Degree of disruption – MOOCs change how people earn degrees

Recently, I heard about an event at a business school, where MOOCs were discussed. The person I spoke with had attended this – closed – event, and mentioned how the experts had come to the conclusion that currently business schools and their degrees (yes, indeed: MBA) were not really threatened by MOOCs, and that no-one was yet giving out MOOC-based degrees. Oh, and no, it certainly wasn’t going to be the higher education world that was going to disrupt this status quo. The disruptions was going to come from the outside. The tone struck me as if they had added something like “in the distant future”.

Well, I couldn’t agree less. Currently, it seems there is still a big gap between the free education offered through MOOCs, and getting a tangible, old-fashioned (and in many cases expensive) diploma, with the right to call yourself MBA, or MSc. or any other hard-earned title. Don’t get me wrong: if you do the work, you deserve to show it off. But, what is already changing, is that MOOCs are becoming part of that work load.
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Want to change the world? Here’s how to start

Playing with a Soccket, a ball that generates energy. Buying one means giving a child the opportunity to join a Soccket team and learn.

In the last six weeks, I was studying at Wesleyan University. Through Coursera, that is. I was enrolled in the course How to change the world, in which we have been looking at a broad range of issues facing our planet, and on ways how we can change the world for the better. In those six weeks, we have seen many great examples of how people are working to tackle issues like extreme poverty, epidemic diseases, gender equality and climate change. And in the final lectures, we saw some Wesleyan students share their thoughts and experiences on how to change the world. But with all these important topics, and big efforts to tackle them, it might become overwhelming for those who want to start making a change themselves. So, in this post, I wanted to share my views on how you can start making a difference, some learnings I took from the course and also some tips from change makers in my ‘crowd’ (I asked my social networks for a golden tip to start making a change).
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Back to school and loving it

Taking a class on Coursera

Taking a class on Coursera

Going to school with 20000 students from all over the globe? Not a problem these days, and you can even stay at home while doing so. There are several offerings, but I recently tried out Coursera. To be honest: I started a course before, and dropped out after the first week. But this time I told my self to finish it. And I’m glad I did.
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Weekend reads: playing = learning, social media behaviour and more


Play might be the best school
In many societies, children are encouraged to play less, and study more. But, argues evolutionary psychologist Peter Gray, this might actually prevent our children from being successful and happy. Playing, he says, is the best way for young persons to learn and master the skills that are most valued by the society they grow up in. His essay is certainly worth reading, and then you can think about how much you are allowing young people to play.

Why not blame social media (and porn) for teenager’s behaviour?
Social media, the peer pressure of being popular translated into likes, and the availability of internet porn, makes teenagers think differently about gender roles, and what relationships should look like. And the way they see it, is not very pretty. In this Vanity Fair article, the author reports many conversations she had with teenage girls, and the occasional boy. Along the way, social media and technology get blamed for the worrying behaviour of teenagers and their views on relationships and sex. But I think that is too easy. What children do for likes is not driven by social media or technology, it’s driven by an unbalanced view of the world. And I believe that parents play a role in balancing out that view. Not by censoring things that teens will view secretly anyway, but by emphasizing that other behaviour is wanted and cool, and giving children access to books and movies and apps and websites and clubs and spaces that actually celebrate and promote behaviour that we would love to see in our children. For the antidote to this article, maybe browse the inspirations in the OpenIDEO creative confidence challenge.

Invest in your people to boost innovation
There are a lot of companies, consultants and tools out there that can help you and your company to be more innovative. However, most if not all, of them assume one important thing: the people in your company have the knowledge, skill and minds to innovate. Without that, this HBR blog post argues, your company won’t be able to innovate at all.

The character of characters, or: do you know the ß?

For a short time I thought this sign says 'Yorckstrabe'

For a short time I thought this sign says ‘Yorckstrabe’

Growing up with a language that doesn’t use much special characters, nor uses a lot of accents makes life relatively easy. Sure, they have names, but that’s not more complex than ‘a’ for a and ‘be’ for b. Okay, we called the y a ‘Greek y’, and don’t ask me why.

However, if you’re learning a different language, life can become suddenly very complicated. I remember that the first time I was confronted with written German, while on holiday in the country during childhood, I thought the German word for street was ‘strabe’. Yes, ‘strabe, with a ‘be’. I remember thinking there must be a special reason for the typographic oddity of that ‘b’ on the street name signs, but still I thought it to be a ‘be’. Fortunately, my mother knew better, and also knew better than to let me in that fantasy, and explained to me that it was actually a special kind of s. Simply said: it was shorthand for using 2 s’s. I’m not sure if it was then, or later when I was taught German in school, but I came to know that ‘be’ as ‘ringel s’.

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Learning languages with @Duolingo – a review

Partial screen shot of Duolingo

Partial screen shot of Duolingo

As our move to Germany is coming closer, I started to practice my German language skills again. I do speak the language, and understanding it is quite easy for a Dutchman, but some exercise is needed to become fluent. Apart from reading online news, and watching news videos, I’ve started the German language course on Duolingo.

Learning a language on Duolingo is free. The offer is slightly limited, as now you can only learn French, German, Spanish and Portuguese if you speak English, and English if you speak Spanish or Portuguese. But, for me, it’s perfect.

Starting is made very easy: you sign up, fill out a bit of your profile, select a language and start lesson 1. Even though I had German in school, speak a language that is closely related and do understand and speak German, I decided to start with the basics. A good way of repeating and getting to know the Duolingo platform.

The lesson structure is great. You learn new words, how to use them and also how to write and speak them. There’s audio, and even a record-function to let you practice speaking. After completing a lesson, you unlock the next one. For each lesson you get points, and bonus points if you make less than four mistakes. So there’s also a bit of gamification.

If you think you can skip the basics, you can skip to a test that unlocks the first levels, and lets you start at a later point in the course. If you pass that test, that is.

Obvioulsy, there are many options online to learn a language. My choice for Duolingo was not based on extensive research, but on the story behind it. The founder of Duolingo is the same guy that is behind the great innovation of reCAPTCHA. You know, that bit of internet-software that makes you fill out a ‘distorted sequence of characters’ on web forms. Originally, you could pass the I’m-not-a-robot-test by correctly typing one word, but with reCAPTCHA you had to do two. One clearly legible, the other not so much. You probably know that by doing so, you help to perfect software that is able to read scanned documents. The less legible words of reCAPTCHA are scanned words that are found to be unrecognisable by computers. The idea is that if you get many people to say which word it is, the one most mentioned is likely to be it. This same principle applies to Duolingo. The lessons are free, if you also help with translating sentences from the language you’re learning into English. Many translations, that are then rated by many people, will teach machines to translate one language to another (in my case of learning German: help translate German into English). Unfortunately, this is also the weak point of Duolingo.

Because of the limited offer of languages, I estimate that most users will choose English as their starting language. However, I also think that many users probably do speak English, but not at a sufficient level to do and rate translations. As an example of this, one translation I found that was already ‘accepted’ was the standard closing of letters. In German that is ‘Mit freundlichen Grüße’. From what I’ve seen of the English language, the correct version of that would be ‘With kind regards’. However, the accepted version on Duolingo was the more literal translation ‘With friendly regards’. Word-by-word it might seem like a correct translation, and it is rated like that by the crowd of Duolingo users, but I think it is not. Considering the fact that these translations will be used in translation software available on the web, this slightly worries me.

On the other hand, there are always nitpickers like me who will suggest an edit to that translation. So if enough people use Duolingo, we can all together make automated translations better.

Now, I’m off to my next German lesson.

Mit freundlichen Grüße!