Publié le 22 octobre 2013 Mis à jour le 22 octobre 2013

George Siemens and the future of higher education

Distance Learning, students, assessment... and MOOCs.

<a href="">Stephen Downes</a>  [CC-BY-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons

George Siemens is a writer, theorist, speaker, and researcher on learning, networks, technology, analytics and visualization, openness, and organizational effectiveness in digital environments (presentation on the TEKRI page, Athabasca University). In 2008, he created the first massive open online course (MOOC) with Stephen Downes. This week's topic features an interview with George Siemens, done on September 24 via Skype, on the future of higher education.

Cette entrevue est aussi disponible dans sa traduction française, ICI.

From Winnipeg, Manitoba, you moved to work at Athabasca University (Canada's Open University) in Alberta. What was your motivation to do so?

Red River College, in Winnipeg, where I taught in the 1990s, was the first college to offer laptop educational programs. That is where and when I developed a research interest in online learning, its impact on students, on learning, on the access to curriculum. In 2005, I started working at the Alberta University doing research in learning and teaching with technologies. In 2009, I became a member of the Athabasca University, the largest of very few online universities in Canada. I moved from teaching in physical presence to online only teaching at AU, doing research at TEKRI, the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute and teaching Master Degree and Ph.D. students.

Open and online learning: is there still resistance?

With its 42 000 students, recruiting is easy at Athabasca University. The students enrolling in online education are not traditional learners ; they need flexibility due to life circumstances. For example, when they work full time or can't move to study. Some of the students want to try out a course before registering to an entire program to see if they like it or not.

However, there is still a stigma about e-learning and online learning versus traditional learning. There are concerns that it will reduce professionalism in faculties and put more pressure on instructors, that some will be rock stars while others will become their adjuncts. We have to communicate the value of e-learning and online learning. As large and notorious universities move to open online education, it will help. Online education is the fastest growing learning market right now, be it in K-12, university or corporate contexts. The growth is very important.

How do you see the future relation between learners and teachers in this changing higher education world?

It is hard to predict. More students have now access to education. As a result, they are better at self-organizing. They engage more directly with faculty members, they create their own personal learning platform to engage for a broad range of activities. The learning experience is driven by students.

What is the place of MOOCs in higher education?

In their current form, MOOCs rely on universities. The fees for formal recognition of Masters Degree and Ph.D.'s are necessary. It is the content that is open. MOOCs won't replace universities; they will rather contribute to open them up and bring larger groups to education. MOOCs can also be a marketing tool to help universities promote their programs.

Validation is so crucial to learning in traditional contexts; how can it evolve in an open online education context?

MOOCs will have a broader presence in the future but validation as a proof of learning will still be needed. In the present time, validation in MOOCs is very basic or non-existent. It is not defined yet. There are a few examples, one from Georgia Tech with Udacity and AT&T (editor's note: Massive Online Master's Degree in Computer Science that students can earn exclusively through the MOOC delivery format and for a fraction of the cost of traditional, on-campus programs). But it is not the norm. Another exception is at edX with its different types of assessment and signature track program (editor's note: i.g. honor code certificates and ID verified certificates). We might trust other entities or organizations (i.g. companies like edX) to deliver and give validation.

We are seeing more experiences in learning and that's what we need. New models and different systems are in development. We need to have these experiments, in and outside the traditional learning environment, whether it be P2PU, Coursera, edX (university) or Udacity (private).


More about George Siemens



Twitter: @gsiemens


Conference MOOCs and Emerging Educational Models: Policy, Practice, and Learning: 5-6 dec.2013, Arlington, Texas :

Image source: By Stephen Downes ( [CC-BY-1.0 (] via Wikimedia Commons

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