After studying for years in formal education you pat yourself heartily on the back when you land a job. School was boring, not much fun and you couldn't wait to give up studying math/ French/ science/ history/ geography/ ..... whatever - because you're not academically minded/ disliked the teacher/ not clever enough/ hated the exams/ easily distracted from study/ etc etc. University or college was better but mainly because of the socializing and the connections you made but you skipped or slept through the lecture courses and only scraped through by making a supreme last minute effort before the final exams.
But now all that's all behind you and you relax. You don't find your job very challenging but there's plenty of time to watch TV, keep up with 'friends' on Facebook or Twitter, glance at your favourite newspaper, even read a book. But things are not quite as they seem. For example, in your job clever people are promoted over your head because they're clever and you're not. They learn things more quickly than you do and pass these irksome professional exams your bosses harp on about. But wait ..... you've learned a bit about the job yourself. You've discussed it with others at work and elsewhere and some of these clever people, including the bosses, do pretty stupid and incompetent things at times. How can that be? You don't feel qualified to raise your concerns with management and you remember poor Fred who was sacked for discussing his boss's shortcomings on Facebook!
Learner on the Loose - by Nick Rice
Talking of which, what about that recent Facebook discussion? A family was pilloried by thousands for abusing a child. You jumped in full of righteous indignation with some cutting comments only to find out months later it was the wrong family. They're still suffering badly from a case of mistaken identity! So you learned to be more careful about getting your facts straight. And another thing, what about that charity accused of spending most of its income on itself? Plenty headlines in your favourite newspaper but little by way of explanation. So you got hold of a different newspaper and learned something about charity law and a smattering of accountancy and economics. Then you had an interesting discussion about ethical behaviour with a neighbour who happens to be an accountant. She also happens to be a climate change denier. You think she's probably wrong there but she seems to know what she's talking about and you're no good at science.
Informal Education never ends.
The point here is that natural learning is informal learning. It's messy, difficult to control and it's distributed across many of the disciplines that are distinct and compartmentalized at school or university. It involves diverse connections with other people and is, or should be, a life-long process. What is unnatural is boxing up would-be learners in class and lecture rooms in the hope that they passively soak up knowledge that's dispensed by a teacher or professor who knows best. Unfortunately, much of formal education is still like this with closed book examinations that encourage educators to 'teach to the test' in the belief that learning is accurately measured by an ability to regurgitate facts in an artificial environment.
Thankfully, times have changed and now you can take charge of your own learning but have you learned to learn? Your experiences in formal education may not be very helpful here. Access to knowledge in all its forms has never been more straightforward for the self-directed learner. You don't have to travel to your local library and consult the dusty tomes of the Encyclopædia Britannica to find out about charity law, economics, ethics or climate change. Just take a quick look at Wikipedia, wherever you happen to be and if that's not good enough, no problem. Try googling and you have a fire hose of information. Now the problem is that knowledge is so abundant that you need a virtual 'crap detector' to sort out what you really want from the advertising junk, pseudo-science, scam merchants and other sources of disinformation. Deciding on what you want and then finding it can be daunting in itself but again, help is readily available. Simply google something like "how to find information on the internet" and then take your pick as a good self-directed learner and find something you're comfortable with!
With a little effort you can focus on what interests you and make your studies as broad or as deep as you like. No more will interesting discussions be limited to your workplace or a chance meeting with a neighbor. Time-wasting trivia on Facebook or Twitter will be less attractive when you can connect with others from all over the world in online learning events such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Google Hangouts or Twitter chats. You can learn from others, ask questions and help other learners yourself. Forget what formal education taught you about listening passively to a single authority figure.
Education for Work - and Life.
Learning by connecting and interacting with other like-minded people can be fun and believe it or not, can be a good preparation for whatever the real world throws at you by way of formal education. Professional exams? Please your boss by taking a formal course if necessary but do your own research, create your own reading list, find others to study with and study as widely as you can. Closed book exams may be a poor way of assessing your abilities but unlike real life, most exams of this type are limited in what they can demand of you. (I know - I've sat and set many of them!) Exploit these limitations. Learn to play the exam game by studying old papers and spotting the sort of questions that are most likely to come up. If you've acquired a broad enough understanding you'll see how course designers can be forced to carve their own solitary, narrow and often boring path through inherently interesting but complex material that could probably be approached and taught in any number of different ways.
Einstein said, "The measure of intelligence is the ability to change". Maybe cleverness is more a matter of developing your talents in the right directions rather than something you're born with. Most people can learn what they want to learn if they put their mind to it. You don't need a higher degree to understand the basic science behind climate change just to challenge the 'facts' put forward by a denier, perhaps even convince her!
Learn to impress your boss by demonstrating not just a deep understanding of your job but also by developing your diplomatic skills and discussing issues and problems at work without slating your co-workers as stupid or incompetent. Maybe your boss will then approach YOU for advice on accountancy or economics or even climate change.
In the words of Nelson Mandela: "Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world." Without it your ability to change anything for the better will be limited - and that includes your own life.
All iBerry's information is freely available on this website but there are no resources for offering detailed advice to individual learners. Higher Education is now going through a period of significant change and I doubt if anyone can keep track or understand how recent innovations such as MOOCs will impact on what we think of as 'courses'.
Who then is the best person to go to for advice? The answer is very simple - YOURSELF ! The future is with the self-learner. You know your own learning objectives better than anyone else and you probably have a shrewd idea of your own capabilities. iBerry's Open Education Directory or even Google will provide more than enough basic information on any subject you care to study. There is plenty OCW available to stimulate your interest and then why not join some MOOCs to experience study in your chosen field? You can take as much or as little interest in a MOOC as you like. From participating in discussion forums, doing all the assignments and earning a certificate to just watching a few videos, your level of participation is entirely up to you. Join as many MOOCs as you like to find out what you like and what is most useful to you. Unlike most traditional courses you will not be out of pocket!
Please enjoy whatever celebrations the end of the year may bring and have a happy and prosperous New Year !
iBerry was founded in 1999 when universities and colleges were just beginning to publish courseware and other educational material on the web. Listings of accessible courseware provided by iBerry were useful to students, self-learners and other academics and shortly afterwards MIT popularized open education by introducing Open Courseware (OCW). This consisted mainly of lecture notes and videoed lectures taken from courses given by MIT and other universities for their own students.
Now things are very different. Vast amounts of static OCW are available to online learners whenever or wherever they want to study and open education is becoming much more dynamic. There are open forums for debate and discussion covering most subject areas of Higher Education as well as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) given by top universities and colleges connecting learners to experts and to each other for more effective learning.
While updating iBerry's MOOC Resource Page I had difficulty in deciding whether some online courses really deserve to be called MOOCs. Providers are always happy to jump onto the MOOC bandwagon but some 'MOOCs' now seem to have drifted a little too far from the original concept of a Massive Open Online Course.
For example, 'self-paced MOOCs' are apparently online courses consisting of Open Courseware (OCW) and maybe a discussion forum but with no formal start or end. In contrast with other MOOCs, participants cannot be focused on the same part of the course at the same time and so availability of mutual help and support is less likely. These open online courses may or may not be excellent for self-study but the term 'MOOC' seems inappropriate without a massive body of participants moving through the course together.
iBerry is delighted to help sponsor a poll run by Zaid Ali Alsagoff, (e-Learning Manager at the International Medical University (IMU) and author of the popular education site, ZaidLearn). Over 200 e-learning nominees from all parts of the world are now listed and more than 1,000 votes have been cast. The 'Top e-Learning Mover & Shaker of the Year (2013)' will be the nominee with the most votes but the more prestigious 'e-Learning Super Hero of the Year (2013)' will be chosen using a "gamified points system" devised by Zaid that takes into account who is voting as well as the number of votes. It also encourages nominees to show professionalism and appreciation of the other nominees - rather than shameless self-promotion! Voting will end on January 27, 2014 and the results (with prizes) are to be announced at the end of January.
Results - startling revelations!
1,861 people around the world voted giving 6,680 'Votes Up' to their favorite e-Learning Super Heroes (generating 33,000+ views) - the first result: Captain Zaid himself !! - ?? (disqualified from winning the awards!) - more here.
Q:What IS a MOOC ?
A: A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. Massive - thousands of people could be on it. Open - anyone can join in - for free! Online - e-learning facilities are available to assist learning Course - it's not a 'course' - it's a MOOC! . . . . . .
In April 2008 I imagined a futuristic Open Global Education Network (OGEN) that would somehow bring inexpensive Higher Education to anyone, anywhere in the world. At that time there was little to talk about apart from the very beginnings in the shape of OpenCourseware (OCW). This was a significant innovation, notably by MIT making a wide range of videoed lectures, notes, quizzes and so on, freely available on the Internet. OCW though is typically a by-product of traditional courses and does not come with expert tuition, the opportunity to mix and communicate with fellow students or the chance of a recognized qualification.