Thoughts after the MOOC

Just completed the materials for the U.Edinburgh “E-Learning and Digital Cultures” MOOC.  As I mentioned earlier, very well done, very sophisticated.  But this leaves me with several conclusions about MOOCs as they stand today:

1) MOOCs seem to be most effective when centered around a single concept (a ‘learning outcome’).  There can be subsidiary concepts, but they interlink into a single general concept.  Getting the students to understand the concept is the goal of a MOOC.  MOOCs that try to cover multiple concepts don’t do well, nor appear viable when you go through them.

2) A good MOOC is the equivalent (estimated) of 1/3-1/2 credit worth of a regular class (our standard 15 week, 3 credit course).  As an example my AN 340 ‘Peoples of Hawai’i’ class has a number of concepts that we have to cover and grasp.  I estimate that it would take from 7-12 MOOCS (at 4-5 weeks each) to cover the material adequately, this with a greater depth of reading (full texts such as Tengan’s Native Men Remade / Rohrer’s Haoles in Hawai’i) rather than short articles as the complexities or nuances of issues are central to a sophisticated course.  So the concept of efficiency is not there: a 15-week seat class or 10×4 week (40 weeks) multi-MOOC sequence.

3) The reason for concept-driven MOOCs is the diversity of students.  Given lack of control over participants, there can be no assumption of commonalities of background, subject knowledge, technical skills (such as internet search skills / level of reading comprehension) or available time.  Putting the focus on a specific learning outcome/concept allows the time and energy needed to herd all these diverse students to a common goal.

4) So the negative is the 1:1 switch of courses into MOOCs does not seem at all realistic for highly conceptualized/intellectualized subject matter.

5) The positive is that once a concept/learning outcome MOOC is built, it can be seen as a modular unit, which can then be ‘plugged into’ various courses as appropriate.  The Edinburgh course did a great job of covering the concept of humanism and it’s impact on education, so if you have a course where this is a key learning outcome, just plugging in the Edinburgh MOOC would be a very effective way of including really good material into a course.

All of this helps to explain why MOOCs in subject material that is very data driven, ‘low concept’ are highly effective, while other MOOCs, equally high quality productions that are highly intellectualized, multiple concept are not doing as well.

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