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Julie Stone, Director of University of Derby Online Learning answers our questions about MOOCs

What makes a MOOC different?

UB asks Julie Stone, Director of University of Derby Online Learning, about MOOCs and how they differ from short courses 

Posted by Hannah Vickers | January 29, 2017 | Higher education

Q: How does a MOOCs differ from a short course?

A: The fundamental difference comes from the first two letters of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC): massive and open. MOOCs are freely available to anybody on the internet and, as such, you get thousands of people joining the course. Short courses are intended to be for a smaller, more specific group of people, and on a more focused topic.

Q: What are MOOCs? What is the purpose of them?

A: At the University of Derby, we create our MOOCs to be of interest to as wide a group of people as possible and to lead to some positive improvement in their lives. In our Innovating in Operations Management MOOC, this was more to do with personal improvement – leading to better career prospects, and/or benefits to their business. In our MOOCs on Dementia and Autism, Asperger’s and ADHD, this looked at caring for others and benefits to the wider community. Being as broad and open as possible means that not everyone will finish the whole course, the average retention rate is typically 5-8% but the University of Derby’s MOOCs have surpassed this with 15.64% for 'Digital Me: Managing Your Digital Self' and 35.48% for 'Bridging the Dementia Divide', which in total attracted more than 5,000 learners from Australia and the Philippines to Aruba.

Q: What are short courses? What is the purpose of them?

A: Our short courses are much more specific and targeted than our MOOCs. We identify key areas of professional development, best practice, and innovation. The way that they run, and the activities that people are asked to complete, depends on the subject of the course – since they have bespoke designs to match the needs of specific target audiences. Our intention is for everyone that signs up to complete the entire course and we provide direct support in differing formats to help achieve that goal.

Q: What are the pros and cons of each?

A: We recognise and promote the value of education in all its forms with its power to transform lives and improve society as a whole and we encourage everyone to take opportunities to continue learning throughout their lives.  

MOOCs provide the lowest barrier access to higher education that is possible. The content that is covered may not always be exactly what you are looking for and it requires quite a high level of self-motivation to see it through to the end. Importantly, they are usually free and allow you a taste of a particular subject area you are interested in. Given it is usually hundreds or thousands of learners that engage at any one time, your relationship with other learners is on a much greater scale with a considerable range of inputs.  

With a MOOC, your relationship with other learners is on a much greater scale

Our short courses are designed to be completed in their entirety – with a weekly pace and time investment that is compatible with full-time employment. They will include the most up-to-date information that can lead to tangible benefits in daily work and future career prospects. The large amount of effort required to create short courses, compared against the smaller audience, requires that we charge a fee to access them. Relationship and engagement with and between learners is usually more intimate and group work is often encouraged.

Q: What is the difference in the qualification?

A: On a University of Derby MOOC you will receive a digital badge for each unit that you complete. A digital badge is an online record of achievement, tied to an individual that can be shared across the Internet. Anyone that completes an entire MOOC will receive a certification of completion.

For short courses you will receive a short course certificate from the University of Derby. If the short course has been validated to equate to university credits you will also receive a transcript from the University stating the number of credits achieved.

Q: What will learners get from short courses that they might not get from MOOCs?

A: Because of the massive numbers of people that take part in MOOCs, we do not guarantee to answer every question that is asked, or to resolve everyone problem that is encountered although we try our best. Everyone that signs-up to a short course is guaranteed that their questions and problems will be answered in a timely manner and they will receive broader support from across the University, e.g. University administrators.

Q: What is the difference in cost?

A: Both MOOCs and short courses require an investment of time, which is not a trivial consideration in our busy modern lives. Short courses are typically five hours a week for four weeks, while MOOCs are typically two to three hours per week for six weeks, although both can come in different shapes and sizes!

There is no fee for accessing University of Derby MOOCs – although some other MOOC providers have now adopted fees for additional extras, e.g. taking assessments and for providing course certificates. There is a fee for taking one of our short courses, and the amount depends on the course subject, the depth and length of the course and whether there is input from leading experts. Short courses can range typically from £50 to £2,000 depending on these variables.

Q: How is the student experience different?

A: Students can expect a more focused experience in a short course and have a very clear objective and outcome to achieve. They will be fully supported and guided to achieve this outcome. Their relationship with academic staff and other learners will be more intimate where engagement of this nature is encouraged (i.e. there are some short courses which are designed to encompass independent learning).   

MOOC learners can  ‘dip and dive’ in their learning journey, cherry-picking the bits that are of most interest

Usually MOOC learners are seeking a more surface understanding of a subject area and may ‘dip and dive’ in their learning journey, cherry-picking the bits that are of most interest and engaging with others only if it suits their needs. The framework of support in which they sit will be of a more observational nature and with a light touch rather than a level of support to ensure completion and success through achievement of course specific learning outcomes.

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