Monday, February 18, 2008

Subscription Learning - Sign Me Up!...

Like most institutions, the college I work at delivers its learning in the form of boxes - classes, courses, and programmes. Classes are regularly scheduled, course are offered by semester and programmes are anywhere from one to three tears in length. All are delivered on a regular schedule defined by the academic calendar. Learners fit their learning into this schedule.

But what if there were a different way to provide learning? One that is focussed on the convenience of learners, not the rules of institutions - what if a course had no actual end date, or start date, and it could be changed as needed while being offered and could accommodate different learning styles, then perhaps such a course could be "sold" by subscription. Learners would sign in and out of the course when they wanted to over the life of the subscription on a schedule that works for them fit. No different than how we read magazines, or watch cable channels or get RSS feeds - we subscribe to them and use them on our own time, at our convenience, not the convenience of the providers.

The design of a course delivered by subscription would have to be fully interactive and activity driven... a key would the evaluation of the activities and the artefacts they produce, for example, that can evaluate learner progress. A competency-based assessment system that allowed learners multiple opportunities to become successful and was both formative and summative would work best. A portfolio learning approach would also be a key element of subscription courses, giving the learner and the facilitators a clear picture of the capabilities of the learner.

This subscription model, which would give a learner a mostly indeterminate amount of time to complete a course would work very well in an online learning environment. It would allow people to learn at their own rate and in their own way... with support from other students and expert facilitators.

A subscription based course model would also require a curriculum that is not based on
weekly class schedules, fixed assignment times, and semesters. It would require an adjustment in thinking in that a facilitator could be assigned to a course with learners in many varying stages of completion, something we do not do a lot of yet. But it is a great way to model education without boundaries, learner and learning-centred education. Subscription based courses would also allow an institution to provide learning opportunities where formal outcomes may not be as important as skill development and community access. The community of community college. This model would work for both credit and non-credit courses.

So would subscription learning take over the current system of schedules, courses and semesters? Maybe not, but it would certainly provide one more learning-centred opportunity and truly be education without boundaries. I think it is something that needs further exploration...

(Photo - Cargo by Miskan)

4 comments:

randommind said...

Ian, you're brilliant. I think networks have a tendency to flip a lot of the things we take for granted about learning and teaching. The idea of learners going in lockstep through a course makes no sense in a networked world. There are two things that are essential to making a subscription model work. The first is a commitment to open learning. Everyone sees your learning goals & artefacts. That kind of openness builds accountability into the process. Ever notice how learners' work tends to improve when it's public? The second (and probably more important) factor is a process that connects you to other people with whom you can share and collaborate so that the learning environment is charged with social connections. The social side of networked learning is what makes it totally addictive and engaging. A simple way to do this is to link learners to each other by creating study buddies, for example. A study buddy is the person who reminds you of deadlines and is your partner for informal peer review. A more complex way would be to base the learning environment in a social network.

Awesome post, Ian! You've really got me thinking.

Ian H. MacLeod said...

Thanks very much - I never really thought through thr networked aspect, but you are so right - it would add so much to subscription (or any kind for that matter) learning.

It's the oppennes and support that will make this work - I love the idea of a study buddy - that social connection that goes beyond learning and builds engagement - don't want to let your buddy down - very cool!

Now you have me thinking too! Hmmm...

randommind said...

Ha! I never thought that you could do it any other way!

Whether you subscribe online or off, there's another aspect that I really like. You own the process. You can go as quickly or as slowly as you need (with prodding when you need it). It's a great model for those learners with busy lives who need to get a credential or a bit more learning to help them advance in their lives. It might also allow learners to subscribe to the learning program that makes the most sense for them. I almost wonder whether this model works best with competencies rather than courses or programs.

You've got my mind spinning, Ian! Great stuff. I know you've been talking about this for a while but I'm glad you finally blogged it.

Ian H. MacLeod said...

I love how you see it happening and I definitely think that a competency-based model is the way to go. Comptencies lend themselves better to learner-paced learning - some will get it in one, and some will take longer. Like George says - "ready" and "not quite yet"

Lots and lots to think about, but I really think this is something whose time has come. Now, how do we implement this? What would be a good prototype or pilot offering? Hmmm...