Who MOOCed My Cheese?

Conversations behind the scenes with the DALMOOC have turned to looking at the kind of feedback we have been getting on the course. George Siemens shared some of the things that he learned the first week. His post also deals with some of the feedback we have received.

The hard part with dealing with feedback is that most of us end up with a skewed view of it after a while. Positive feedback is usually pretty general and therefore easy to forget because its not very specific. Everything from “this looks great!” to “I am loving this!” to “I really like what you are doing here” serves as great feedback, but because of the general nature and lack of specifics tend to be easily forgotten. Negative feedback tends to be specific and direct. This makes it a lot easier to remember. People will tell you exactly what they don’t like and a dozen reasons why they don’t like it.

Because of this skew, the negative feedback tends to stick in our mind more easily and we also tend to get the impression that there is more negative than positive. This becomes a problem when we begin to make design decisions based on gut feelings rather than hard numbers. If you count up the positive and negative feedback, which one is higher? If you take a qualitative look at what was said, is there anything helpful either way? Saying “I love this” really just indicates a personal preference more than an actual analysis that a designer should take into consideration. In the same way, “I don’t like this” is also really just a personal preference that really doesn’t tell us much about design. Learning is not all puppy dogs and fairy tales – sometimes you have to create situations where learners have to choose to stretch and grow in order to learn. There is nothing wrong with some struggle in learning. Often, complaints about learners not liking something are actually good indicators that your design is successful.

If you disagree, that is fine. But don’t design anything that involves group work. A lot of people hate group work and if you create a lesson that requires group work, you have just acknowledged that sometimes you have to struggle through group dynamics in order to learn whether you like it or not :)

But sometimes when someone says “I don’t know what to do with this tool!” what they are really saying is “I am not sure what to do and I don’t want to try because in the past there have been huge penalties for trying and getting it wrong on the first try!” This is a sad indication of our educational systems in general. We don’t make it okay to experiment, fail, and learn from failure.  The reason so many people demand more tutorials, more hand-holding, more guidance is not because they afraid of chaos as much as they are afraid that they will get their hand slapped for not getting it right the first time. This is likely due to it almost always happening in the past.

So in something like DALMOOC, where you are free to get in and experiment and fail as much as you want to, most of us have been conditioned to panic in that kind of scenario. That’s what our excessive focus on instructivism does to us as a society. People are afraid to play around and possibly fail for a while. They want to know the one right way to do something, with 10 easy steps for doing it right the first time.

So, in a lot of ways, much of the feedback we are getting is along the lines of “who moved my cheese?” And that was expected. We are trying to jump in and explain things to those who are confused as much as possible. We are hoping that those who are bringing up personal preferences as negatives will see that we had to design for the widest range of learners. Or maybe to see that if they still figured something out, that this thing actually worked as designed (because its not always about personal preferences as much as learning).

But, to be quite honest, an objective examination of all feedback would seem to indicate that most of it is positive. Many of you like the challenges and the struggles. That is great – you get it. Most of the positive and negative feedback is along the lines of personal preferences – you don’t like rollover effects, you love Bazaar, this optional assignment is too hard, this required one is too easy. I’ll continue blogging on design decisions to clarify why they were made – not to justify them as right (instructional design is rarely about black and white, right and wrong decisions anyways), but to explain why they were made. And there are some genuine complaints about confusion that we are addressing.

Just as us instructors and designers can develop a negative skew, so can the learners. They can see a few specific negative tweets in a sea of general positive tweets and start to think “wow – maybe I should be having more problems?” Don’t worry – most people are doing just fine. Problems, praises, issues, suggestions, and complaints are welcome, but just remember they don’t necessarily apply to you as a learner. You are free to love or hate any part of the course you wish. You are also free to pick and choose the parts of the course you participate in, so don’t waste time with something that isn’t working for you. But also be careful not to label something as “not working for you” just because you don’t like it or are struggling with it. Sometimes the struggle is the exact thing that you need in order to learn.

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