Anne Tucker is the Diploma in Publishing’s online tutor for book production and digital publishing.
Online courses have taken off with the promise of easier access to qualifications for many, particularly those who currently lack educational opportunities – partly because of cheaper training with reduced tutor costs and partly because of global access via the internet. But what has been learnt since and can we relate it to the publishing programme’s online courses?
New technology often seems to offer much, and initial enthusiasm for it drowns out what might already be known about other aspects of the field (classroom teaching) or even just common sense – this has been referred to as the Hype Cycle.
Recent assessments of massive open online courses (MOOCs) show low rates of completion, and those who do complete the courses usually already have a tertiary qualification, are already employed and are using the courses as a form of professional development. So rather than providing opportunities for the ‘have-nots’, MOOCs currently seem to be providing further opportunities for the ‘already haves’.
However, organisations that are offering MOOCs are re-looking at what leads to successful completion of the courses. Their findings seem to tie in with what we have learned on the publishing programme for making our online programme more successful.
The New York Times reported that Sebastian Thrun, who has had a high profile providing MOOCs through his company Udacity, recently “… decided to shift the focus of his company to concentrate on corporate and vocational training, and to charge a fee for courses”.
We too often find the online publishing course seems to best suit those already in publishing employment or in their own small editing, publishing or blogging businesses, or older students actively considering such. Online learning is largely a solitary pursuit and the world outside the computer calls loudly. Students have to be and stay very motivated, even just to keep logging in to the course, let alone keep engaging with the material. And for many professions, learning is not just about absorbing information, it’s about learning the culture of behaviour for that profession.
Although we have high completion rates on our online modules, we are increasingly designing our courses to bring in some aspect of classroom collegiality and community. We are adding more activities where the students post up different ideas and compare notes, trying to create as many opportunities as possible for the students to talk to each other online, motivate each other, even be a little competitive, and learn much by seeing the quality of what others are doing – all things that work well in the classroom.
There is clearly a place for online learning, but with all we are learning about their delivery, perhaps the best niche for many online courses will often turn out to be, not in providing a main qualification, but in flexible delivery of professional development.