What’s missing in MOOCs

July 31, 2014

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online_studentI am excited to report that today I completed my first module of a MOOC called ‘Leaders of Learning’ and it went pleasantly well. While the experience was good, I felt there were a few key elements missing when I compare it to my experience in a traditional lecture/classroom setting.

Just this April I graduated from an amazing undergraduate program at Simon Fraser University and in my last two years I had some of the most memorable learning experiences to date. Near the tail-end of my degree, class sizes began to get smaller and the courses were focused around applied group work. As a marketing major, I had the opportunity to work with exceptionally talented and creative people where together, we used marketing tools to create meaningful outcomes in our community. If you can’t already tell where I am going with this, let me explain what's missing in MOOCs.

MOOCS vs. Classrooms

What I felt greatly lacked in the hour and a half it took me to complete my first module was the people. Such a huge part of learning is social and the relationships we build with the people we learn from. I learned a heck of a lot from my professors but I feel I learnt an equal amount from my peers. The relationship piece in small workshop-type classroom settings trumps MOOCs any day, but when compared to a lecture with 300+ people, I’m not so convinced.

MOOCs vs. Lecture Halls

Compared to a large, crowded lecture hall—hands down I preferred my learning experience in the MOOC thus far. With the MOOC, I can really learn at my own pace which is helpful in two different ways. Firstly, I can plan the MOOC around my schedule with the ability to complete course work whenever and wherever I want. Secondly, the edX MOOC has built in features that make it really easy to follow along. If I do not understand something, I can pause and stop the video; and if you are a learner who benefits from reading along, a transcript of the talk is provided on the side (see screenshot below). Note the highlighted text to the right of the video, these are the subtitles and can be clicked on to jump to specific parts of the lecture.

screenshot 1

A key learning outcome I gained was through an additional resource that was provided at the end of quadrant 1. The resource is a 6 minute TedTalk by a leading educator named Rita Pierson. In her talk she stressed the importance of the relationship between the teacher and the student. She stresses that people learn the best from teachers they look up to and most importantly, teachers they like. I can count on multiple hands the number of teachers who could care less if students like them and undoubtedly, these are the teachers I learnt the least from.

The Harvard created MOOC made a good effort at introducing us to the professor to help us get to know him better, but it still did not compare to the trust and respect you build through in-person interaction over time. A survey method was used to ask us about our interests, personality and world views in order to compare them to the professor's. The goal of the survey was to find similarities between the student and the professor. I definitely noticed myself smiling as I read how Professor Richard Elmore and I are similar but those amiable feelings fizzled as I subconsciously realized I would not be interacting with him in any sense.

Final Thoughts

While it may seem like I largely prefer the classroom setting when compared to MOOCs, there are many other factors I did not discuss that make MOOCs a preferable option. It really depends on what your learning goals are and what stage of education you are at. As recent graduate who is looking for life-long learning opportunities and direction for post graduate programs, it is ideal. Next week I will define the types of learners who benefit the most from MOOCs in addition to providing more insight into the MOOC experience.


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