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The MOOC Revolution That Wasn't 182

An anonymous reader writes: Dan Friedman at TechCrunch is ready to call Massive Open Online Courses a failure. Originally hailed as a revolution in learning, MOOCs have seen disappointing course completion numbers. Coursera and Udacity, two of the most prominent online learning hubs, have seen about 8 million enrollments in the past few years. Unfortunately, half of those students didn't even watch a single lecture, and only a few hundred thousand completed the course they signed up for.

Friedman says, "[N]ew technologies enable methods of "learn by doing" that just weren't possible before we could deliver immersive experiences to people's laptops and phones. In the 1960's, Jerome Bruner expanded an educational theory known as constructivism with the idea that students should learn through inquiry under the guidance of a teacher to grasp complex ideas intuitively. That process of trial, failure, and then being shown the correct path has been proven to drive student motivation and retention of learning. What we don't yet know is if that process of trial and failure can become 10x more engaging when delivered through a new medium such as Minecraft or Oculus. ... These new immersive worlds promise to hold the attention of students in ways textbooks never could."
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The MOOC Revolution That Wasn't

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  • Slashvertisement (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2014 @10:48AM (#47896851)

    From TFA:

    Having the full attention of an instructor accelerates an individual’s learning by focusing them on the right problems at the right times, and having a real relationship with one person provides students with accountability. At Thinkful, we see a spike in learning the day before students have sessions with their mentors. Students want to achieve more because of their relationship, and that motivation translates to more efficient learning. We’re now working to apply that same social pressure throughout the week to bring up overall learning time further.

    In other words, our competitors in the online space have been doing it wrong. But we've come up with something so New and Improved, we don't call it MOOC. Whether you're an angel investor or just want to learn some new stuff, you owe it to yourself to check us out today.

    • Re:Slashvertisement (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2014 @12:37PM (#47897351)

      Exactly. This poorly-written "article" was written by none other than the founder of Thinkful, an online school/startup funded by "institutional investors []" Peter Thiel's FF Angel, RRE Ventures, and Quotidian Ventures.

      John Oliver has more on the blessed industry of for-profit schools [].

    • by irq-1 ( 3817029 )

      Yes it's a Slashvertisement, but they're not wrong about MOOCs being a failure. Even regular courses with "online components" are mostly bookkeeping: event calendars, file storage, short quizzes and anemic forums (where students get points for how many comments they make). Where's the value? MOOCs are all that, plus no credits, no deadlines and you don't know anyone.

      • by AuMatar ( 183847 )

        Depends on how you define success. If you define success as being a replacement for college, you're right. They aren't, and likely never will be that. If by success you mean a place where motivated adults can learn about a subject without the costs and commitment of a degree program then they're a rousing success. And that's where the people who start MOOCs went wrong- they were thinking of them as college replacements. Think of them as adult learning at a university level for people who don't plan on

  • by olsmeister ( 1488789 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @10:50AM (#47896853)
    I have signed up for 3 of these from Coursera. I've completed two and dumped one. They do involve a fair amount to time to get through, depending on how familiar you are with the subject matter to start with. I'm guessing most of the people who do this are people who sometimes think about going back to college but aren't quite willing to dump an existing career that pays the bills but perhaps leaves them not completely satisfied. I guess the question I would have is how important is it to these places that people finish their courses? Given that the price right now is $0, maybe they could charge a nominal free (like $20) to sign up, refundable if the course is completed.
    • by ranton ( 36917 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:22AM (#47896967)

      I have signed up for dozens of Coursera classes, but have not taken the complete course even once. The fact that they are free allows me to sign up for a class without even thinking if I have the time to watch a single video. If I watch a single video, and learn a single fact, then it was probably worth it to me. And if 100,000 people sign up and only half watch a single video and only half of them getting anything useful from the video, that was probably worth the time for a professor to create the class.

      I have learned to write a parser for a personal SQL engine optimization project. I have learned a great deal of machine learning from a few different classes that I have used in my profession. I have learned interesting material about Economics, Sociology, etc. I could have learned all of this from books, but while I am an avid reader I still feel those lectures helped me learn quicker and probably even gave a more complete level of understanding.

      That is worth something to me, and I hope that the professors would feel that it was worth their effort to teach people like me even though I never completed their courses. I hope that as this catches on there will be a big enough market for these professors to get paid well for their effort. I would pay $100 to even $500 for some of these classes, even if I never complete them or get a certificate.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mcshicks ( 1139509 )
        As a counter example I've signed up for 6 and completed 4 (Machine Learning, Mobile Robotics, Cryptography I, and Introductory Python Programming). Granted a couple of those I only partially completed the first time and went back and took again due to time constraints. I think the whole article is based on a false metric (percent sign up vs complete). Here's the real metric, which is cost/student to successfully enable a student solve problems as required by an employer. I think the book is out on this
        • by AuMatar ( 183847 )

          Your metric needs improvement too. Cut off the employer part. No employer needs someone to take a MOOC in history, music theory, etc. Yet they exist and people love them. The real metric for success is how many people are able to learn about a field that under other circumstances they never could. Whether they ever use that knowledge, professionally or personally, isn't relevant.

      • ... half of those students [watched at least one lecture], a few hundred thousand completed the course ...

        These are the only statistic that matters. Who cares how many people sign up and never do anything, maybe they decided it wasn't what they expected. Maybe they don't have the time. But if people are getting something out of it, and some are putting the effort in to complete it, it looks like a success in my book.

        A couple hundred thousand course completions? I'd call that a success.

    • The other trouble I've had is prerequisites being poorly defined.

      I tried to take an AI course that said the only requirement was algebra. Sure! Suddenly, calculus! Though I struggled through that as I've had some prior exposure, what put the tombstone down for me was probability. I just couldn't wrap my head around it, and the course assumed you already understood it all.

      • by AuMatar ( 183847 )

        Its kind of hard to list all the prerequisites for everything. Especially since by the time you'd hit AI in any college course, you'd have taken probability and calculus years ago. Do I need to list understanding of the scientific method as a prerequisite for chem 300? The ability to read and write? There is a baseline knowledge you just have to assume- that's why you generally need to take the baseline courses like calc first in college.

        What you can't do is take the math out- doing so waters down the

    • MOOCs are great for disciplined students (like me). I carefully choose courses based on what I want to learn about and only take one at a time. It does not matter to me that no college credit is awarded (I already have a BS and MBA). I commit to completing courses just like I was paying for them which means I continue irrespective of how good, bad, or difficult I find the course to be. I always learn more that I expected. Sometimes the most important learning happens as the result of course discussion
    • I've started 3 and fully completed none, for various reasons. Mainly children. I'm a big fan, though, and I will get back into it when time frees up. Pinky swear.
  • How does that compare to conventional University/College. Probably a similar order of magnitude.
  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @10:53AM (#47896871)
    When it's free, and there's no penalty for failing to participate, and it makes the news as a fad, then this is the expected result, not some outlier.

    If anything they should be happy that a few hundred-thousand of the eight million actually completed it; assuming they're around 5% completion that's pretty good for something that there was no obligation to participate in, that required a fairly large amount of time committed that might not have been considered in advance, etc.

    It's like an extreme version of the affluenza-type kid that's had everything handed to him going off to college because it's automatic; he does poorly and skips a lot because he has no stake in what happens. His parents pay for everything and he has none of his own cost on the line.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I got through my courses on Cousera by white knuckling it.

      Watching videos on the computer is very hard for me. I have to play them at 1.5x at least. Many lecturers suck - their lectures can be half as long and they speak too slow.

      The quizes can be horrible. You get a wrong answer and do not understand why; well, you cannot discuss quiz answers on the forums.

      Then there is the format and organization. Back in college, everything about the course was decribed in the sylabus. On Coursera, that my be the case

      • by Zarhan ( 415465 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:49AM (#47897089)

        I have this problem as well with not just online courses but several video "tutorials". It's been numerous times recently that I've googled for for "how do I ...." and the top results have been videos. I typically have some idea on how to do what I'm looking for, and I just need to verify some details. So now, Instead of quickly skimming a text (or even a slideset) to find the exact bits I'm looking for, I have to try to fast-forward a video to a point where it gets interesting.

        This is especially problematic when you are just looking at a talking head droning on, or just a video of someone doing stuff with an application. One exception has been when I wanted to cut down a tree in my back yard. There was no danger to surroundings since the house wasn't anywhere close by, so I figured I could just cut it down myself. In this case, the videos on how to use a chainsaw helped a lot, since it showed actually *stuff happening*, not just a talking head.

        If these video lectures would even have transcripts, that would increase their usability tremendously. Considering that youtube is now offering closed captions created with voice recognition, such transcripts could perhaps be generated automatically soon...

        • There was no danger to surroundings since the house wasn't anywhere close by, so I figured I could just cut it down myself.

          Sometimes lumberjacks cut down trees and it lands on themselves, so that is the primary danger.

          Anyway, sounds like you did it, so good job.

          • Sometimes lumberjacks cut down trees, wear high heels, suspenders and a bra.

            FTFY. I hope the video has it all.

        • I have this problem as well with not just online courses but several video "tutorials". It's been numerous times recently that I've googled for for "how do I ...." and the top results have been videos. I typically have some idea on how to do what I'm looking for, and I just need to verify some details. So now, Instead of quickly skimming a text (or even a slideset) to find the exact bits I'm looking for, I have to try to fast-forward a video to a point where it gets interesting.

          google "how do i ... -video" next time.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Check out EDx. All the coursed I've taken there have had transcripts.

        • by Xest ( 935314 )

          Yep, this is time and time again what's made me give up on MOOCs and I say this as someone who has done formal education online (I did an additional degree in my spare time with the UK's OU some years back).

          Videos are mostly shit for learning, if I don't get something I want to be able to just re-read the paragraph, not dick around with some video player trying to get it to the right point again so I can listen to some monotonous or accented person drone on - it's not that I have a problem with accents, it'

    • by CODiNE ( 27417 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @12:16PM (#47897247) Homepage

      Not only that, they are using completion to rate success. I disagree.

      I took the massively parallel computation course online somewhere... It was great, I got a basic understanding of CUDA, compute units, transferring data, running carefully designed and constrained code on it, I learned about memory access issues and ordering data so it can be easily streamed. Etc

      To me that was extremely valuable information. I did not complete, stopped about halfway because I didn't need to learn it in depth and I don't plan to specialize in that.

      However now I know what kind of data the GPU can process, the basic workflow for doing that and approximately how much time it would take me to get up to speed and make something using that if I needed to.

      I feel the course was a success to me, but to them I'm a failure statistic. Perhaps a large percentage of their students are joining classes without the intention of completing them and they need to reevaluate where their value lies to different users.

      • Well said.

        There's an underlying completionist fetish to this whole failure argument.

        After all, it is perfectly normal for professors to suggest certain chapters in a text book for reading and traditional students are not considered failures just because they didn't read the entire book. The same thing now happens with MOOCs. You watch what is of interest to you and skip the rest and more importantly, you do it all at your own time!

        And yes, this medium is not suited for all of us, some prefer a more structur

        • This is basically a problem with granularity. They should make their MOOC classes into little self contained units of a single lecture each, with a more complex dependency chart. Then they can measure people's completion rates of the various units, and they'll have a better understanding of what microtopics are actually most popular, too.
      • Mod up parent for truth. I've done many online courses, but I don't do the whole thing. I do what parts interest me or what I need. I also jump between courses. If something is hard listen to lectures on the same topic in other courses until I understand it. Since there's no piece of paper at the end and no need to prove myself to potential employers the usual Test BS is crap. OP's article worries me because it might sink what is a very good thing but which OP doesn't understand because it doesn't fit hi
    • When it has free competition, failure to pay is common. I am learning more online than ever before. Much of it is outside an online classroom.

      Examples include
      DMX512 lighting control
      Digital Photography and photo editing (formal training in the 70's limited to film SLR and darkroom processing)
      Additional electronics including digital signal processing. Formal traiining ended in the 1980's.
      Audio Engineering/Recording
      HVAC & Refrigeration
      Not all who learn are after a sheepskin, but the skill

  • by gnupun ( 752725 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @10:56AM (#47896875)

    All MOOC courses largely resemble university courses. You are supposed spend 1-2 hours per week on the videos, do extra reading from the textbook and do the assigned homework. After all this effort, you might get an online certificate that's useless for job purposes. This is too much work for casual students. We want courses designed for casual learning and that means flexible hours, fewer homework assignments.

    Also some of the science and tech courses are very demanding but the teachers don't simplify it leading to many whooshing sounds for the student throughout the courses. Such courses could benefit from a simplified overview of the course material.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      We want courses designed for casual learning and that means flexible hours, fewer homework assignments.

      That's why a online class will never educate anyone.

      • We want courses designed for casual learning and that means flexible hours, fewer homework assignments.

        That's why a online class will never educate anyone.

        You're assuming he's being lazy, rather than analysing his point. The main promise of internet learning was supposed to be accessibility in terms of where you want and when you want. The timetable in MOOCs is often just too rigid, and if you've got something big on at work, you might just need to be able to tune out for two weeks.

      • That's funny given my girlfriend got her entire degree from a reputable university doing nothing but online classes, as has everyone else who's ever learnt by correspondence.

        I have news for you, just because they came up with a catchy name like MOOC doesn't mean this concept is in any way remotely new. My father did it too, but it was VHS tapes and books flung back and forth across the state in the mail.

    • by JanneM ( 7445 )

      "Also some of the science and tech courses are very demanding but the teachers don't simplify it leading to many whooshing sounds for the student throughout the courses. Such courses could benefit from a simplified overview of the course material."

      How many employers would like to hire people that can't understand the actual content and need "simplified overview" to get a grade? If you really don't grasp it to the point where you can actually apply the math for new, novel problems, then you don't actually kn

      • There is a difference between a simplified overview and a dense fact-regurgitation. The difference is that I expect to get an understanding from a simplified overview, while I dont expect to get an understanding from a dense fact-regurgitation.

        "Simplified" does not mean "simplistic" unless you dont understand how education works.

        Richard Feynman. End of discussion.
        • by AuMatar ( 183847 )

          Feynman's statement is one of the most misapplied quotes of our lifetime. You can give the 10000 foot view of a subject in simple terms, usually. And that's what he meant. That's not the purpose of a college course- the purpose is to give you all the details, so you can apply them in new and novel ways. That requires lots of facts being thrown at you, lots of math, and lots of detail. Any attempt to do it otherwise IS being simplistic.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If you look at just this:

    "a few hundred thousand completed the course"

    How is that not revolutionary? Personally, I complete maybe 1 out of 10 that I sign up for because of life's duties intervening. Why should success be judged according to percentage completed, rather than number completed?

    • I was thinking the same thing. As someone who's completed 3 courses and will be taking 2 more this fall, I think it's a great service and am happy to pay money for it.
    • Does it have a major effect in the material nature of our existence? No? Then it's not revolutionary.
  • by ka9dgx ( 72702 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:01AM (#47896897) Homepage Journal

    I completed the Stanford AI course, recently did a course in communications from the University of Amsterdam. In both cases, time management was a problem for me, I simply had other things to do, and drifted away... catching back up in the nick of time. Trying to fit distance learning into the regular schedule of campus life seems to be the problem here... it is definitely not the depth of material that is any kind of a stopper.

    I think that guided deep dives into topics we would otherwise not understand, is going to be how we keep accumulating knowledge as a species in the future. Deep diving takes time, and unlike the real diving... it doesn't all have to happen in one shot.

    On a side note... it is worth at least $20 to me... possibly much more... if someone can give me the deep dive that results in me understanding the Higgs field, and the Higgs particle. A true understanding... not some vague notion of mexican hats and potential.

  • by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:03AM (#47896901)

    Well I have a theory. I has help up in all circumstances I have observed over the few decades I have spent as a tax paying citizen.

    When things are free, expected outcomes, which would generally benefit subject populations never materialize..."

    I have a few examples:

    1: Collapse of the Canadian cod fishery industry

    2: The extreme stress experienced by the so called "socialist" medical care system wherever it can be found. Result will be failure inevitably.

    3: The obvious poor quality elementary and post elementary pupils western countries produce compared to kids from the Asian subcontinent where monies paid by hard-working parents, or even students themselves.

    4: Hunger in some so called underdeveloped countries where starvation is obvious in the midst of lush green vegetation.

    • by tgv ( 254536 )

      > The obvious poor quality elementary and post elementary pupils western countries produce compared to kids from the Asian subcontinent

      I think you might be ever so slightly mistaken there. If you're referring to the PISA or OESO scores, they are heavily biased. And many Western countries have quite decent elementary education, thank you very much. I agree the effort could be improved, but you can't call it poor.

      • I agree the effort could be improved, but you can't call it poor.

        Let's agree that "poor" or otherwise, is subjective.

        Now, let me say that I am a product of an educational system that many in the west despised when I came over. Guess what! I beat all of my classmates in their own mother tongue (English) and mathematics. In fact, I used to call it "chicken feed."

        I still do some teaching now, but in all my classes, students from Asian and African education systems beat my native born Americans. This has been the case ALL the time.

        One grammatical error I always hear goes as

        • by tgv ( 254536 )

          > in all my classes, students from Asian and African education systems beat my native born Americans. This has been the case ALL the time.

          That might be (selection) bias. Asians and Africans that go the US, have received proper education, better than average. They're probably from relatively wealthy parents. The other Asians and Africans did not get such a good education. The Americans (although probably not natives!), on the other hand, are in your classes after receiving common education, and --unless y

        • One grammatical error I always hear goes as follows: "I would have went there..." Another one, "I have already ate..." I am no expert but this doesn't sound right.

          To people who grew up in that dialect, it sounds great. To me it makes me want to code switch [] to the style of speaking that I grew up in. I ain't jokin.

    • by mspohr ( 589790 )

      Well I have a theory. I has help up in all circumstances I have observed over the few decades I have spent as a tax paying citizen.

      When things are free, expected outcomes, which would generally benefit subject populations never materialize..."

      Ah, yes... the good old protestant work ethic... we must suffer and sacrifice...
      I guess that "free" (tax paid) libraries, fire protection, police service, roads, etc. just don't work.

      I have a few examples:

      1: Collapse of the Canadian cod fishery industry

      Tragedy of the commons. This is greed. Nothing to do with an infinite resource (bandwidth).

      2: The extreme stress experienced by the so called "socialist" medical care system wherever it can be found. Result will be failure inevitably.

      I have heard the stories about the failure of European health care systems... they manage to deliver better health outcomes at half the cost of our system (But I'm sure they are about to collapse...)

      3: The obvious poor quality elementary and post elementary pupils western countries produce compared to kids from the Asian subcontinent where monies paid by hard-working parents, or even students themselves.

      "Obvious" to no one but you.

      4: Hunger in some so called underdeveloped countries where starvation is obvious in the midst of lush green vegetation.

      Let them ea

  • A for effort (Score:4, Interesting)

    by alen ( 225700 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:07AM (#47896911)

    the people who go to MIT, Harvard and other top schools aren't more intelligent than anyone else, they put the effort in. they study until they are sure they will get an A, do their homework, etc. that's why the schools are selective.

    MOOC's take anyone who wakes up one day with dreams of being a top programmer. when it's time to put the work in they go back to their old ways and find reasons why they are too busy to do the work. TV, netflix, going out drinking with the Bro's, gaming

    • I'd argue that the capacity to become interested in a subject to the point where you're motivated to spend a lot of time learning the hell out of it is a big part of what "intelligence" is all about. And yes, the top schools do select people who have this fire.

  • by jamesl ( 106902 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:10AM (#47896921)

    Isn't Sesame Street the original, and most successful, MOOC?

    For another point of view ...

    This week, Russ Roberts chatted with former Stanford professor and Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller about the present and future of online education. []

  • by BorisSkratchunkov ( 642046 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:12AM (#47896937) Journal
    Attitudes towards correspondence courses don't change. News at 5.

    For the record, correspondence courses have been around since 1892. But somehow MOOCs are "disruptive" (have classrooms and disruption ever gone well together?). Here's a quotation from Wikipedia to add context:

    In the United States William Rainey Harper, first president of the University of Chicago, developed the concept of extended education, whereby the research university had satellite colleges of education in the wider community. In 1892 he also encouraged the concept of correspondence school courses to further promote education, an idea that was put into practice by Columbia University.[12][13] Enrollment in the largest private for-profit school based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the International Correspondence Schools grew explosively in the 1890s. Originally founded in 1888 to provide training for immigrant coal miners aiming to become state mine inspectors or foremen, it enrolled 2500 new students in 1894 and matriculated 72,000 new students in 1895. By 1906 total enrollments reached 900,000. The growth was due to sending out complete textbooks instead of single lessons, and the use of 1200 aggressive in-person salesmen.[14][15] There was a stark contrast in pedagogy:

    The regular technical school or college aims to educate a man broadly; our aim, on the contrary, is to educate him only along some particular line. The college demands that a student shall have certain educational qualifications to enter it, and that all students study for approximately the same length of time, and when they have finished their courses they are supposed to be qualified to enter any one of a number of branches in some particular profession. We, on the contrary, are aiming to make our courses fit the particular needs of the student who takes them []

    • For the record, correspondence courses have been around since 1892.

      Huh? From your own link:

      The earliest distance education courses may date back to the early 18th century in Europe. One of the earliest examples was from a 1728 advertisement... [snip] The first distance education course in the modern sense was provided by Sir Isaac Pitman in the 1840s,

      And schools were even offering entire degrees through distance education by the 1850s:

      The University of London was the first university to offer distance learning degrees, establishing its External Programme in 1858.

      I am by no means downplaying the significance of the Chicago model in the history of education. But why did you omit mention of decades and perhaps centuries of preceding distance-learning courses in your claim?

  • Failure? (Score:4, Informative)

    by tgv ( 254536 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:18AM (#47896951) Journal

    The eye is bigger than the stomach. That is certainly part of the MOOC "failure". However, I don't consider it a failure. They have hundreds of thousands of students that finished a course. Is that failure? In comparison to the 8 million enrollments perhaps, but in comparison to the zero that would have done the course without MOOC, it isn't. I did a course. Followed all classes, didn't bother to get a grade or certificate, because (a) I couldn't put in the effort in the single week there was to do the project, (b) I didn't care about the certificate. It was just to learn something new. And I'm grateful to coursera that they offered this possibility.

  • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:19AM (#47896959)

    When you're in a distracting environment where the wife and kids keep demanding attention, your mind will inevitably wander. Working remotely is more practical when you can be in a satellite office, not far from home but still a working environment as opposed to a home environment. If you're seriously taking MOOCs, try this sort of office instead of the house.

    • As opposed to an office where someone is watching your every move, you get interrupted every 5 seconds for a worthless meeting, and co-workers do nothing but yell football insults at each other across the open plan?

      You are right of course, studying at home is like working at home; in many cases it works just as well if not better than doing it at university / work.

      • I'm talking about this kind of office: []
        where most people are working remotely for different companies, hence less distracting cubicle banter. You're there because the environment is distraction-light compared to home but you have office infrastructure, such as copy machines, and AV equipment.

  • I'd be interested in seeing completion rates if people had to pay (put some skin in the game). The free concept could still apply too. Pay up front, if you complete the course with anything better than failing, you get your money back. It's a security deposit against yourself.
  • If it is on techcrunch, don't waste your time reading it. They are the paparazzis of the internet.
  • Fundamental issues (Score:4, Interesting)

    by janoc ( 699997 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:36AM (#47897039)

    There are a few fundamental issues here and people from both sides of the classroom tend to ignore them. I have some education as a teacher and did actually teach undergraduate and graduate classes at a Uni.

    Students are surprised that these courses are often demanding, that there is homework, etc. Hello, these are university level courses, what did you expect? This ain't vacation or World of Warcraft, only with a free diploma at the end.

    Teachers are surprised that their classroom-oriented methods don't work when put online. Surprise, recording a lecture on a video, slapping it online and expecting the students to not get bored from the droning and just give up on this is silly. Especially when various extrinsic motivation that keeps students staying put in the auditoriums (like having paid expensive tuition or actually being able to obtain a proper, full degree) is missing. Lectures are boring as hell even when in person, it is probably the worst way to teach/learn. Recording the lecture, removing the personal contact and slapping the thing online only makes it worse. No fancy "e-learning" platforms can fix that fundamentally broken model.

    Unfortunately, many unis see the "e-learning", online courses and what not as a great way to save money - no need to pay for so many classes, so many teachers, teachers can spend time doing research instead of teaching, etc. Win-win, right? Wrong!

    The technology alone won't make the students learn - the role of the teacher as a facilitator and guide to learning is indispensable. Give students Minecraft (or a tablet or some other technical gimmick) and they will spend 99% of the time fooling around because of the distractions. They need someone to actually show them the relevant bits, explain what is not clear and guide them through the classwork - that is what the teacher is for. Non-interactive video cannot really replace that. While the classic lecture is also horrible from this point of view, the drone at the blackboard can be at least interrupted and asked extra questions. With video this is difficult or outright impossible.

    Another crucially important thing for both the student and the teacher is feedback - "Am I doing OK?" "What needs to be improved?" "How to improve it?" If the only "feedback" for the student are automatically marked quizzes or the final mark/score for the course/module, as is often the rule, that really doesn't help them at all - they have perhaps failed the course or received a poor mark already. They need the (formative) feedback while still working!

    Also the feedback for the lecturer is important - very often the students don't get anything from the class, because the lecturer mumbles incomprehensibly, is not organized or overloads the students. However, the typical way to collect feedback are some satisfaction questionnaires at the end of the term/module - way too late to fix anything. And now add yet another layer of insulation between the lecturer and the students - the non-interactive videos - and the realistic amount of feedback both sides can expect becomes exactly zero ...

    During my teaching I was trying to get away from lecturing as much as I could - which can be surprisingly difficult, with the university administration explicitly expecting you to lecture. Where I could, the classes were focused on discussion, group work and projects. I was even turning the classes completely inside-out - had the students read the classwork from the textbook, do the exercises at home and then the class was spent explaining what wasn't clear or needed more guidance. There is little point in spending class lecturing for hours stuff that the students can read faster and more comfortably in a book. It did work, for the most part - even though the classes I was teaching were "hard" stuff - like programming, basics of computer graphics, introduction to artificial intelligence, image processing. However, do this with an e-learning system that is explicitly structured around lecturing!

    I find these onlin

    • by mx+b ( 2078162 )

      Having done several online MOOCs, I can say that I learned a lot but mostly by myself. I followed a syllabus provided by an instructor and some homeworks as a guideline to what was important to learn or know, but other than that, the lecture format online is terrible. In particular, many courses have a habit of slapping powerpoint videos online that not only are boring, but simply regurgitate word for word the textbook. I hate to sound unappreciative, because I'm sure the professor put a lot of time into th

      • by janoc ( 699997 )

        Well, that's another issue. Unfortunately, most of the teachers don't really known how to teach and keep the students engaged. Putting the same crap they perform every day in the classroom on video doesn't really help anything. Very often it is not even their fault - they weren't actually shown how to teach in the first place!

        That may sound surprising, but university teachers rarely get any pedagogical education/training - mostly if you have a degree, you are assumed to somehow know how to teach. So you do

    • by jfengel ( 409917 )

      Yep. MOOCs don't serve the important part of the teacher's job. Teaching is best as a dialogue. A videotaped lecture is little different from a book, in that the information is fixed; worse, unlike a book, you don't even get to read at your own pace. It's not without value, since some things adapt well to that and different modes work for different people, but it's still missing the two-way communication that a real teacher provides.

      People have pushed MOOCs largely for the learn-a-bunch-of-facts classes, su

  • I hate to admit it, but I signed up for a few courses at some MOOCs and never did even one lesson of some of those courses. I signed up thinking it would be awesome to learn the subject I signed up for, but then when it came to the time to do it, I didn't have the time to do it. That being said, I know that if I'd paid for the course, then I definitely would've done the courses or given more thought before deciding on whether I could do the course. The way it's all currently set up, you don't have to give

  • by Zalbik ( 308903 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:48AM (#47897087)

    Creator of a service says competitors service is inferior! Shocking!

    Note: The article is written by a founder of Thinkful....which offers online learning. The whole article reads as an advertisement for thankful and an indictment of what their competition is doing wrong.

    In other words, typical Slashvertisement. Nothing to see here.

  • The best lecturer, when reduced to an image on a screen, is no better than the worst lecturer in person. Reality is immersive, while an image of a talking head is not. Film makers learned this long ago and implemented jump cuts, zooms, cameo close-ups, and the 15-second rule to maintain audience engagement. Until on-line courses learn from the past, they will not be harbingers of the future.
    • Maybe the videos just weren't very good. For instance: Maybe the instructor did something that was not covered in the material, and failed to explain it... Or maybe the instructor failed to indicate WHY something was done.

      This takes me back to the old Computer certification courses where the makers said "engaging the student helps them learn better", so they would pepper the lesson with multiple choice questions on a certain topic BEFORE it was covered (just to gauge your knowledge). This was most infuriat
      • Yeah, I wouldn't really call that "engagement". I think in that case it was more of a marketing term than an actual aspect.
  • I have taken a bunch of different courses on Coursera. I didn't realize they were tracking completion rates - I just watch the videos, in order to learn something. I don't really care about the certificate, because it's worthless to me, so I'm not particularly strict about taking the quizzes or completing any of the graded work. The knowledge - that's worth a lot to me. I guess I don't know what their goals were in the first place, but I hardly consider them a failure. I have learned a lot of interesti
  • didn't even watch a single lecture

    Therein lies the problem. I don't want to watch a fucking lecture. I don't want to slow down to the speed at which someone speaks. I can read much faster then someone can speak. I would greatly prefer to just read the material instead of watching a video. My mind will wander if I have to watch a lecture, since it is not being supplied information quickly enough. An occasional video that demonstrates something specific is fine, but not a lecture.

  • Having signed on for numerous online courses over the years, I've found the majority are very pooly implemented, over engineered and badly paced.

  • MOOCs are really useful because they COULD HELP to create a committed Network of dedicated learners. As many of you already know: Learning does not stop when classes are finished. If I were in charge of a MOOC, I would like to learn from our students (among many other things) 1) Their motivations to take specific courses... 2) Their expectations and opinions about every course completed (or dismissed). 3) A description (as complete as possible) of their ideal MOOC course, including Professor(s), Textbooks,
  • I'm amazed by how often these "MOOCs can't replace traditional classroom" arguments come up. Well no shit! The MOOC formats provide broad access and logistical ease for self-learning better than any previously existing educational technology, but online interactions are still no match for personal assistance. Most MOOC sites realize this - they're not trying to supplant traditional education, they're trying to supplement it. I fail to see how the MOOC revolution is over when there's still plenty of oppor
  • Bah. If MOOCs are a failure, that's because they're doing it wrong. There's a lot of good research saying that humans learn best through experimentation and projects, and in groups... MOOCs can't do that.

    I'm still waiting for our hidebound education system to do "homework" in class with other students and where the teacher can help and do "lecture" via a recording that students can watch while they're at home. My wouldn't THAT be nice? There's something MOOCs would be good at...

    Throwing lectures via a r

    • The ideal group work maybe has people learn better.

      I've never had a group project in my life where we all learned that well. Usually, a few of us did most or all the work and even when a functional group did happen, the work was distributed so each person had a part of the whole picture and was missing out on the other parts. It only works if people share and want to learn--- when the group finishes the task, hardly anybody is interested in picking up on what parts they were not exposed to. Perhaps one c

  • In other news, learning is hard. What did you expect, that people would magically learn the hardest of subjects simply because it is on t3h internetz? I have done MOOCs and I think it's great. I got the chance to hear some famous professors, read some good textbooks. I never expected it to be simple and I had to abandon some courses, but the final result is a net positive: I finished 2-3 courses I would never have had otherwise. So what if I didn't do the other 3 or 4?

    Too much hype leads to disillusionment,

  • If you have a shop and tens of thousands simply window shop but only a few hundred actually buy something you are a screaming success. The non buyers do not cost you anything. Why is a MOOC a failure if you get thousands that participate and hundreds of thousands that simply audit or don't even go past the first few videos. They are working them out but there is so much content now out there in the interwebs which can help people learn if they want to, it is a screaming success. Don't forget most people, s
    • Because they don't need to succeed, they need to DISRUPT. And disrupt one of the largest and most entrenched institutions in the world - the higher education system, which has been around, adapting, and surviving since the mid-15'th century. Plus they have to do it with a minimum of money to pay for decent course materials. But it needs to DISRUPT! Simple success is not enough. Investors don't pay for success any more. You must DISRUPT the dominant paradigm or you're rubbish. Whether this is a problem with

  • by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @09:13PM (#47899423)
    This whole line about "disappointing course completion numbers" is total BS. Online courses are a whole different beast than bricks and mortar ivy building courses. If I pay $1000+ to be in a course, I am going to plan my life around it and damn well show up and try hard. But if I see some free and interesting course online that has exactly zero consequences for withdrawal then I am going to sign up on the slightest of whims and figure out if I have time when the course starts. Also if the course annoys me in the slightest, then I will have probably signed up for 6 other interesting courses that I could try on for size. Also other factors can impose. For instance I was recently taking a really cool mathematical thinking course and lost my internet connection shortly before I finished an assignment. I would have aced the assignment and thus was really ticked off. With that huge honkin' zero on my score it burned my inner perfectionist who then decided that I would just take the course again in the future.

    I could come up with 20 more reasons as to why I might sign up for yet not complete a course. But none of the above reasons diminish that these are great courses and those that I have completed have vastly improved those areas of my knowledge. Then there are courses such as those offered by MIT and Stanford which I didn't "complete" in that there was nothing to submit or be tested on. I watched the videos and did the recommended work. Again great knowledge was gained. Also depending upon the tracking they do, they may have seen me dip my toes into the first video or two of many courses. It is less that I didn't complete them then I really didn't take them.

    Also as I take more and more of these courses I can see that they are starting to really get into a groove. The pacing of the material is becoming more even the associated work is in sync with the lectures, and the group forum stuff is becoming usable.

    Really what I have been waiting for is that some major institution will (for a reasonable fee) actually give credit to the students who take a course (not just a whole program). This truly will be the leap that makes these courses a substantive part of modern education.

    Where I originally thought(and still do) this leap would take place in an area aimed at highschool students who want to leap into University level material while still in highschool. The idea would be that a smattering of first year courses would be offered and that highschool students who are presently attending third rate institutions would have the opportunity to grow beyond the rats' nest of an education they were being offered and show major institutions that they have the will and the ability to go beyond the crap school that they attend.

    The second group that I thought were perfect for online educations were those adults who for whatever reason were not able to attend university or other higher education and want to achieve some real certificate that would allow them to better their employment. An interesting example that occurred to me would be a twist on a degree. The idea is that the vast majority of the degree would be online at low cost and done at whatever speed the student could make time for. But that interspersed would be those real courses (at a normal cost) that require physical attendance. I see this applying to many degrees including an engineering degree.

    This last could also apply to trade schools where a student would master the theoretical and then attend whatever physical classes that are required. For many adults stuck with a poorer education than their bright minds could otherwise handle 10 year degree programs would still be very attractive.

    So the goal should not necessarily be some potentially unneeded replacement of existing higher education but a reaching out to make a higher education available to anyone who wants it for whatever reason. This would be a truly lofty goal and achieving it would not rate well by traditional metrics.
  • ... I'd hardly call it a failure.

  • But a lot was learned about internet education....

    A good MOOC is harder to do than authoring a common textbook
    and there are thousands directly involved being critical.

    The most difficult part is the teaching assistants that make things work.
    A MOOC quickly exhausts the ranks of teaching assistant talent and
    taxes the normal teaching assistant pool with different tools and forces
    them to interact in low leverage ways. The professor high leverage
    but the middleware as it were is under provisioned for the extreme

  • Yet works just fine. Why? They offer specific training to a specific field, they teach all around the world, they have scheduled online classes using videochat technology, a tight curriculum with deadlines, they have scheduled mentor sessions with the best exerts in the field and they have anual student meetups and regional group meetups.

    What's the lesson?
    Don't just throw a bunch of material online and expect magic to happen. You have to take care of your courses and student either way.

  • I've followed three online courses. One I completed and did all the assignments. Two where I watched all the material but did not attempt the assignments (one required I rigged up a video camera to submit; could not be bothered).

    Quite frankly, I got what I wanted out of these courses. So how is this a failure?

    I have to balance effort with other commitments. I trust I am not the only one. Signing up is cheap. I've signed up for a few more but other real life took precedent. No big deal.

    On the other hand, I d

  • Mate, I come to read an article about MOOC and their failures and what I read is a stupid and unrelated pile of shit about who cool it would be to learn shit with the Occulus Drift. Fucking hell mate, what a waste of my time.
  • Putting "the bottom line" under such harsh scrutiny is the wrong way to look at MOOCs. They are an opportunity for anybody with the time and discipline to learn things alongside others interested in learning the same subjects without the need for scholarships or high GPAs. The people there are going to be considerably more interested in learning the material rather than trying to complete a degree in the name of high incomes or not shaming their family, kind of like the way university was intended to be b

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