cour-sera-sera

The French have a saying that I quite love. Plus ça çhange plus c’est la même chose. When I hear a French speaker say these words, I feel like I am witnessing a benediction, a resignation, an acceptance of all the horrors. A full use of the body to emote words.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sigh. This introduction applies to so many things and thoughts right now, but here goes. A post I’ve been working on for a few months, and I want to post this so I can think about my book this weekend. Bless the heart who told me my bloggy is better when I do not write about educational technology. I have, however, not written here very much, but the following has been on mind as a winter research question.

Last fall, I decided I would carve out some time to learn something new while I had a glorious sabbatical month. Keep in mind I spent most of my time walking in the woods watching the winter duke it out with autumn. Glorious. Just magical that sabbatical of mine.

At the time, I kept seeing the term “upskilling” along with a lot of hand-wringing about the Great Resignation. Professional development while you are working a job in this era? The odds are not in your favor. Nobody cares about your skills until they need them, so if you like to learn for the sake of learning you may have to make that time happen on your own.

Usually professional development, let’s be honest, rewards you with more work. I am a glass-half-full kind of girl, but I also know I don’t own the glass and the water may need filtering.

And The Great Resignation, mind you, is a bit like what Grunge is to music genres. A media concoction to describe a certain time. Meaningless, subjective, and crafted by people who are looking to classify and market things for you to buy. Plus ça çhange plus c’est la même chose.

But I’d like to take a closer look at the upskilling–it sounds like something a mime does with an invisible hula hoop. This improvement of your skills has been around for a long time but you may know it as professional development or professional learning, training, organizational development, and the like. All of these words and phrases summarize learning at work and it costs somebody money or time.

When an offer to take classes for free for a month hit my personal inbox, I decided to give it a shot.

What did I learn from the 2022 mighty MooC that rhymes with the title of this blog? 

Let me start with some questions I had when I signed up.

Could I learn a job skill while not taking a class from a person? I am an okay watercolor painter and fair-to-middling knitter thanks to YouTube, but could I take this focus and use it towards something that justifies a paycheck? Can you really change your career with these courses? These programs? Is this how competency-based education finally finds its way to remediation, developmental level, or pre-college level work?

Could the MOOC course design facilitate students through an upskilling?

I had a few other questions: Why take one of these classes and not one from a university or community college? What is happening with corporations who are paying for their employees to learn from professional development services? What is a MOOC-like learning experience for people who do not remember the first wave of MOOCs? More importantly, are these courses similar to correspondence courses in ye ol’ days o’ distance learning?

If you remove the personal learning network focus of a traditional MOOC (to me), what then is the actual “course?”

What does a badge look like, who hosts it, and who the fuck cares? What happens at the end of this experience? Do people really get jobs? And selfishly, how little time could I devote to this and still pass?

The last question is really the honest truth. Instructional design boiled down.

Let me repeat this: 

How little time could I devote to an upskilling and still learn something meaningful? 

Here’s the thing.

The way that the course is designed, and the care in the tone of the feedback–even within all of automation–I could sense real people behind the design.

There is a story in the course.

Let’s say you’re tasked as an employee with upskilling–this word also reminds me of keeping a balloon in the air as it is floating away.

attribution

With an upskilling, students have a few choices.

1] You can pay for an expensive certification from an organization that has trademarks, certifications, and acronyms galore.

2] You can sign up for a course at your local community college.

3] You can apply to your local university.

or 4] you can sign up for the 2022 mighty MOOC.

You may not really understand what you’re aiming to become because you have no idea what a project manager is, how it differs from a program manager, but you see tons of jobs asking for these skills.

You also have a fifth choice as a student. As a learner. That’s to not to go at all.

And that is deeply troubling to me; people choosing not to pursue an education. People accepting that plus ça çhange plus c’est la même chose.

There is always hope, I want to say. Just like Bansky painted. Look again at the image if you missed it.

When I considered my choices as a student, I chose the shortest path: the 2022 mighty MOOC. They promised I could move as quickly or as slowly as I wanted, and they would charge me a lot less than what I would pay at the university or community college, and much less from the ™ organization.

For the price of 10 fancy coffees, I could earn a certificate or badge to decorate my LinkedIn profile under licenses and certifications.

Here are some other things I learned in the upskilling. Sounds like something in a horror film.

I learned the jargon and vocabulary of another field. I still think that a liberal arts education gives you the knowledge, skills, and abilities to earn a paycheck, friends. And frankly none of us are safe from automation, streamlining, lean leadership, and all of the other undoings of life as we know it. I will die on this hill.

I also loved being in a class and not having to deal with other people. A memoir.

I have a PLN, and for this I am fortunate, so to be able to listen to videos while I sketched and took notes was a real luxury. I did not participate in any of the networking opportunities and I clicked past all of the discussions.

The network is there if student want it, and I loved having the choice to ignore it. To me, this is the key function of all programs that are targeted to adult learners. You have to make it very clear what is optional.

I thought some of the assignments were pretty clever. I like a good story, and they kept a constant narrative about a single company. Clever scaffolding. Kept me interested. I was able to apply what I already know from academic leadership and whatever it is I do now, and I laughed outloud every time they would cite a “business leader’s theory.” Most of the time, it was just Aristotle, Freud, and/or some early capitalist who actually wrote about these concepts first.

I took a few quizzes over again just to see how they reworded questions. And kudos to you, question writers, that shit’s an art that we like to pretend is a science. It is really hard to write a multiple choice question that actually teaches people. All data-driven revisions are a leap of faith that you are improving a course. Or you are quite possibly making the learning experience worse. This I know.

Something else interesting to note is that this is the first time I have taken a class with so many multiple-choice questions. Truly! I have spent plenty of time writing questions for assessments, and I have written them for so many classes I’ve lost count in the last decade, but it was not my first mode of assessment as a teacher.

With this certification sequence, I made a deal with myself that I would not spend more time trying to earn “an A” and I would just roll with my first attempt at any assessed work. A few times, though, I challenged the robot. I was like, “This question sucks, and the distractor is not entirely wrong.” You can loose hours of your life with these thoughts, and I don’t think the majority of students care.

Writing a good wrong answer is so much harder than writing the correct answer. A Memoir.

I really liked assignments where they made me choose the best response in a conversation. As a learner, I hate simulations where people role play in person. Even with skilled actors, it always seems forced. 

Education classes, in particular, utilize simulations, role playing by acting out scenarios, with the hope that it helps in real life. It may for some, but for me as a student, I always felt like it was a shitty theatre class and a day off for the teacher. You never really know what you’ll say until there in the moment.

In the 2022 mighty MOOC, my friends, they had you drag and drop what you would say in a scenario, and they told you if you were right or wrong and why. If only life worked that way!

I often chose the wrong answer just to see why it was wrong. Nerd alert, I know. Those drags and drops were very helpful to learn processes, when to use vocabulary in different scenarios, and what the job might look like should you get hired. Quite helpful, really. Very interesting conversations where the content directly connects to what you might face in the workplace. You never know.

I also half-assed all of the peer response assignments. True confession.

I never read the assignments, I just completed the work based on the rubric.

The teacher in me dies a few deaths with this confession, but holygod did it save me time.

A few times, I got a 100% when I should have failed. The few times I did get dinged for incomplete shitty work, I felt bad for the person who graded it. The last class, the capstone, was a bit of a struggle because they had so many peer response assignments. I was ready for the upskilling to end at that point. Maybe it’s home improvement word, upskilling. We did an upskilling on the kitchen this weekend and it was more than we bargained for time-wise.

Did I leave the six class sequence with a portfolio of work?

No, but you could.

Slight missed opportunity for me, but probably not. I liked the business plan throughout the course, but it was tough to translate the work without your own imaginary business or project.

Did I leave the class understanding the major learning outcomes? Yes, and I have access to templates, vocabulary, and resources that I could use again if I needed to. Mostly it reinforced whatever I already know about this work. Not a total loss.

Would I do it again? Not sure. 

When I concluded the program they offered me a coupon to the fancy ™ program. It was like an upskilling coupon to celebrate my graduation. That could really be appealing to some people, I suppose. If the 2022 mighty MOOC leaves you at the door of a real certification at a discount, chances are you may do better.

Do I understand the “upskill” zeitgeist better now?

Dunno. 

I’m left with more questions than answers, so I’ll close by telling that I read every vocabulary list because I love words. Those were the best part of the six months I came and went with this course.

Here’s the best definition of the word “uncertainty” that I’ve seen in a business course or frankly about life as we know it. (emphasis mine).

Uncertainty: a lack of predictability or high potential for surprise.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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