One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from my years spent in pursuit of a Bachelor’s in Education was really quite simple yet profound: “don’t let your class or syllabus get in the way of learning.” Some of you might have heard of it also referred to as the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) method. You want your students to get in to complex thinking as they are learning the topic of the course, not as they are trying to figure out what to do on the first day.
I have signed up for many Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) recently – and never completed a single one. That is my biggest confession. Most colleagues get pretty shocked to hear that – after all, Mr. EduGeek himself would seem to be the best person to figure out a MOOC and get the most out of it. Maybe even become a rock star in one.
But the problem is, I just don’t have time to figure out how to use one. Yes, I will spend forever trying to figure out how to customize a WordPress app, but I won’t take the time to figure out how to participate in a MOOC.
At first, I though it was just me. But then I found out that the people teaching the courses I never touched had to create a four minute long video explaining how to have success in a MOOC. That is probably the first bad sign right there. If you have to take a mini-course on how to take your course, you are probably having to focus too much on the structure and not the learning. Even in Blackborg, the focus on figuring out the course is knowing what links to click, not what to do with the links after you know what to click.
Dave Cormier (how created the video linked to above) gives five steps on how to have success in a MOOC. Each one of the steps needs explanation, because they don’t necessarily make sense without the explanations. See how complex this is getting?
Of course, I was also one of those people that avoided the massive “lecture hall” courses in college. It was just too easy to get lost in the crowd, even if you tried not to. Being a male educator in a room full of predominately females, I saw first hand how easy it is for the minority to get lost in the mix, even if they tried not to. Online, it is usually the minority opinion that gets lost… which is what usually happens to me in MOOCs. You see, just because you follow and comment on other people’s work, there is no guarantee that they will follow and comment on you, ESPECIALLY if they disagree with you. They will possibly even get mad that you aren’t stroking their ego and just ignore you (just being brutally honest here – the web is a magnet of narcissism).
My biggest confession is that I don’t see the point of a MOOC if I already have a Personal Learning Network. I honestly don’t see the need for any type of open course once you have a PLN and have figured out Google. But that probably also has to do me starting to question the whole concept of “open.” It seems that “open” is now becoming synonymous with “lack of accountability.” But that is a topic for another blog post.
To me, the advantage of taking a course is that you get to interact with the instructor or some other type of subject matter expert – and they are the ones that help you focus on what you need to be learning. The MOOC removes this value but leaves the time lines and due dates. So in other words, you remove the actual value of being in a course but leave the annoying part.
I know, I know – you are supposed to network with other students and they will give you the feedback and information you need. That is all great – if you connect with a good group of people. There is no guarantee you will connect. And even if you do – what if they just rubber stamp whatever you say because they fear conflict? What if they really have no idea what they are talking about but think they are an expert? You could end the class with a bunch of new knowledge that is actually worthless because you hooked up with the wrong group. I know that in some subjects there are no wrong answers so that is not always the case – but it is a danger. One that is less likely to exist in a traditional course.
Obviously I am focusing on worst case scenarios. I think that the fact that I am an instructional designer by trade now I know that it is possible to design a “traditional” course that dumps the bad parts typically associated with the “sage on the stage” mentality while still incorporating the good parts of a MOOC (all while also avoiding the pitfalls of a MOOC). In other words, a course that connects with existing PLNs instead of creating news ones. You only have so much time after all (another confession of mine – I don’t have time to keep up with the new PLNs formed in MOOCs). The only problem is that a course like this can really only exist in a traditional college course format and not in a MOOC format. But a lot of that has to do with the “Massive” part.
I think I also just see the MOOC as the technology-driven, socially-networked version of the cattle-herd lecture hall courses so prevalent on college campuses today. Herding 500 students in a course is still herding 500 students in a course, even if try to put a modern technology spin on it. Some people think that is fine. Personally, I like things smaller and more intimate.
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.