Massive Open Online Courses (aka MOOCs) present an opportunity to reach a huge amount of adult learners for a modest investment of time, budget and re-purposing of already published content:
“A MOOC is a model of educational delivery that is, to varying degrees, massive, with theoretically no limit to enrolment; open, allowing anyone to participate, usually at no cost; online, with learning activities typically taking place over the web; and a course, structured around a set of learning goals in a defined area of study”. (Thompson, 2013).
In the museum space, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, was a pioneer in this area, running a series of art-based courses using the Coursera platform. The inspirational story behind the establishment of Coursera is outlined in Daphne Koller’s 2012 TedGlobal presentation, What We’re Learning from Online Education.
I’ve long felt that MOOCs will shake up the way higher education is delivered (Kelly, 2013) but up until this stage had wondered how this might work for museums in a sustainable way. Attending the MWXX workshop run by @debhowes (formerly of MoMA) and @Ajay_Kapur, from Kadenze, opened my eyes to a platform and process that I realised could make this a reality. Ross Parry, et al’s paper, also presented at the MWXX conference, Why MOOCs matter: the consequence of Massive Open Online Courses for museums, universities and their publics, gave interesting insights into MOOCs as a great learning platform for students and as a tool for organisational change:
“The last two years have seen an extraordinary expansion in the number of massive open online courses (MOOCs) around the world. MOOCs … flip the traditional university [OR museum learning] model. Rather than managing student numbers, MOOCs potentially accommodate a simultaneous learning cohort of thousands—if not tens of thousands. Rather than place the learning experience behind a pay wall of tuition fees, MOOCs instead can open up their teaching for free. Rather than maintaining admission criteria (built around prior academic attainment and experience), MOOCs are open to all with an internet connection”. (Parry, et al, 2016).
Two particular MOOCs I have been looking into are the Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds, from the University of Southampton, and the Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum, a massive open online course developed by the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies in partnership with National Museums Liverpool, both using the FutureLearn platform. The latter course used an Australian National Maritime Museum travelling exhibition, On Their Own, Britain’s Child Migrants, as a case study, opening the museum to a whole new audience that was never anticipated when the exhibition was first built.
So what can MOOCs do for museums (and vice versa…)? As MOOCs now put the power of education within the hands of the consumer, they open up a range of opportunities to people to take courses in areas of their own interests without the need to apply to enter an academy, as noted by Parry, et al (2016). They also provide a suite of opportunities for museums in distance education with potential to reach a massive audience, in a formal, yet also informal, learning environment. As Greenfield (2013) observed: “MOOCs present educators with opportunities and challenges as we adapt and mould them to fit multiple learning styles along with different types of museum education programs”.
MOOCs also provide museum staff with ways to think about providing online learning experiences, through active participation in a MOOC – video lectures combined with notes, online and email discussions, Facebook, Twitter, hangouts, etc (Bowan, 2013). It is this kind of democratisation of education that theorists and activists, such as John Dewey and Paolo Freire, were championing decades ago, and we are now coming closer to achieving their dreams.
- Bowan, A. (2013). Live streaming events and learning online with MOOCs. Blog post.
- Greenfield, D. (2013). MOOCs, museums and schools: natural partners and processes for learning. Paper presented at Museums and the Web 2013.
- Kelly, L. (2013). The Connected Museum in the World of Social Media. In K. Drotner and K. Schroder (Eds). Museum Communication and Social Media: The connected museum (pp54-71). Routledge: London.
- Parry, R., Moseley, A., Gretton, N., Tunstall, R. and Matthew Mobbs, M. (2016). Why MOOCs matter: The consequence of massive open online courses for museums, universities, and their publics. MW2016: Museums and the Web 2016. Published February 1, 2016. Consulted June 29, 2016.
- Thompson, K. (2013). 7 Things You Should Know About MOOCs. Educause.