The Journey of Lifelong Learning:
Integrating Non-Traditional Learning Opportunities

Clark Shah-Nelson, Assistant Dean, Instructional Design & Technology
University of Maryland School of Social Work @clarkshahnelson

Image: 800px-Knowledge-sharing.jpg

Let’s start with a little time travel, if you don’t mind? A little reminiscing? A good way to reflect on lifelong learning is to look back at our own journeys and pathways - not only at what we learned in school or programs, but what we learned on our own.




Distance Learning: TV

First cell phone

So 25 years ago, back in 1994. Now I chose this year because it is actually the last time I was in San Diego. Sorry locals! I don’t get here much! But also, it was significant, because I had just turned 25, and everything was changing rapidly. Some amazing Swiss fellow had an idea that I’m sure a lot of very smart people told him was dumb and would never work, uh, the internet… which really took off in the early 90’s but was still a toddler in this time period. Distance Learning (the predecessor to online learning) was predominantly television-based, and I got my first cell phone. This monster!




OLC - Sloan-C

The Online Learning Consortium was born in that year, known at the time as the Sloan Consortium, and started their Asynchronous Learning Network conference in Orlando. It wouldn’t be for another 2 years or so until the first Learning Management Systems really started getting traction, and online learning really started to take off.

1994 was the year I moved from the traditional classroom into an empty office with a metal box that they told me would send a signal out to cable TV, and about $15,000 to figure it out. And a number of people told me it couldn’t be done, it wouldn’t work, all the teachers were going to be replaced, and so on and so forth. Well, I knew I wanted to not be just a talking head, and got a camera that would follow me around, and did a lot of interactive movement and… it worked. And I learned a ton - from books on Total Physical Response (TPR) and Natural Approach language teaching, to conversations with tech sales people, to just plugging things in and experimenting.

I soon discovered students could learn a lot with the help of some friends of mine who were real characters… it took a lot of trips to the thrift store!

And I started making short video vignettes on all kinds of topics and would pause the video all the time and ask questions and hear student responses, and guess what? I was learning so much, by doing. I was learning technology skills, video skills, and distance teaching skills. So in 1995, when the University of Colorado at Denver started up a partnership with the Denver Public Schools to offer a Master degree in instructional technology, I figured I might as well get it on paper, too, right?

Ok, so a little reflection on both informal and formal learning that took place 25 years ago. I learned a ton, in a very non-traditional, just in time, as needed way, but then, right place, time and privilege, I was able to also get a Master’s degree, to which I owe all of my work today! Ok, so, let’s try to catch that lightning and zip back to today!


Hey, here we are! Oh, my back hurts, my leg hurts. And I’m 50 years old. And at the moment, I actually can’t kick or stretch, unfortunately. But let’s take a look at some more recent information, just a few more recent facts and figures...

Occupations that Need More Education: Projected to Grow Faster Than Average



Median annual wage, 2016(1)

%Change, 2016–26

Total, all occupations




Doctoral or professional degree




Master's degree




Bachelor's degree




Associate's degree




Postsecondary nondegree award




Some college, no degree




High school diploma or equivalent




No formal educational credential





(1) Data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics program, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Note: The occupational employment and growth rates shown in this table include projected growth in all jobs from 2016—26, not just entry-level jobs. Entry-level education reflects 2016 requirements—BLS does not project educational requirements.

Source: Employment Projections program, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Ok, here’s a table to offend every designer and presenter with a table, too much text, too small, but I do think this is a great place to start. This table from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016, shows us a few important details. In the first column, we see the amount of education, and to the right of that, the percentage of the workforce in 2016 with that level of education. Next column to the right, we see the median annual wage. But most importantly, in the right column, the projected % of change from 2016-2026. The biggest areas of projected change are for occupations that require a masters and doctoral or professional degree.

Higher Ed: 2017

The number of students studying on a campus has dropped by over one million (1,173,805, or 6.4%) between 2012 and 2016

Babson Survey Research Group, 2017.

Looking at all of higher education, public institutions have the largest portion of online students, and we see over 50% of students taking online courses but ALSO taking courses on campus. We also see 56% of students who are fully online who reside in the same state as their institution, and a drop in total numbers studying on a campus.

Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, house cleaners, dog walkers, house sitters, contractors, people who charge the electric scooters,

They claim the majority of workers will be freelancers by 2027. And they would prefer the term “freelance economy” to “gig economy”


So we have to also think about what this means for traditional paper degrees. Let’s reflect on how that landscape has changed in a the last decade or two. The predominant paradigm used to be you went to a brick and mortar institution, got your degree, on paper, and then... got a job in the coffee shop or moved back home until you found something in your field… In my case, I was lucky my parents strongly encouraged me, along with my super useful Bachelor’s in German and Norwegian, to get a teaching certificate (phew!) So I was able to land a teaching job after only about 14 months and 8 jobs after I finished college. (I had 8 different entry level jobs that first year…). But back in the early 90’s, it was pretty much impossible to find a fully online degree program. Nowadays, you have a whole smorgasbord of choices for most degrees - what works best for you? Online only? Blended online/face-to-face? Weekends only? There are many models. But also….


Personal Learning Network (PLN)



Book clubs

Constituent Groups





On the job...


Professional Dev.

Continuing Edu.

Image from: Visit

In this age of information and technology, we have many more INFORMAL learning opportunities - as on the right side of this image. From self-guided and peer-to-peer informal learning that includes blogs, podcasts, infographics and all those videos we use on YouTube to fix the sink or replace a car stereo to conferences and round tables like we have here today. And this image doesn’t even capture many more. On the formal side, of course we have instructor-led certificate programs and degrees, as well as sustainment activities for recertification, licensure, and required employer trainings, professional development and continuing ed. But also we have additionally on the right - books, libraries, Open Educational Resources or courseware, On the job learning, and personal learning networks. And the list goes on for all the many ways we potentially learn from peers...

Certificate of Completion



Diplomas Degrees


Image from: Visit

So on the formal left side, we earn diplomas, degrees, certificates, and official completion records. While on the right/informal side, we can earn microcredentials, badges, nano-degrees, certificates of completion, and just good old fashioned satisfaction, knowledge for the sake of knowledge.

You see those little gaps there, in continuous learning, between the formal and the informal. These gaps in real life can be days, months, years or even decades. I earned my Masters in 1997, and 2 decades later, I finally started on a doctoral degree. But in between, didn’t I learn anything? Did nothing else count? Somewhere in that gap, back around 2014, I started participating in some MOOCs, as a learner.

Certificates of Completion





Diplomas Degrees


Image from: Visit

So sifting this down a bit - we have the major formal credentials on the left and informal ones on the right, includeing Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Courseware (OCW). And these are the focus of the first couple breakouts:

Breakout A:
Sharing In: Incorporating OER/OCW Into Classes

Sharing IN; how can we incorporate OER and/or OCW into classes? This breakout will explore the barriers and ways this can be accomplished.

Background image: Atari Breakout

Breakout B:
Sharing Out:
Creating Open Resources

Sharing Out: how can we create and share our resources out to the greater education community? How does Creative Commons licensing fit into that, and what are the barriers to doing so?

Background image: Atari Breakout:

Now, focusing in on MOOCs and micro credentials for a bit. I was one of those “drop outs”, those big numbers of folks who don’t complete their MOOCs, that you always read about in various articles. I never intended to complete or get a certificate - just didn’t have that kind of time. But what I WAS interested in was watching videos, taking notes, and learning about management and leadership. And now these folks have nanodegrees and micromasters - entirely new forms of completion.

But back then I was also curious about how these numbers of “drop-outs” and “low completion rates” - so I took a closer look with the help of some colleagues at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health….

It wasn’t long ago, about 5-6 years, when Coursera, EdX and Udacity were only offering MOOCs. Then they started offering verified identity certificate courses for a small fee, usually less than $50. They also began partnering with companies to offer training programs and certificates, and then evolved into

offering full degrees. Now, EdX offers 46 “micromasters” programs and 51 professional certificates in partnership with accredited universities like Columbia, MIT, RIT, Berkeley, UC San Diego, Michigan, and University of Maryland University College. Some of these provide credits toward a full masters at the partner university. Udacity offers 23 nanodegrees, Coursera offers 4 Masters degrees, a couple professional certificates, and hundreds of “specializations” which are a collection of 4-10 mini-courses. And these all come at a fraction of the price of a traditional brick and mortar institution. Now the question is: what is the value of these degrees and credentials in the eyes of employers? How does the return on investment in these educational endeavors stack up? And how much does it matter if it’s for personal or professional curiosity and/or individual growth? Nowadays we have more choices: online degrees, hybrid degrees and programs, competency-based programs, massive open online courses or MOOCs that have started offering micro or nano degrees. Granted, many of these are not yet full degrees, but they do offer more choices and possibilities for learning in fields from artificial intelligence to machine learning to sustainable energy, design thinking, instructional design and technology, business, project management, cybersecurity and the list goes on and on....


JHU/JHSPH: Coursera MOOC Survey Data

Total Students: 254, 828

Aggregate of all courses


Total Students earned an SOA



Total Students who submitted




Total Students who submitted




Total Students who submitted both surveys



JHSPH had started offering MOOCs on Coursera pretty early on, and had amassed tons of students and some data with some pre and post surveys. Now these response rates are not great, not even good, BUT with the high number of participants, still resulted in pretty big numbers to work with.

More information

White paper:

“Massive Open Online Courses in Public Health” in Frontiers in Public Health

Gooding I, Klaas B, Yager JD and Kanchanaraksa S(2013) Massive Open Online Courses in Public Health. 1:59. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2013.00059

This is the reference information for this study

How do students intend to participate in our MOOCs?

Wow, a lot of the 21% of people who actually took the pre-course survey indicated they were going for the certificate of achievement and completing all the assignments! Now, of course, this 21% are seemingly the most motivated, and there may be all kinds of potential biases of self-selection and beyond, but there were some interesting findings.

Of those who intended to earn an SOA, how many did?

Like 92% (sorry that’s cut off for some reason) of those who indicated their intention to earn the SOA actually did.

Of those who did NOT intend to earn an SOA, how many did?

And actually, 69% of those who did NOT intend to earn an SOA did. But you never saw any numbers like that reported in the Chronicle, right? What if 80% of people who enroll in MOOCs don’t even ever intend to complete it? What if they just enroll in it, like I did, out of interest and curiosity? And if that’s the case, why should we necessarily care about completion?

What are some of the factors motivating student participation in our MOOCs?

Notice how few were motivated to earn a credential, and how many participated due to it being fun and enjoyable, for job/career skills!

What are some of the factors motivating student participation in our MOOCs?

  • Top 3 reasons for enrollment:
    • The course teaches skills to help participant’s career
    • The course will be enjoyable and fun
    • The course is directly related to the participant’s academic field of study

So drilling down to the top 3 motivating factors: we see the potential for helping a career, enjoyable and fun, and relationship to a current field of study.

“Funnel of Participation” 9 JHSPH MOOCs with Peer Assessments

Gooding I, Klaas B, Yager JD and Kanchanaraksa S(2013) Massive Open Online Courses in Public Health. 1:59. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2013.00059

This “funnel of participation” is likely very common among moocs - where the number of enrollments starts very large and quickly gets smaller and smaller as you examine the aspects of the course that include more engagement and involvement with learners.

How satisfied were students with various aspects of the course?

Total Students: 7,206

The vast majority of students were happy with what they learned, felt engaged and fulfilled, wanted to take more, and even will use what they learned in their jobs. (although that last one had the most amount of disagreement).

What would have made students more likely to complete the course?

Total Students: 2,797

What would have made them more likely to complete the course? Shorter courses, more difficult/or easier material (which may be evidence of the need for adaptive learning activities); and more direct access with the instructor.

When making hiring decisions, what percentage of company/HR reps view MOOC completion on a resume either “very positively” or “positively”?

So how do HR representatives view MOOC completion on a resume?
Let’s see what you think the authors found… what do you think, do HR representatives view MOOC completion on a resume positively?

Image from:

(Radford, et al., 2014)

“If the MOOC course completed was relevant to the potential job function, how would your company view such coursetaking in hiring decisions?”

It turns out, if you thought very positiviely, 73% or respondents in this study, - the total average across the various industries. I was a bit surprised to see the totals that would view MOOCs on a resume either very positively or positively - though not so surprised that the Education sector leads the pack with 7% indicating Negatively or very negatively…. Still, that is a large percentage who view relevant MOOCs listed on a resume positively. And the reason why, is...

“once they understood what they were, the employers perceived MOOCs positively in hiring decisions, viewing them mainly as indicating employees’ personal attributes like motivation and a desire to learn.

(Radford, et al., 2014, p.1)

Motivation. Once they understood what they were, they perceived MOOCs positively because they indicate employee’s personal motivation and desire to learn.

% that had heard of MOOCs: among all respondents and by industry

(Radford, et al., 2014)

A Mixed Methods Study of Human Resource Professionals’
Thinking on MOOCs

Radford and others did a study in 2014, working with business HR professionals to get a sense of their knowledge and feelings about MOOCs and microcredentials. Here we see the percentage, by industry, of professionals who had heard of MOOCs. Overall, only 31% had even heard of MOOCs. Of course, Educators were the most numerous. So in this same study, they informed all the participants about MOOCs - describing what they are, how they work, and so on. Then they asked them how they view MOOC completion or certificates on resumes.

“Yet an even higher percentage (83%) were using, considering using, or could see their organization using MOOCs for professional development

(Radford, et al., 2014, p.1)

One final bit from this study, they found that 83% of the participating companies were using, considering using or could see the value in using MOOCs for professional development in the workplace. I guess the point here is that MOOCs aren’t dead, they aren’t only for, you know, white males with higher degrees and jobs, like me… And even though people point to issues like that prevalence, or say they are not open enough, or people drop out to frequently, my opinion has been that they are there, they are free, or far less expensive than most standard degrees, accessible from a library or public computer, there is much knowledge being shared, and knowledge of their existence should be much larger. Every library ought to have learning facilitators who discuss people’s learning desires and help them find and navigate this space.

Emerging learning ecosystem/technologies

And last but not least, let’s shift into taking a brief look at some emerging learning ecosystem technologies that are making waves in the digital learning sphere these days.

Background image: Emerging-Markets-Anna-Biolik.jpg


xAPI, the Experience API, aka Tin Can - is a form of analytics that gathers experience statements about all kinds of things we do that we can and do learn from It used to be, the only data we had were from the LMS - clicking on a page, taking a test, etc. But with xAPI, we can now add new dimensions to that - with social learning - for example, “Ben answered a question on the blog” or viewing a video that is not in the LMS, or other things that we do at work, such as sharing a link to an article, discussing something we read, or using knowledge to construct something in a new and novel way. All of these statements then get stored in the LRS or learning record store...


xAPI/Tin Can





And this LRS can then get parsed into dashboards, reports, specific analytics, open badges, etc… On the right here we have some things that have been there for decades - LMS, elearning courses, classroom training, etc. but also new things like games, simulations or virtual reality, mobile app for communication and collaboration, or business systems. So xAPI can collect a more holistic picture of your “experience”



“Blockchain is a distributed database, spread across many computers with no central control that could transform governance, the economy, businesses and the functioning of organisations.” (

Then there’s the blockchain, a distributed database spread across many computers with no central control that could transform governance and so on… That quote is from OEB-insights, which has a nice list of 10 ways blockchain could be used in education if you’d like to check it out. If blockchain is new to you, you can think of it a little like bitcoin or bittorrent, where files are distributed across many devices, such that the network of nodes helps protect the files from any 1 entity from changing or deleting them.



Imagine your diploma, bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees, credentials, and official transcripts were all part of the blockchain, so that you could easily share some of these items with prospective employers or further higher ed institutions. This graphic helps demonstrate this a little - with the idea that from childhood to career and beyond, the educational milestones all along the way can be entered into the blockchain as education credentials.


New Role

Nick Kouwenhoven, Executive Director, Academy of Lifelong Learning

The UMB Academy of Lifelong Learning will educate professionals in real world issues that affect the human condition to enable participants to serve the public with dedication to improve health justice and the public good.

© 2017, University of Maryland Baltimore

The Lifelong Learner: The T-Shaped Professional Reimagined

Boundary-crossing disciplines: teamwork, communications, etc.

Deep subject matter expertise in at least one area & system

Additional skills and credentials and that can maximize success at work

Intellectual pursuit of new knowledge, skills & connections

Full-time graduate school


Undergraduate education

60 Year Curriculum Continuum

Required certification programs: CMEs

© 2017, University of Maryland Baltimore

Breakout C:
Minding the Gap:
Bridges Between Degrees

For those who want to take a deeper dive into considering the ways to bridge the gaps between degrees and other ways to engage alumni and communities outside of degrees, Breakout C will explore that topic.

Background image: Atari Breakout:

image links/credits

Image: 800px-Knowledge-sharing.jpg


Image: 800px-Knowledge-sharing.jpg


Barnett Berry, Kathleen M. Airhart, & P. Ann Byrd. (2016). Microcredentials: Teacher learning transformed. The Phi Delta Kappan, 98(3), 34.

Jirgensons, M., & Kapenieks, J. (2018). Blockchain and the Future of Digital Learning Credential Assessment and Management. Journal of Teacher Education for Sustainability, 20(1), 145.

Nattoo, R.. A Lifetime of Back to School: Microcredentials in Higher Education. Retrieved from

Radford, A. W., Coningham, B., & Horn, L. (2015). MOOCs: Not Just for College Students-How Organizations Can Use MOOCs for Professional Development. Employment Relations Today (Wiley), 41(4), 1-15. doi:10.1002/ert.21469


Radford, A. W. Robles, J., Cataylo, S., Horn, L., Thornton, J., & Whitfield, K. (2014). The employer potential of MOOCs: A mixed-methods study of human resource professionals’ thinking on MOOCs. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 15(5). Retrieved from article/view/1842/3106

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