Published on 2012/12/04
MOOCs allow students to pursue interests in a non-commital way. However, the format does not provide students with the added benefits of a classroom that help transform interests into passion and knowledge.

According to Wikipedia, a MOOC is a massive open online course aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the web. This has been my experience exactly. I am currently enrolled in a free course with 92,000 students from all over the world. That is pretty massive and open, in my opinion.

Although I live in rural Wyoming, there are numerous courses online that I have access to; these courses go beyond the offerings of my local university, either in topic of study, area of concentration, or locale, and they have opened so many doors. It just takes connecting with the right providers to find courses that suit my needs.

My area of interest is Gifted Education. Although the University of Wyoming has a College of Education, they do not have specific courses for this field. As a result, I can enroll in MOOCs, broaden my perspective on the topic through the use of technology, and enhance my understanding of the pedagogy. The only thing to consider is the additional time and dedication needed to research the available courses. This search was focused tremendously once I put the word out to my colleagues asking for a list of MOOC providers and specific universities that partner with them. My only limitation is based on my time; I could sit in front of a computer in the comfort of my personal office and visit Jerusalem, Toronto, Melbourne, London, and Hong Kong all in the same weekend. Information is everywhere and at a price that can’t be refused. MOOCs are free, at least to the consumer/student.

A student must have self-discipline to succeed in a MOOC. It is a tremendous opportunity for the highly mature, highly motivated learner who is also technologically confident. However, there is little additional assistance and support from the course itself. How can there possibly be much assistance, with over 90,000 students in an eight-week course? But what is the real goal of the student who enrolls in a MOOC? I can choose what to do and how to participate, and gauge my own level of success, even if I do not complete the course. It provides me with the opportunity to try courses that I would not normally have access to. It provides me with knowledge of new areas that I wouldn’t normally be willing to pay tuition simply to “try out.”

As education increasingly becomes a global industry, it can begin to meet the huge pent-up international demand for education—and MOOCs are a part of this. However, the MOOC offers very little in terms of new or radical pedagogies. My experience has been a new form of presentation on a well-established approach to online learning.

I am currently enrolled in a Model Thinking course that has nearly 100,000 students. It is mind-boggling to think that students from all over the world are being exposed to the same information that I am, here in Wyoming. The education comes from a top-rate university and the students may have a lot to contribute.

A MOOC could be a way to collaborate and connect; however, accessing that network is not something I know how to do. When enrolling in the course, I watched the three-minute tutorial. It just doesn’t explain in enough detail how to navigate the website. It explains fully what the course is about, when the assignments are due, and the estimated amount of time required. However, I haven’t found any IT assistance that can guide me to a chat group or forum to communicate with fellow classmates. The way that we react to those around us is paramount in learning; it creates that synchronization of learning that leads to some structure of understanding.

The new buzzword with MOOCs seems to be ‘connectivism.’ I don’t feel connected at all with the professor, much less with the others in the course. I realize that the point is to share the wealth–to distribute the knowledge in such a way that barriers to education are reduced, and to make the information available to all students, anywhere, any time. As I mentioned before, the motivation is all up to you. I am not naïve enough to think that a professor is going to give me a call and say, “Hey, why haven’t you done the online work this week?” However, if I lose motivation and interest early on, it is too easy to just drop out. I have no accountability. There must be something that is going to resonate with me to keep me interested. Maybe MOOC providers will address this knowledge gap, and perhaps it will lead to a more integrated concept at a later time.

My experience thus far is that the professor holds the knowledge, he distributes it via video lecture on a weekly basis, and I, as the learner, am to replicate that knowledge. It is just a matter of absorbing the information and then regurgitating it back for the quiz. There isn’t any room for creativity, nor real-life sharing, nor any participative pedagogical model here. The process of sharing learning goals, peer and self-assessment, and shared criteria, could empower MOOC learners by giving us the information that we need to work to improve our learning outcomes. There is a sloppy relationship between instructor and learner coherence is certainly one aspect of MOOCs that could use improvement.

So, in conclusion, as a MOOC student, I would both recommend it and discourage it. If a person simply wants to be exposed to a course that is outside of their comfort zone, is totally self-motivated, is seeking a particular area of inquiry, or is just curious, and does not want to commit tuition fees, then by all means, enroll today. If you are the type of student that requires feedback, creativity, or wants to keep up with ever-evolving world of knowledge, then take an local university course and read the New York Times—online of course.

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Readers Comments

Greg Allan 2012/12/04 at 9:01 am

The way Ms. Werner describes her course, and the way I have heard others describe their MOOC experience, has made me start to think…at least in some ways, isn’t simply trolling the internet for information on a topic often just as effective as taking a MOOC about that topic?

I say this because, it seems to get anything out of a MOOC you have to be a very self-motivated, curious, and generally driven learner. You have to seek out these discussion opportunities (sometimes linked to the mooc provider, and sometimes an independent site), and you have to take initiative to get the knowledge you want. Granted, it is convenient to have this information aggregated in one place by an expert; but pedagogically, it is little better than info-gathering yourself on the internet.

I agree with Ms. Werner that there are no new or radical teaching and learning styles happening here. Until MOOCs start having a real effect on the way people learn, proving they are aware of the connective potential of the MOOC and providing something a little more, I am not too interested in their disruptive potential.

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