Idea concept on black. Perpetual motion with light bulbsI’ve been writing about massive open online courses (MOOCs) fairly steadily for the past year and a half or so, and over that time, MOOCs have changed considerably from what they were when they first appeared on the scene. Largely, these changes have been due to more investment and research into the development of digital learning environments.

Early MOOCs were often nothing more than long video lectures with a few multiple choice questions at the end—if you read much MOOC literature, you will know that these early implementations were roundly criticized for their poor pedagogy and almost complete lack of meaningful learning experiences. And the critics were right. However, that is no longer what MOOCs look like. As more institutions have experimented with them, and more research has been done about how to improve online learning, new pedagogical approaches and technologies have come on the scene. In terms of quality and learning, today’s MOOCs rival and sometimes even eclipse what is found in many instructor-led courses.

This post examines a few of the innovative new technologies that are helping MOOCs evolve into powerful active, collaborative, and immersive learning experiences. (For a review of basic technology-enabled learning tools used in MOOCs, see here and here.)

Enhanced content delivery: LectureScape

Watching a long video lecture isn’t any more engaging than watching a long in-person lecture. There are certainly some advantages to video, for example, learners can pause, rewind, and return to the content as needed, even after the course is over. But MOOCs can do better.

LectureScape is a new type of enhanced video player that was developed by researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) based on an analysis of learning interactions from more than 7 million MOOC video sessions. Developer Juho Kim describes the technology like this: “LectureScape dynamically adapts to thousands of learners’ collective video watching patterns to make it easier to rewatch, skim, search, and review. By analyzing the viewing data as well as the content itself, LectureScape presents educational videos in a more lively and dynamic way.”

The video player accomplishes this goal via several features:

  • A video timeline shows what parts of the video other users watch most frequently as well as a personal watching trace.
  • Keyword search and an interactive transcript allow learners to quickly find information.
  • Personal bookmarks allow learners to highlight spots in the video for later reference.
  • Word clouds and summaries are automatically created, and popular content automatically appears on later slides for quick reference.

LectureScape in essence transforms video-watching from a passive activity into a personalized, interactive learning experience. This is a great example of how MOOCs can improve upon traditional instructor-led training by taking advantage of the available technologies.

More practical problem-solving experience: Simulations

Although the idea of immersive learning via simulations has been around for decades, MOOCs have been instrumental in reviving interest in this type of approach.

In education, remote laboratories are being constructed so students can perform chemistry, physics, and even biology experiments online—something that was never thought possible (or valuable) before. Corporate training has generally been more receptive to simulation-based learning, which has proven effective in fields from finance to healthcare.

According to instructional design and development experts Peter Shea and J.M. Grenier, immersive learning environments have several advantages over many other learning environments. They can:

  • Provide engaging learning challenges
  • Provide rapid feedback
  • Adapt to the needs of individual learners
  • Be quickly developed and revised for new situations
  • Provide real-time data about individual and group performance

This is currently a very hot area, and we are likely to see a plethora of new tools and technologies supporting immersive learning come on the market very soon.

Better communication, collaboration, and support: Project Lever, Teeays, and GroupMOOC

Online learning no longer means learning in isolation. In fact, research has shown that one of the key drivers of MOOC success is the ability to connect with others. Several new technologies are taking aim at improving MOOC participants’ ability to communicate, collaborate, and get help and support.

  • Project Lever matches students with advisors and is being used in MOOCs to match employees for project teams (learn more here).
  • Teeays is a new service that provides on-demand TAs for online courses, giving MOOC learners access to timely in-person support.
  • GroupMOOC is a mobile app that keeps learners on track and connected by automatically creating a course plan and allowing learners to network with friends and coworkers who are taking the same MOOCs.

Although these tools were developed for the education space and primarily support courses from the major MOOC providers, they are excellent models for how companies can increase interaction in training MOOCs. For example, corporate MOOCs can take advantage of existing resources, like SharePoint and internal social networks, to enhance learner communication, collaboration, and support.

Unlike face-to-face education, which has been working according to the same basic model for centuries, digital education is developing rapidly in response to current research, big data, and stakeholder requirements. The tools described here represent just a portion of the new tools that are either available or in development, and in the next few months and years, we can expect many more technologies targeted at further enhancing digital learning environments.

Copyright 2014 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– Being a big believer in Technology Enabled Learning, Bryant seeks to create awareness, motivate adoption and engage organizations and people in the changing business of education. Bryant is a entrepreneur, trainer, and strategic training adviser for many organizations. Bryant’s business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering the individual.

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.

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