Creating a Learning Environment With MOOCs

16 Aug

By Christine Nasserghodsi

Championed by some as the democratization of higher education and deplored by others as nothing more than high-tech bad teaching, MOOCs are as controversial as they are plentiful. As I left home for the Future of Learning Institute at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, a friend asked me to look into MOOCs — to find out why, as she said, “Companies love them.” She went on to explain that the company she worked for planned to migrate most of their training programs to an internal MOOC-inspired platform. Though not an educator, she has spent much of her working life observing how people behave online and training people face-to-face. She went on to say, “This just doesn’t seem to reflect how people learn.”

In fact, MOOCs have very low completion rates. But the completion rates only tell part of the story. I asked several high school students who enrolled in MOOCs whether or not they earned certificates. Each and every one said they had not, and yet they did not classify themselves as having dropped out of the MOOC. They simply explained that it didn’t matter. They signed up for pre-exam preparation, curriculum enrichment, or out of a personal interest. Their goals did not involve earning a certificate. As Justin Reigh and Andrew Ho wrote in their 2014 Atlantic article, “The Tricky Task of Figuring Out What Makes a MOOC Successful,”

“Our data show that many who register for HarvardX courses are engaging substantially in courses without earning a certificate. In these courses, ‘dropping out’ is not a breach of expectations but the natural result of an open, free, and asynchronous registration process, where students get just as much as they wish out of a course and registering for a course does not imply a commitment to completing it.”

I’ve now enrolled in four MOOCS over the past five months, each for a different reason. I intended to complete three start-to-finish and completed one. While I enjoyed the projects and the content in the first, I had to put it aside when a more pressing project came up at work. I missed a few deadlines and withdrew. The second connected directly to my work. The course was The Art of Tinkering and it was offered by The Exploratorium through Coursera. It was challenging, interesting and included numerous hands-on projects and very few lectures. I found a local makerspace at which to seek help when I was lost – usually not knowing what materials I needed or where to source them – and enlisted the support of two friends in my endeavors. In the third course, I slowly viewed videos with one of my children who has an interest in the topic — more as a bonding experience, less as a learning endeavor. The last one is still on my to-do list, as I have only reviewed the course content and syllabus. It is more theoretical and will be something I can do when time allows. Like my students, I don’t need a certificate.

[ Full article available at The Huffington Post: ]

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Posted by on August 16, 2014 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed


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