Wednesday, January 16, 2013



MOOC's are Massively Open Online Courses - largely free university level courses offered by sites like EdX, Coursera, Udacity, Codecademy, Skillshare, Udemy, P2PU, openlearning, SchooX

There is a lot of wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth by universities wondering what their future looks like in the face of this recent disruptive technology.  As, indeed, there should be.  Partly because it challenges the dominance of the dreaded lecture - a technology that was invented a thousand years ago before books became widely available.

MOOC's are criticized for several reasons – lack of interaction in the classroom, high drop-out rates in online courses, lack of university credit, etc.

The idea of interactivity in on-campus university lectures is a myth.  In a class of 100, for example, how well does a lecturer get to know individual students?  Perhaps five of the more aggressive students will have any real interaction with the professor either during class or afterwards.

As long as the online "lectures" are interactive with student quizzes and exercises rather than just canned one-hour lectures, the quality of the interaction will be much richer on-line because every student will need to do the exercises and complete the quizzes.  Ironically, they can't hide as they can in a "real" classroom.

MOOC's have attracted some of the best teachers.  Unfortunately, most university professors are not good teachers.  Ph.D.'s are trained researchers, not teachers.  They choose a university career primarily to enable them to do their research.  Teaching is viewed as a necessary evil to keep their jobs and many do it reluctantly.  I worked for many years in a university setting to help improve the quality of teachers.  There were a few amazing and brilliant teachers but they were a small minority.

On-campus classes work for some learners who need the direct social interaction with people to keep them motivated and on track.  Self-directed learners can benefit greatly from on-line courses.  The universities need to recognize that both are valid and address the needs of different learners.

The universities criticize the low completion rates but why is this even an issue?  Many learners may just want to try it out and, although they may not finish a particular course, it may have opened up new possibilities for them.  Other people may not be able to commit the time or need to address other life priorities.  If students were paying for credit, the completion rate would increase markedly.

Society and our learning institutions have long had the approach of “weeding-out” or eliminating people.  Universities only accept people who have already proven they can learn.  They call this “maintaining standards”.  “Standards” should be based on how much they learned rather than how much they already knew when they entered.  Most students allowed admission to universities would have succeeded with or without them.

How many of us have experienced the first lecture at a university in which a smug professor proudly says, “Only one in three of you will finish this program.” Education should be about helping people learn and not eliminating everyone except those who already know how to learn. 

As for lack of credit, is it possible that some people just want to learn?  What a concept!

Many or even most people cannot afford the cost of an on-campus university education.  MOOC’s help democratize education and make it available to far more people.

See the article at  The ePortfolio is a tool that can help address some of the questions but it is only part of the solution.