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MON: 'Making the Most of MOOCs' - Digital Learning with the University of the Third Age (Wendy Maples)
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11 January 2016
The multi-media conference presentation will be a demonstration of my ‘Making the Most of MOOCs: Digital Learning with the University of the Third Age’ work-in-progress, presenting the rationale for and development of an appropriate-technology web-based platform to facilitate informal online learning, and the digital learning resources that will make up its content.
The ‘Making the Most of MOOCs’ project involves research into digital learning inclusivity and, more specifically, consultation with Southeast University of the Third Age (U3A) representatives in order to identify an appropriate web-based learning platform and to source/develop learning resources to support digital literacy for informal educational purposes. The project emerged from my general interest in digital literacy for informal education and from a happenstance conversation with a former academic colleague, now a passionate member of the Southeast U3A Network, who was investigating better means of supporting online learning amongst U3A members (Pitt, G. 2015a).
The U3A was established to support and encourage lifelong learning amongst its members. This endeavour has meant almost exclusively self-generated learning activity presented and discussed at face-to-face meetings. However, informal interviews with U3A representatives (Staniforth and Pitt 2015, Pitt 2015b) and a report by the U3A Trust’s Standing Committee on Education (2015) indicate that some U3A members wish to make better use of educational content that is increasingly available through ‘MOOCs’ (Massive, Open, Online Courses) or other online educational resources (OERs). In accord with the U3A’s understanding that learning is a social activity, some U3A members would also like to explore the wider potential social and inclusivity benefits of online networks. Early discussions with Southeast U3A Network representatives suggest that – in broad contrast to data on the relevant age demographic identified by the Office for National Statistics (2015) – the large majority of members have access to the Internet, with their main purpose to its use being communications with friends and family through Skype and email. Some U3A members routinely use the Internet for educational purposes, and there are some U3A groups who, over the past year, have utilised MOOCs to inform group discussions (U3A Standing Committee on Education, 2015).
Although there is extensive member expertise on a huge range of topics, there is currently limited member knowledge, expertise and confidence about distance and online learning. The U3A Southeast Network representatives group has therefore asked me to scope an appropriate web-based platform and digital learning materials to support: 1) Better use of MOOCs and other OERs; 2) Greater social learning opportunities for U3A members unable to attend face-to-face U3A meetings; 3) Greater interactivity between ‘virtual U3A’ members and face-to-face members.
The ‘Making the Most of MOOCs’ multi-media presentation will address pilot project work-in-progress, covering: 1) Background data and scholarly research informing inclusivity issues for the U3A age demographic; 2) The U3A’s OER needs and interests, based on consultation with Southeast U3A Network representatives; 3) Initial investigations into appropriate web-platform technologies that best facilitate online learning practice; 4) Initial investigations and/or development of digital learning resources to be ‘housed’ on the platform.
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Pitt, G. (2015a) Personal conversation. Sheffield Park, National Trust. (12 October, 2015)
Pitt, G. (2015b) Personal conversation. Nyman’s, National Trust (21 December, 2015).
Standing Committee on Education, University of the Third Age Trust (2015) ‘Advice on Using MOOCs’, The University of the Third Age Webpages [online]. Available at http://u3asites.org.uk/code/u3asite.php?site=822&page=0 (Accessed 30 December 2015).
Staniforth, J. and Pitt, G. (2015) Personal conversation, Petworth House, National Trust (02 November, 2015).
Office for National Statistics (2013) ‘What does the 2011 Census Tell Us About Older People’ [online]. Available at http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census-analysis/what-does-the-2011-census-tell-us-about-older-people-/what-does-the-2011-census-tell-us-about-older-people--full-infographic.html (Accessed 30 December 2015).
Office for National Statistics (2015) ‘Internet Access – Households and Individuals 2015: Statistical Bulletin’ [online]. Available at http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_412758.pdf (Accessed 30 December 2015).