Media, Erm, Studies?

Over the weekend, I noticed an advert in the Guardian Review for a course on creative writing operated by the Guardian but accredited by the UEA: UEA-Guardian Masterclasses. A little dig around and I see the Guardian are actually offering a whole host masterclasses in a variety of subjects: Guardian Masterclasses. They are also offering their first(? more to come) masterclass with General Assembly (“a campus for technology, design, and entrepreneurship based in New York City”) on Understanding the Digital Economy; of note here is the additional comment that “General Assembly will be opening a campus in London at the end of 2012.” Campus; not hackspace or officespace, or workspace (though that may well be what it actually is): but campus.

[Update: via @jukesie, I’m also reminded of the Guardian’s teacher resources site, learnthings/; for completeness, maybe also worth mentioning other innovations the Guardian is up to publishing-wise, eg wrt eboks: second half of A Tinkerer’s Toolbox….]

Alongside this, we have Condé Nast announcing a College of Fashion and Design to start from 2013 (as described in If Courses are About Content, We Have Competition…) and accredited by, erm, Vogue.

Educators in the area of IT will be well aware of the preponderance of vendor certification, where (arguably justifiably) vendors create a training curriculum that covers the key principles relating to one or more of their products. Institutions renowned for their training in certain areas have also been know to make their content available, as for example via the BBC College of Journalism.

In the OU, we’ve had a couple of rapidly produced courses* that wrap a pre-existing vendor qualification with an academic wrapper and academic assessment, and then provide the student an opportunity to earn both a vendor certificate and formal academic credit using the same vehicle. (See also: Towards Vendor Certification on the Open Web? Google Training Resources and Due Out Soon – The Google “Qualified Developer Program”.)

*For example, CCNA/Cisco Networking; T155 Linux: An Introduction provides a route to CompTIA accreditation, and T189 Digital Photography is “recognised by The Royal Photographic Society (RPS) as suitable preparatory work and a foundation for a Licentiateship Distinction (LRPS) in still photography”. And if you want badges, then try iSpot…;-)

The OU has also, in the past, produced short courses around broadcast television programmes co-produced with the BBC: S180 Life in the Oceans around Blue Planet, for example; (was S198 Exploring Mars tied to a TV series?; or A178 Perspectives on Leonardo da Vinci?). I’m not sure about the extent to which the OU is allowed to make use of BBC archive footage (could someone let me have a peek of the Sixth Agreement? Discretion assured/NDA signed if required; or is it FOIable?!;-) but I keep on wondering about how we might be able to make more of co-pro’d content, especially content that had courses developed around it (and which may or may not already be on OpenLearn?) (NB it’s worth noting that OU strategy appears at the moment to be focussed on competing for full time, younger students with other HEI entrants into the distance learning market, and moving away from shorter “leisure learning” courses which is a market that the media appear to be encroaching on. I can’t help wondering what might have happened if the OU had hooked up with the Guardian two or three years ago…[Disclaimer: this post barely represents my own beliefs, let alone those of my employer… etc etc…])

And finally, in Learning around F1…?!;-), I commented on how private equity owned learndirect are sponsoring a Formula One motor racing team; and so it goes…

Something is happening; but even if we can’t figure out what, at the very least we need to identify where higher education is placed in it all and what value it adds and what unique service(s) it offers… (See also: So What Do Universities Sell?, incl. comments.)

PS I think I need to read the Innovator’s Dilemma, and consequent books, again; wasn’t one of the claims that new entrants could pick some of the long hanging fruit (short courses, leisure learning, partnered accreditation and accreditation scheme/trust development) and then slowly build up capacity to take on the incumbents (longer form courses; credit + experience equivalents)?

PPS In passing, I notice that the Economist offers a suite of courses: Economist Education: Courses. The FT suggests ways of Enhanc[ing] your curriculum with the Financial Times) as well as branding a series of Pearson published textbooks (FT Publishing). Publishers such as O’Reilly are big in the conference organisation area (O’Reilly Conferences), and the Guardian (again) has also made in-roads into this area of content and buzz generation through things like the Activate Summit or the (CPD Certified) Higher Education Summit (note to self: does anyone else use the word summit for this sort of offering?)

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

9 thoughts on “Media, Erm, Studies?”

  1. I’m not sure what to make of this either, but I’m grateful to you for putting it together in a package so I can try to determine what’s going on.

    Does this speak to the popularity of taking courses in general (ie “I just took a course in fashion design…online!”) or about the lack of need for accreditation, or does it get into deeper issues like what accreditation even means (and does anyone — employers particularly – care anymore?).

    Might it also impact the idea of “open” (as in Open University and open learning)? Does “open” now mean widely available, regardless of who’s offering the offering?

    I have seen the frustration of textbook publishers, for example, as they have desperately tried to sell me various packages that go with their books, to the point where I don’t need their books at all really. As if in response, they have/will begin to offer the whole course themselves, and they don’t need me (or anyone with a degree in the discipline) to “teach” them. So we need to ask what we mean by “teach”.

    It seems inevitable that “vendors” of all kinds will offer their own “courses” in many things, long and short form, and the question may be what the public thinks they are being offered. Or it may be who the “public” even is.

    1. @Lisa I think a big issue is the baggage that we (folk working in formal education) have wrapped up in the notion of what a “course” (or qualification) is when viewed from the perspectives of institution, individual student, parent of potential student, teacher/educator responsible for delivering all or part of a course, and ultimately, I guess, employer. For years, the notion of ‘education’ has confused me too, and the way that when folk talk about learning, they often confuse it with that complement to teaching in which it’s actually hard to see anyone learning anything of value at all.

      One thing I need to do is try to draw myself one or more process and/or systems diagrams to try to make sense of what the course thing is in some wider context, unpacking it and the things around it wherever I can, and then repackaging the whole thing with new boundaries draw in (i.e. deconstructing the current system into smaller parts and relations, and then trying to transform that graph and reconstruct one or more new ways of looking at the system as a whole.)

      1. I would love to be part of that, or at least watch while you do it. ;-) Some of this discussion has been going on with the MOOC idea, trying to determine what makes a certain learning experience a “course”. I’m still mentally tying it to accreditation or the certificate of some accredited institution, but I should know better since I’m part of a group of faculty conducting our own “course” to prepare faculty in exploring online pedagogy and tools, but it is not tied to an institution – it’s more like the badge idea. Most people in the discussion end up just dismissing the word “course”. But I’m not sure coming up with new terminology is helpful without the unpacking you describe.

        And learning is often a side effect of education rather than its purpose, if education is seen as something that is measurable and certifiable (ie with a degree as the end point).

  2. The brand is the first and trusted touch point for the learner. Whether they want to be entertained or acquire learning that can be applied to their career or job seeking is a moot point. Does an Oxbridge education cease to be one without the college and tutorial focus? Would it be counterintuitive for the OU to offer campus based studying? The School of Communication Arts is industry supported and may even be a Bartle Bogle Hegarty academy. I did this in 1987. There is no qualifaction as the end game is employment. A piece of paper demonstrates nothing other than ‘staying the course’, that you can deliver via the process and intellectualise it. In 2001 I was involved with FT Knowledge in their first efforts to produce an online MBA. the brand may run to this yet, indeed as digital takes over from print and they employ a Forum Manager, informal social learning occurs by default. I would study animation through Pixar, civil engineering through ABB, Health Care Management through BUPA, logistics with UGC, computing with Microsoft, marketing with P&G, and as you have mentioned, Journalism with the BBC, so how about investment banking with Goldman Sachs and commercial law with Herbert Smith (which of course they already do inhouse with substantial cohorts). If the author Steven Pressfield offered an online creative writing course I’d take it, the goal not a qualification but a book published.

    1. Related, I just spotted this (from last year): “Goldman Sachs launches University training” [ ], and from the year before: “Goldman Sachs to help small enterprises realise potential” (‘The course will be delivered by experts from Leeds University Business School and Sad Business School at Oxford University, who helped to devise the programme.’) [ ]

  3. Could you even focus the learning on a person rather than the brand? The Max Clifford School of PR, the Cherie Booth, or come to think of it, Tony Blair School of Law? Were not the first universities in Bologna, Paris, Oxford and zcambridge developed around indivial ‘educators’ who of necessity became associsted with hostelries and libraries? Seriously though, would a Virgin MBA sell with Richard Branson as self-appointed Dean?

    1. Hi Jonathan – thanks for the comments… I guess there is an element of explicit corporate or foundation sponsorship within universities already (e.g. the Wolfson Oxbridge colleges, or the “Aviva Chair in Insurance Statistics”; is there a list of company sponsored chairs in UK HE I wonder?!)? The New College of the Humanities ( ) is presumably in part positioning itself around the credibility/credentials of its star name academics and public intellectuals, and it wouldn’t be hard to see them offering honorary degrees with a small amount of invited teaching/seminars tacked on. (Compare this to the way folk are invited in to House of Lords, for example.) I don’t find it too hard to imagine Sir Alan Sugar being given an honorary degree and visiting position by the XYZ business school, with the requirement that he also deliver a lecture or a couple of seminars once a term/semester.

      The rise of the academies is another interesting example – what are the corporate sponsors seeking to achieve? Are they really in the business of building educational brands, or are they using education as a tax efficient, corporate social justice checkbox activity for building a particular form of trust/reputation? Or some other reason altogether?

      If it is just about the brand as touchpoint, does the OU gain or lose by wrapping third party vendor certification with academic credit? If it is just about the vendor qualification, then what value is the degree? Whilst recruitment still uses the filter of a degree for sorting job applicants, there is merit, but when it becomes desirable, then optional, rather than essential, for filtering purposes because there are other equally effective (or justifiable) filters, the selling point of a degree as the bit of paper you need to get your foot in the door is weakened?

      One thing about universities is that they do tend to have coverage over a range of theory based academic subject areas, rather than focussing on “applied” subject areas. Are the corporate branded offerings likely to be more applied? Do you need to find a way of managing both?

      How about these two extremes that are in some way reflections of each other:
      1) a university where every course is actually a wrapped vendor certificate;
      2) a Virgin model, where there is no there, there, just rebadged offerings from a range of other providers (eg imagine a limiting case where all the courses are just rebadged courses from a range of “formal” HE providers).

      When I did my undergrad course, I was also a sponsored student, something I sought because I believed it would give me some additional sort of credibility when it came to seeking employment (though in the end, I followed another route…). I need to ponder this some more… time for a dog walk, I think!

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