It’s early days for massive open online courses (Moocs), but do they have a role in FE, asks Peter Kilcoyne

Funding cuts have had an impact on staffing levels at Worcester College of Technology (WCT) as in most FE institutions.

As a result we decided early on to develop our online learning provision so that we could continue to offer high quality learning, despite tighter budgets.

The debate around Moocs — which I spoke about last month at the ConnectEd conference in London for online learning specialists — has piqued my interest as we already have a strong online learning presence.

In fact, we are delivering two models of blended learning that I believe have important lessons for the sector.

The first of these is the adult enterprise model, based on 50:50 blended learning.

It is allowing learners at 30 providers around the country to gain OCN qualifications with all of them accessing a common learning platform.

Content is written by subject experts and ‘e-learnified’ by the content development team at WCT.

The large number of providers funding online content development means that
it is of far higher quality than one college could achieve.

And learners benefit from the courses’ flexibility as they have to participate in only half as many face-to-face teaching sessions as they would through a traditional model.

This is particularly useful for people who want to start their own businesses with a number of demands on their time.

Our second model is personally accountable learning (PAL). Fifteen per cent of all full-time level two and level three courses are delivered online through PAL packs.

These are generally Moodle-based courses containing learning content, learning activities and assessment activities.

The classic Mooc model of one or a small group of tutors supporting thousands of learners is, in my view, not appropriate for FE”

Teachers are supported in building the packs by WCT’s information and learning technology and study centre staff. Where possible, we use embedded video content from, for example,  YouTube, TED or open educational resources already available on the internet, so reducing preparation time for teachers.

Since implementing this model of delivery alongside a number of other changes under new principal Stuart Laverick, overall college success figures have improved 2 to 4 per cent, proving that we are maintaining and even improving on our provision.

Does this mean Moocs can have similar levels of success?

Moocs are popular in higher education and have been generating a lot of excitement. However, the classic Mooc model of one or a small group of tutors supporting thousands of learners is, in my view, not appropriate for FE.  Learners in our sector need far more support than can be offered through such a delivery model.

Blended learning models work as students still get face-to-face support and classroom-based teaching, something that is not available from your standard Mooc.

I do see it may have some uses though, perhaps for additional activities for A-level students to stretch their learning or even for staff who can undertake further study as part of their professional development.

But, for me, our work at WCT provides good evidence that blended learning alongside strong face-to-face support can deliver an exciting learning experience that engages students, improves flexibility and helps us to deliver “more for less” in the present challenging funding environment; without the need for Moocs.

Peter Kilcoyne, ILT director at Worcester College of Technology