MOOCs Have a Long Way To Go

My second MOOC is nearing completion, I’m in the final week. This is my second experience in a MOOC and I’ve taken different approaches this time around.

As with the current MOOC, my first one was also on the Coursera platform, both from the same school (Wharton). Gamification was my first experience and it was a good course. It was well put together, but as with all MOOCs, had its failings.

My largest problem was in the way I approached the course. It was my first, and I was inexperienced about how to get the most from the experience.

I felt isolated during the six week course. There were no good opportunities for reflection or interaction required in the course. Also, the forum to communicate with other classmates was overwhelming at best.

Inside a Harvard Business School classroom

Virtual Classes

I’m not inexperienced in participating in the OC part of it either (online course), just in the M and O parts (massive and open). My Master’s program was remote, about 400 miles from the school I visited twice during the two year program.

Why was my Master’s program so much more successful than any MOOC?

To begin, it was a cohort of about 26 students allowing us to become a close group.

One regular activity made the program more successful than any MOOC. The cohort reflected on the reading and wrote a post answering a few questions presented by the professor.

The part that made this even more successful than just reflection? We read at least two other posts and responded. Not only did we reflect on the material, we also saw the material from a different point of view and discussed it with others.

Many times the conversation led beyond the assignment, and to valuable and thoughtful interactions.

This would be a difficult activity for a MOOC, but not impossible. The biggest problem would be that overwhelming feeling you get in a forum for 100,000+ people.

If everyone was to write one post and respond to two others, the risk of it overwhelming the student would be more limited. A well defined goal by the professor would ease most negative feelings.

The forums are currently overwhelming and have no defined goal, leading to no clear path to use them. It’s a sea of posts.

So, how have I been able to more effectively participate in my Marketing MOOC? Early in the course I was invited to a G+ Community with much smaller numbers than the course itself. I made it a point to participate during the early parts of the course.

As the course has continued, I’ve been participating a bit less, but it got me through those early stages of waning motivation. Once I was six weeks into the course, it wasn’t an option to drop it, and I haven’t.

Peering down the final stretch of the course, I’m one short (late) week away from gaining my second certificate of completion from Coursera.

MOOC Graveyard

I’ve signed up for many courses which I’ve never completed. My most recent course was statistics. I made it through just less than two weeks before feeling I was in too deep and dropping it. To say statistics wasn’t beneficial to me is completely wrong though. It gave me the opportunity to get my feet wet, experiment in the material a bit to see if it was for me. Most importantly, it gave me a trial run to see what statistics was all about, and if the teacher was to my liking.

Another one of my failed attempts was a course I signed up for and never went to the first class. I never got a notice the course had begun. I signed up weeks in advance, forgot about it, then half way through the course realized I had signed up. I don’t know how it happened and at this point don’t even remember what course it was.

The Future of MOOCs

They’ll always have a place in the education system, but  they’ll never replace entrenched institutions.

There’s a long way to go before they reach their pinnacle. MOOCs also have some exploration to do before they reach successful pedagogical methods that work for their delivery medium.

Every few months I’ll be checking if there are any interesting courses to take, and this one won’t be my last.

As of right now I’m waiting to take the Coursera course “Understanding Media by Understanding Google”. I’ll be waiting for a bit as it’s still in progress, so I’ll catch the next one in several months.

Call To Action

If you’re going to participate in a MOOC, make it count. Don’t rely on the larger student population to reflect and discuss topics with. Find a small weekly study group, a partner, or even a small community. You will be held more accountable for completing the course, and you will learn more.

5 Comments

  1. tanyalau on June 28, 2014 at 1:05 am

    Nick, thanks for pointing me to your post, really enjoyed reading about your experiences. It sounds like we’ve had fairly similar experiences with virtual learning and MOOCs. I find it interesting that you compare and reference your Masters – I did the same when I reflected on my first cMOOC style experience. I also had a similar experience to you in my Masters – mostly online but very engaging > and largely due to the conversations and collaborative work with a smallish group of other switched on students. I think my Masters was actually my first experience of the potential of collaborative online learning, and from my experiences (and yours, from the sounds of it) it seems that this level of engagement doesn’t necessarily scale – perhaps to the hundreds (maybe up to 100?) but certainly not the 1000s. Scalability in the 1000s essentially requires, as you’ve suggested, a breaking up of the cohort into smaller groupings. It simply isn’t within our (human) capabilities to interact meaningfully to that many people.
    The other point I guess I laboured to make in my recent MOOC reflections, is that the completion in and of itself isn’t really all that important if you have engaged in the experience sufficiently to achieve your personal objectives. The point of experiences like MOOCs are that they are self directed learning experiences > no one is ‘requiring’ you to enroll and complete: YOU’RE the one who should be defining what your objectives are and when you have achieved them: this is the point of self directed learning. I see very little point in completing a course for the sake of obtaining a (meaningless?) certificate if you’re not interested or engaged. So I do really like your final call to action for people to take control of their learning experiences.
    Although I wrote in my MOOC reflections that xMOOCs are more about content and individual knowledge acquisition compared with cMOOC which are more about promoting connection between people and ideas – I had a twitter conversation this week which reminded me it isn’t quite as simple and clear cut than that. A great comment from my #Edcontexts collaborator Maha Bali paints perhaps a more accurate, nuanced view of the situation: “Most xMOOCs don’t actually prevent connectivism from happening, they just decenter it”

    I think that’s true: and it also just means that – as you suggest – participants in xMOOCs just need to be a little more proactive to find their own small study groups, a partner or community who they can connect and interact with on a meangingful level to sustain engagement in really massive MOOCs.

    • Nick Leffler on June 28, 2014 at 12:27 pm

      Tanya, thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment. Always love reading your comments, and posts 🙂 You are right on when you distinguish between the experiences of the xMOOC and cMOOC. I failed to make that separation in my post, but all the same I believe in the connectivist approach of the cMOOC, but that it’s also possible in the xMOOC.

      I personally haven’t yet taken a cMOOC but it’s on my list of things to do, I’m going to reference your list of MOOCs when I look into participating in one.

      You get out of it what you put into it, that’s exactly how they work. A few months ago all these articles about MOOCs failing because their completion rates were low completely misses the point of the MOOC. Even some of the creators of MOOC platforms missed the message on what they’re good for. It’s not about butts in seats until the end, it’s about each person being able to tailor their experience to what fits them.

      I don’t make it a goal to complete every MOOC I start, but I do make a goal to at least get something out of each one. Sometimes that goal is as simple as an introduction to the topic to see if it really catches my attention. If it catches my attention and I find a good group to learn with, it’ll keep me until the end, if not, no harm.

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