The MOOLE section of this post really gets to the heart of my earlier criticism of MOOCs.
Originally posted on EdTechDev:
In case the quotes didn’t clue you in, this post doesn’t argue against massive open online courses (MOOCs) such as the ones offered by Udacity, Coursera, and edX. I think they are very worthy ventures and will serve to progress our system of higher education. I do however agree with some criticisms of these courses, and that there is room for much more progress. I propose an alternative model for such massive open online learning experiences, or MOOLEs, that focuses on solving “problems,” but first, here’s a sampling of some of the criticisms of MOOCs.
Criticisms of MOOCs
- Khan Academy
- The organization is unclear and it lacks sufficient learner support.
- The videos aren’t informed by research and theory on how people learn, and this may diminish the effectiveness of his videos. He could make the physics videos more effective for example if he directly addressed student misconceptions in the videos. It doesn’t appear that any of the videos ever get revised or updated.
- Also the videos are still basically non-interactive, passively absorbed lectures. While nowhere near as effective as active learning (where students may learn twice as much and may be three times less likely to drop out than in traditional lecture-based courses), lectures do still have a place and can be more effective if given in the right contexts, such as after (not before) students have explored something on their own (via a lab experience, simulation, game, field experience, analyzing cases, etc.) and developed their own questions and a “need to know.” See research on productive failure and a “time for telling.”
- Udacity and Coursera courses
- These courses are clearly putting the traditional college course model online, and the problems are the same as with traditional college courses. They are a big step above opencourseware sites, which just have notes or long recordings of class lectures online with no guidance or learning support, but as with traditional college courses, there is often a lack of active learning or effective instructional design, and a lack of interactivity or scaffolding of the learning experience for beginners. Here are some comments from some folks who have attempted these courses (the vast majority of people drop out of these courses):
- “the Coursera course I’m taking (AI) has longer videos (6-20 minutes) of the instructor mumbling as he draws over and over on ever increasingly confusing Powerpoint slides. Sometimes a video will have one multiple choice question, other times the video will not have any questions at all. The worst part is that only once has the video gone on to explain the question. So if a student has a problem understanding the question, they will have to resort to the forums. There’s no follow-up….Basically, the Coursera course is taught as if I was sitting in a class watching an instructor draw on a Powerpoint — the fact that it’s running in a web browser and can provide a different method of teaching seems to be lost on the instructor.”
- “I’m going through the Coursera machine learning class right now and I have to say that the professor glosses over several details and often makes comments like “if you’re not familiar with calculus…” and “if you’re not familiar with statistics…” which caught me off guard at first.”
- “I’m taking Model Thinking on Coursera and there are at least 2 pdf for each section (20 sections). Some of them from professor’s book, some links on the web or some scientific articles. I even stop reading it all because it’s time consuming.”
- “I have tried a lot of these new online courses that have been created but I still think they have missed the point, the point that khan academy got right. I don’t want to plan my life around weekly assignments. I keep getting emails about about assignment deadlines, causing unneeded anxiety which puts off the whole learning experience.”
- “I tried, believe me I tried hard, but video is not my type. Over 20 years I’ve learnt all I know reading, surfing, browsing the web, not watching videos. I can digest/absorb/ignore a whole page of text in ten seconds instead of being forced to watch boring 10 mins videos that offer only one min of real interesting content.”
- These all sound like the kinds of issues one would expect from traditionally designed college courses and online courses that focus more on content coverage than learning and understanding (one of the “twin sins” of course design).
- Curt Bonk’s open online Blackboard course
- “It’s a class about retaining, motivating and engaging online students, and I’m leaving because I’m not motivated and not engaged.”
- “First assignment included two 44-page pdf files that were expensive to print and difficult to read online”
- “it’s the same old Blackboard” “Same threaded discussion – very 1999.”
Especially disturbing is that none of the major MOOC providers have hired anyone trained in instructional design, the learning sciences, educational technology, course design, or other educational specialties to help with the design of their courses. They are hiring a lot of programmers and recruiting a lot of faculty, who may have various motivations for participating in these open education experiments. To their credit though, edX, backed by $60 million from MIT and Harvard, is hiring one person to help with course development, although they only require a bachelors degree. Most instructional designers or learning scientists have a masters or PhD, partly because designing and developing effective learning experiences is a hard skill to learn and may never be confidently “mastered” in one’s lifetime (Dunning-Kruger effect aside). Some even argue that educational research is the hardest science of all. Another exception is the Open Learning Initiative, which does have teams of learning scientists working on their educational materials (but they are not MOOCs), resulting in much more effective, efficient, and engaging (e3) learning (students in their hybrid stats class learn more in half the time as in the regular face to face course). But the vast majority of MOOCs, just like the vast majority of regular college courses, are completely self-designed by faculty, who are most often not trained in effective instructional design or teaching. As someone once wrote, “College teaching may be the only skilled profession for which systematic training is neither required nor provided–pizza delivery jobs come with more instruction.” I don’t argue that faculty should not be involved in designing these courses – it is critically important that instructors have ownership of their teaching and at least be able to customize their learning materials (see 1, 2, 3), and similarly students need to have some ownership in the learning process, too (the key components of motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose). But faculty can be aided by some training or assistance in course design, technology, and teaching and learning to develop technological, pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK). Teaching should be treated as a design science, more like engineering than just an art or craft that we all think we can intuitively do well.