Heading Towards a Post-Course Era?

A few weeks a go, this quote was posted by Dr. Semingson of UT Arlington:

“Today, courses may be better thought of as tools to manage time, staff, and resources or as building blocks for the discipline. However, the bounded, self-contained course can no longer be the central unit of analysis of the curriculum because it may no longer be the place where the most significant learning takes place. In the ‘postcourse era,’ learning occurs through inquiry and participation, social connections (e.g., blogs, wikis), and reflection.” – IT as a game changer, by Diana Oblinger

With all of the focus on MOOCs as anything from “Game Changer” to “University Killer”, I think we are missing larger ideas like this one. MOOCs (at least the xMOOC variety that gets all of the press) are really just another form of modularized assessment, one that will most likely not be considered individually once the degree or certificate (or whatever it may be) is earned. When employers are conducting interviews, do they more often that not want the transcript (list of modular accomplishments) or the resume (summary of accomplishments at a macro level)?

More often than not, employers are looking at applicants from a macro level. They want to know how future employees are pulling all of the pieces together to be a well-rounded contributor to society, business, etc, etc.

Many colleges are aware of this and have responded by adding portfolios and cohorts and other organizational ideas to their degree plans. But even in these cases the course is still the “central unit” or main focus of the assessment of learning. What if we could see inquiry, participation, social connections, and reflection become that central unit? Classes would still be a good way to manage resources or add some building blocks to the overall picture, but the shift would be away from rigid walls and divisions and onto how a learner connects, synthesizes, reflects, and participates with the larger community of learners.

Open learning (which is not just MOOCs) is poised to push this idea forward. Instead of killing or destroying universities, openness can be the concept that turns the tide in favor of the “post-course” era. Portfolios and cohorts can grow into the forum where the most significant learning takes place.

A lot of this has been on my mind recently as I set out to start working on a peer mentor-ship program that has the possibility to be seeding ground for these ideas. I remember a few years ago when I had this crazy idea of “If We Ditch The LMS, How Then Could We Change Colleges?“:

When a student wants to take a course, they would sign up to “follow” an instructor in that instructor’s personal teaching environment (which could also even be a classroom in the real world for all it matters).  They would work through the material and assignments at their pace, moving quickly through what they already know and slowing down on the stuff that they need more time on.  Once they have completed the projects, the instructor could look at them and say “great job – you are finished and ready to move on.”  Or the instructor could say “you are not quite there – spend a few more weeks in class and see how that will change your project.”  Or maybe even “that is something I have never thought of – you pass, but could you stay on a few more weeks and teach us what you have found here?”

So this would be a little bit chaotic.  Students would be moving through the material at their own pace, following the research that instructors add, adding their own research, and creating projects.  New students would be joining each week and interacting with students that are half way through and maybe even about to finish.

I’m considering circling around to these ideas again to see what still has relevancy and what was just pointless hype. But the idea of tearing down the rigid course structure has the true feel of disruption.  MOOCs that just digitize the lecture hall experience? Not so much.