BYOM (Bring Your Own MOOCs)

For those considering what MOOCs means to institutions technically as well as institutionally, certain topics covered at last week’s EDUCAUSE 2012 regarding MOOCs offer some interesting insight.  For instance, in Clay Shirky’s keynote (assistant professor at New York University), an assertion was made that the most interesting aspect of MOOCs is not their massiveness, but their openness, or lack thereof.  Therefore, MOOCs is potentially a phenomenon of the open educational resources (OER) movement, rather than of the online education or instructional technology movements.  However, whether or not MOOCs is open or not in the future depends upon how it’s wired together with other technologies in the learning process as well as how it’s managed in scale.  And, perhaps the technical view and institutional view needs separate consideration.

Relative to the paradigm shift from massiveness to openness, as a thought-exercise to potentially shed more light on the future of MOOCs’ openness, consider what has happened in the IT world with devices, in particular the device consumerization pattern.  (See this blog post by Chris Howard from the Burton Group for a fantastic description of the Externalization, Consumerization and Democratization of IT.)

The consumerization of devices brought us BYOD, an IT strategy eliminating certain central dependencies in order to scale (i.e. support the masses with rapidly advancing modern technologies by crowd-sourcing procurement and much of the management to end-users).  Similarly, students that show up on campus with significantly more advanced technology in their pockets each year are finding more institutions embracing rapid change by providing flexible mobile access to key services and ubiquitous connectivity.  Imagine the bottleneck and cost involved if institutions opposed student-BYOD, and instead required students to obtain their devices from their institution’s IT.  An environment with no dependency on the device enables students to leverage rapidly changing technology without having to depend upon the institution for the entire stack.

Extending this analogy a bit further, a follow-on trend that will soon extend BYOD generally is BYOA (Bring Your Own Application).  Perhaps along with working on advanced devices, students also may select the learning applications they are most comfortable with (they sort-of do this today anyway, perhaps more formality to this will be seen in the future).  The “app culture” students are familiar with in their day-to-day lives will find its way more and more into the learning process.  Just as dependencies with IT have been removed in BYOD, perhaps dependencies on learning apps will do be removed.

Now, perhaps the BYOD-BYOA pattern is similar in some ways to the emerging MOOCs paradigm.  As BYOA evolves increasingly to pay-for-use, and consumed on-demand, perhaps the technologies that administer and support education in the modern institution will embrace the MOOCs architecture for not only content distribution, but flexible integration or inclusion anywhere in the process from enrolment to graduation.

Because cloud standards are evolving and hardening, perhaps the current location and format of MOOCs technologies are less relevant, which makes then the interfaces between them and the institution more important, becoming the next task of IT.  They keys will be SOA principles, to loosely-couple learning options making a student’s experience analogous to BYOA throughout the learning process, capturing progress along the degree path, mentoring and guiding throughout.  And that’s where MOOCs becomes open in the future technologically.  Institutionally, openness can only be achieved if the learning process embraces the paradigm on BYOA fashion.

Technically, just as is the case with BYOD and BYOA, eventually, the IT department ends up having to get involved, supporting and delivering technologies that support the goals of the institution. If MOOCs takes the open path, IT will play a major role in wiring key parts together with the administrative student systems allowing flexible (BYOA-like) options for the student, mentored and ultimately controlled by the institution.