world, still being exceptional cases. Many presentations are based on such single cases. They are are given as examples, often hard to follow as the process of learning is extremely personal and general rules are hard to pick from them and apply in a different environment. Besides, many different factors prove to be successful in those different environments. It is also really hard, in fact impossible, to follow all of them at once.


by Jolanta Galecka, Education Expert at Young Digital Planet


There are many trends already described and “scientificised”. However when you throw the extreme complexity of human psychology into them, one never knows what to pick and mix together to obtain a truly effective concoction of what works best for particular people to learn. So we keep creating singular stories of success and then try to generalise them.


Now there is a new approach: since the sum of stories is not really data, all education reforms and evolution have been based on hunches mostly. But not anymore. Big data has entered the education sector as we are finally realising that education is – in fact – a product, which should be analysed and verified just like any other commercial solution. This may sound ruthless but when you think about it closer it may actually be a good thing. Products do need to have certain quality in order to be successful. At least this is a belief I still try to hold on to. Many parents and students fight the fees at universities or tuition at private schools but has anybody ever stood up at a lecture and demanded better quality? Well, this would be complicated. What about authority and respect, what about social rules?


But my question is: who is responsible when my son is totally bored at school? Who can I go to for wasting my children’s time? What can be done when my kids spend several hours at school not really learning anything except maybe some social skills, and then I need to either pay for additional tutoring or do the job myself? I can see the anger rising among parents but so far the majority does not know what it really is that their kids need. They do not know because they do not have the chance or the time or the means to come to such conferences as ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN.


Big data is extremely controversial as it regulates its subject based on masses. And masses have rarely been a good indicator of quality. But then it all depends on the way the data is accrued, used and verified. As some people say: there are small lies, big lies and statistics.


MOOCs have been strongly criticised for not achieving the set goals of spreading education to those that really need it. Still many people take advantage of high quality education that they would not otherwise had. And there is a lot of data there as well. Over 80% of the users already have diplomas and often hold a permanent job (though the word permanent no longer has such a positive ring to it as it used to; one is almost expected to change jobs every now and then, hence the need for additional education). Well, maybe that is why they have heard about MOOCs. They also know how to learn and therefore can benefit from such online courses. This type of education poses a huge threat for those that are not so capable of teaching themselves. Even a very good MOOC will not be able to compete with a really good professor. But what about a bad one?


So here we come back to quality of education. Big data could give us all reason to set certain rules that could be enforced as basic grounds for responsibility. Compiled with neuroscience this could be the real chance for students. But the thing about responsibility is that people usually wish others had it, not themselves. It is hard to take responsibility. It is also hard to teach it. The lack of responsibility is – in my opinion – the biggest problem with the process of education right now. Young people do not take responsibility for their learning. Teachers often give the information and set all the conditions for its absorption. The tasks are mostly routine and the verification standardised. There is little space left for creativity and critical thinking – which are commonly spoken words at every education conference.

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