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What Professors Can Learn From "Hard Core" MOOC Students 141

Posted by samzenpus
from the get-your-learn-on dept.
jyosim writes "Hundreds of people are spending 20 or 30 hours a week just taking free Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. They're not looking for credit, just the challenge of learning. This Chronicle of Higher Ed story looks at whether these MOOC addicts think they're learning as much as they would in a traditional college course. From the article: 'Consider Anna Nachesa, a 42-year-old single mother in a village near Amsterdam who logs on to MOOCs for several hours each night after dinner with her teenage kids. She has always found TV boring, she says, and for her, MOOCs replace reading books. She is a physicist by training, with a degree from Moscow State University, and she works as a software developer. "This stuff is actually addictive," she says. In some ways the lure is like Everest: Some want to climb it to see if they can. "The Dutch have the proverb 'If you never shoot, you already missed,'" she says.'"
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What Professors Can Learn From "Hard Core" MOOC Students

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  • by phantomfive (622387) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:11PM (#43775173) Journal
    The first thing you should learn is to read the article. There, you will find these four points listed:

    1) Clarity and organization are key.
    2)Professors are the stars (the university name isn't so important)
    3)Text still matters. (because videos aren't searchable)
    4)Passion matters most. (you don't have to be a pretty movie star)
  • by sanman2 (928866) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:27PM (#43775277)

    5) It's all about ACCESS

    There are plenty of people out there who have the desire and the ability to improve themselves, but for one reason or another can't take time out of their lives to leave their jobs and go back to school. The MOOC is the great new solution to their dilemma. Now anyone and everyone can get access to training and education, to better themselves in their spare time. After all, we're now in the 21st century, and shouldn't have to be constrained by old limits on things like classroom size, etc.

    What's needed going forward, are paths to accreditation so that MOOC students can merge themselves into the mainstream of education and qualification. Hey, as long as a student can genuinely pass the tests and examinations which authentically gauge their prowess, then why should it matter whether they got their education face-to-face in a classroom vs online? In the end, it's knowledge and ability which count.

    We may be entering into a new age of "Social Learning" whereby our social circles and our study groups become one and the same. We will increasingly spend more of our time communicating with study peers through whom we can advance our knowledge, so that any ultimate interaction with the instructor will be more efficient and productive.

  • by saforrest (184929) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:31PM (#43775325) Homepage Journal

    This Chronicle of Higher Ed story looks at whether these MOOC addicts think they're learning as much as they would in a traditional college course.

    It's been psychologically demonstrated that people who volunteer their time up-front to some activity for which they're not receiving other rewards (e.g. payment) are biased towards finding the activity fulfilling, even if it wasn't really, simply so they don't feel foolish for having wasted their time.

    I have no doubt many of these people are learning things and they would probably drop out if they weren't, but self-reporting is no way to measure the efficacy of MOOCs as learning tools.

  • by neminem (561346) <{neminem} {at} {gmail.com}> on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:37PM (#43775375) Homepage

    If you could start a semester at college by signing up for every class that looked remotely interesting, show up to the first lecture or two, decide whether it was, then only take the classes you wanted, you'd probably see rates more like that. If you could do that and also college was *free*, then you'd really see rates like that. I'm not seeing why either of those things are bad.

    Now, you can argue that an online-only approach is inherently not going to be as good for a lot of subjects as an approach that involves some hands-on work under the direct supervision with a professor you can talk to directly, and I would agree with that argument. But then again, in a lot of (larger) schools, a lot of classes that would benefit from that sort of approach wouldn't get it anyway - they'd get mostly large classroom lectures taught by TAs, in which case, you could hardly argue that's terribly different from a Coursera course, other than in the relative difficulty and cost of signing up for the class.

  • The opposite. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:38PM (#43775377)

    When people take courses at their own free will (as opposed to fulfilling a degree requirement), they tend to gravitate towards courses they feel comfortable with; not necessarily know the subject being taught (otherwise, what's the pont?), but something within their comfort zone.

    I am currently doing a course that I would never attempt if I were enrolled in the actual school.

    Why>

    Because there's no skin off my ass if I fail.

    The funny thing is, because there's no pressure to keep the GPA up, I'm mostly enjoying the class. There are times, when I'm just lost and I have to go to the forums for hints - no one give you the answer - and I get to hear from others who are also having problems. We "stupid" people finally get our project done and it's an incredible confidence builder. Yeah, there are grades, but it's more of a feedback mechanism than anything.

    A traditional school, on the other hand, IS NOT about learning. It is about busting your balls until you play the game and get your piece of paper. Lot's of busy work because many profs think you need to do a lot of work for the sake of doing a lot of work - I actually had a prof see me in the gym and comment that if I have the time to exercise, then he's not giving enough work.

    I am enjoying learning and taking a class AND being challenged for the first time in my life.

    School sucks. MOOC rocks!

  • by cold fjord (826450) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:38PM (#43775381)

    I don't think I can agree with you on that. People gravitate toward their interests, not just to what they feel comfortable with. That often results in picking up ever more rarified knowledge, or higher skills. In my experience that can provide plenty of challenge. There are also plenty of people that will strike out in a totally new direction just to learn something about a topic or to acquire a new skill.

    People often joke about basket weaving classes, but it is a useful skill with a significant knowledge base and many skills to learn. If you care to master all aspects of the craft there is much to learn about different materials and preparation techniques, suitable construction methods with different materials, etc.

    Consider the humble pencil in this classic: I, Pencil [fee.org]

  • by drwho (4190) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:53PM (#43775517) Homepage Journal

    There's more to education than listening to lectures and taking the final exam (though the Chinese and many European schools don't seem to understand this). College education involves lectures, Q&A, homework, feedback from the teacher, projects, interaction with classmates...all in some personal manner. I am not suggesting that everyone needs one-on-one training as provided by a tutor, but interactivity is important. In mega-classrooms this is impossible. Sure, you'll get graders and TAs, but they often are unable to answer more than the most basic questions. It's not only about receiving information from the professor, it's also about responding back in turn - to improve the professor's understanding of the field, his or her teaching methodology, and to build a repor which lasts beyond the classroom.

    For some years now, Wall-street and wannabee wall-street types having being trying to rebuild higher education along the lines of a business, with assembly lines and workers as interchangeable parts. It doesn't work. The quality of education is suffering. There's a race to the bottom as students are taught only how to pass the multiple-choice, computer graded exam. While understanding of certain facts is key, and rote memorization and replay have their value, it is not sufficient as part of a quality education. Small classrooms and interpersonal relations are required. This is best done in the traditional university environment.

    Disclaimer; no, I am not any part of this teaching machine, either of the mass-production or hand-crafted ones.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:05PM (#43775633) Homepage

    My overall take is similar:
    1. I'm guessing these folks are learning stuff. I certainly did when I started watching some Yale's course lectures [youtube.com].

    2. The educational value is somewhere between a History or Discovery Channel bit and an actual college course: I learned a bunch of stuff I hadn't learned before, but I don't by any stretch of the imagination think that I've done the equivalent of an undergraduate course.

    3. I can think of far worse hobbies and bigger wastes of time. If you believe, as I do, that education and knowledge is valuable in its own right and not just a way to increase potential earnings and productivity, then at worst these folks are stretching their brains a bit and having more ideas to draw on.

    So a worthwhile effort, but probably not the equivalent of the full college experience. Although I'm guessing there are a lot of Open University graduates who would be happy to contest the idea that distance learning can't work really well.

  • by hedwards (940851) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:13PM (#43775685)

    And none of that is of much value apart from niches that are niches for a reason.

    Don't get me wrong, I love math and science as well as the arts, but you're just fooling yourself if you think that math plays a significant role in the creation of art. Sure, you can make art that's surrounded by math and there's tons of things like paint drying that you can study, but in terms of composition, the education you get in math is going to be completely worthless.

    What's more, math classes are generally not aimed at the people that are likely to be good at art. The extremely linear approach that's usually required by the undergraduate classes are not likely to go over well for creative folks.

  • by zmaragdus (1686342) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:17PM (#43775727)
    One of the bigger problems with accreditation is the scope of examination needed to determine suitability for official certification. If I were to certify someone as an electrical engineer without any knowledge of what their education was, I'd want to spend a full week working one-on-one with them to fully evaluate their knowledge and skills. This is why universities get accreditation from a group like ABET [abet.org]. Now you can tell graduates to have several years of work experience, take the FE and PE exams [ncees.org], and be able to tell with a reasonable amount of certainty whether or not the individual is worthy to be called a Professional Engineer with a good efficiency in the process (vs. the aforementioned one-on-one situation). Does anyone have any better ideas for large-scale, education-irrelevant accreditation?
  • by Miseph (979059) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:22PM (#43775765) Journal

    "Children being born today will have access to far more and better education than any generation ever, if we don't mess it up in some way."

    No need to worry, we will definitely find a way to mess it up.

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:26PM (#43775781) Homepage
    I love MOOCs (I hate the word mooc when pronounced Mook though) I have little doubt that many courses go into way less depth than a traditional collage course. But my motivations for learning are entirely different than your typical collage student (not all just the typical). I am picking and choosing my courses based upon what I want to know so that I can put it to use tomorrow. Passing the tests in the MOOC are motivated by the fact that if I can't pass them then I haven't really been paying attention. Your typical collage student is learning many subjects where they follow a "flip-card" learning strategy so that they can pound the knowledge into their head long enough to regurgitate it onto a test. Some material will be built upon and potentially kept for life such as the core subjects for the person's degree. So an Engineer will potentially keep much of the math that they then proceed to use over the next few years but few will remember much from their mandatory arts course. The same even within specialties. Accountants who go on to become advanced bookkeepers will most likely forget their stats course material within months of learning it. I have taken and passed 3 courses from Coursera and loved all three. In every case I have proceeded to put what I learned into action. So my guess is that in 1 year I will have taken what they have given me and run much farther than your typical student taking the same university level courses unless that student chooses a path that will put that material in to regular use. But this is the advantage of my being able to cherry-pick the courses I want and need.

    But comparing MOOCs to their University classroom counterparts are like comparing Radio to TV. They are different beasties. A MOOC takes a different form of discipline to take it. They have certain disadvantages in that I doubt anyone took any of the courses I took within a 100 miles of my location making physical grouping almost impossible at this point. University courses are taught by whatever professor is at hand, be they good or bad. Eventually some of the best professors are going to do MOOCs (I wish Feynman could have cooked up one as his lectures were pretty awesome) resulting in a faster more efficient learning experience. MOOCs are bringing world class courses to my desk from institutions I couldn't have gotten into. Also the prices for many MOOCs are perfect for people in parts of the world where they have no access to higher education.

    But what it really boils down to for me is that a world with MOOCs is going to be a better world for so many people. I suspect that there will be a few casualties but that overall the number of winners will be incomprehensible. Also keep in mind that this is really the beginning for MOOCs so who knows how much better they will get?
  • Quality (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BlackSupra (742450) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:37PM (#43775893)

    An IMDB like database scoring online course quality is currently missing from the equation.

  • by cryptizard (2629853) on Monday May 20, 2013 @04:08PM (#43776141) Homepage
    What kind of computer science program doesn't have an algorithms course?
  • by PoolOfThought (1492445) on Monday May 20, 2013 @04:55PM (#43776445)

    A: Of course anything even remotely resembling a union is "communist"...

    Maybe. But it doesn't really matter.

    B: ..., so we can rule that option right out.

    Wrong. Why? Because what described in your first and second paragraphs doesn't resemble the unions of which you speak of in the last. (B) has nothing to do with (A). Therefore, you SHOULD be happy that what you described is not only possible, but quite preferable for many professions. For some reason I doubt you will be happy though.

    And just so you know, electricians already do this. And plumbers. You know, those middle class, hard working professionals. Even independent contractors go through the same process for these professions. The practice isn't gone. Again, you should be happy with me pointing this out, but I doubt you will be.

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