Yesterday I (virtually) attended a great chat with Sal Khan of the Khan Academy. I posed a question that was fortunate enough to be aggregated with others. When asked about the “knowledge map,” Sal responded that it is where they are “investing most heavily.”
My guess is, the Khan Academy folks are investing because they have already grasped what badging and MOOC proponents have not — single courses or competencies do not translate to deep learning.
If you’re not familiar with the Knowledge Map, it’s a tool that plots the relationship between related concepts in a given subject (currently math). A learner can thus use the map to forge a path to higher levels of learning in that subject, or to move down to more foundational topics when they find themselves in too deep.
Thus, the Knowledge Map forms the curriculum for self-paced, online learning. Without the clear path that a curriculum provides, a learner can have a difficult time knowing what they do not know — or where best to expand their knowledge.
Currently, MOOCs and badge/competency-based programs largely have not addressed this problem. Learners pick courses based on interesting titles, or notable teachers. As good as many of the online programs might be, without a surrounding curriculum many learners hop from one interest area to another.
Certainly badges play a role as a new form of certifying achievement in a discrete subject area (and in motivating learning). MOOCs also play a great role of opening access to great course content.
Yet, on their own, badges and MOOCs foster dilettantism in learning. Students who have taken this approach in traditional higher education have traditionally not been successful. It stands to reason that online learners working on their own might reach a similar fate.