Free education part 1: Saylor

I found the 13 minute video about the Saylor Foundation and how they have developed 241 degree-level courses, available free of cost, free of accreditation and largely free of professors very inspiring. Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating so to get a really good idea of what they do you would need to complete at least one course. However, it is great to see so much effort and expertise going into creating these courses using content that is largely ‘already out there’.

Elements of the Saylor approach that could be applicable to my context

In my role as manager of support, development and training for learning enhancement and specifically teaching and learning using the VLE and TEL in general I see great potential for developing courses along the lines of the Saylor model. These would be individual courses in general and possibly PG cert modules. We already run a synchronous Teaching and Learning Online course a number of times each year with up to 12 participants on each run. However, the asynchronous model is something I have been considering for some time as I believe this would provide a more flexible way of learning to fit round commitments of participants. However, it would be good to maintain something of the social aspect of the synchronous course and this could be achieved with a program of webinars perhaps one every two weeks that would bring current participants together. These would be on very generic TEL topics in order to be relevant to participants at whatever stage of a course they are at. Coupled with this I would encourage blogging and sharing of blogs so that participants could see what others are or have been up to. Discussion forums are tricky in a non synchronous learning environment so I feel I would have to think about their inclusion carefully.

Specific elements that would be useful:

  • Clearly presented and organised content and activities
  • Asynchronous
  • Use of OERs
  • Reduced tutor input
  • Use of eportfolios

Specific elements that might be a problem

  • Asynchronous – social and motivational elements more difficult to manage

Importance of efficiencies

  1. Efficiencies are important in reducing tutor time and in reaching a larger audience. Our current synchronous course is very tutor intensive and aimed at small numbers (12 at a time) which is great for the participant experience but not scalable.
  2. A greater emphasis on peer based learning would be beneficial both in managing the tutor input requirement and in utilising the experience and expertise of the participants. However that is not easily achieved with asynchronous learning.
  3. Use of good quality OER would obviously be a beneficial in reducing production costs although the time needed to find good quality resources and to check them for accuracy and to monitor there relevance and accuracy ongoing must be taken into account. Will time actually be saved? It is obviously difficult to say without knowing what is available.
  4. From a learner’s perspective providing pointers to what is available as OER will hopefully help to equip participants with skills to find and use OER for themselves and possibly to start creating and sharing OER.