Online learning is big, and the educational reach to adult students taking online courses seems in near constant flux. As educational technology companies and universities aim to provide the most efficient methods to teach students online, some in the industry now feel that the term “course” may not be the best one to use as it cannot fit what it means to pursue education online. The term “learning experience” is now the favored term to use, as it more adequately describes a module of higher education that is not fixed to a specific time or place.
Creators of the new name say the change actually does a service to more adequately reflect what colleges and universities establish what does and does not work in online education.
A traditional 90-minute course does not fit a best method delivery for online content. Professors have been inspired to follow the Kahn Academy model that puts each learning concept into individual modules. These modules are freed from the time constraints of the semester or quarter that has been the typical set up for higher education.
Harvard University co-founded the massive open online course (MOOC) provider edX in May 2012. At that time faculty director Robert A. Lue said its faculty members had conversations that initially revolved around courses, but after just a few months “It became very clear that in fact sticking to course as the only grain size was simply not the way to go.”
Now a year-and-a-half after its beginning a mental change for the recognizing the terminology difference has taken place. According to a HarvardX spokesman, “we actually now edit ourselves to not say ‘MOOC’ or even ‘course’ in meetings.”
The word “course” is now seen more as a defining term, but less defining for all the varied learning options we now have, according to Lue, the HarvardX faculty director. “It really does reflect in my view a real sea of change in how we’re thinking about education…the word (course) is still meaningful, but I feel strongly that as a defining term, it is increasingly less defining of all the different options that we want to have.”
Lue also illustrated how breaking down courses into modules can be compared to textbooks and chapters. “It’s very hard to use a course in another course, while once you modulize into these more discrete learning experiences, it’s so much easier to share,” he said.
The term change is seen as part of a larger understanding about how education is delivered. Some ed tech companies feel that using ”learning experience” signals changes in ways information is transferred to students. This recognition, which has been acknowledged for a while by educators, has a new emphasis with the growth of online learning.
Learning is not accomplished as an isolated pursuit, but is actually quite social. The term change “comes out of a recognition that learning is a very social activity, that it involves and requires a set of experiences that connects students to students, students to faculty, student to ideas, and that it’s not a top-down information transmission process,” said Marie Norman, senior director of educational excellence of Acatar, a provider of small-scale online and hybrid courses.
This learning reality, this “learning experience” confirms that learning is about more than just content, and involves many other things that are beyond what a syllabus or course dictates. There are student generated and student accessed leaning opportunities that can blend with and support information within a learning module, or a course focus, as adult learners seek out what they want or need to learn.
Acatar senior director of product strategy and user experience, Ryan Gialames, offered that the company has intentionally avoided using terms such as “course,” “learning management system,” and even “online” since the online ed provider, a subsidiary of Carnegie Mellon University, was founded last year.
According to Gialames, the terms carry too much baggage. “We too see the boundaries of the traditional course eroding away,” he said. “We’re speaking with folks at CMU who are interested in building this whole body of knowledge, then figuring individual paths to point students through it. It’s also just as important when you’ve got that body of knowledge that you can build maps and paths,” Gialames added.
While other ed online companies haven’t totally killed the term “course,” they too have basically assumed the same rhetoric. The intentions and lines of the traditional ”course” continue to blur.
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