Skip to content

Reflections of a MOOC newbie

2014 August 31
tags: , ,
by Jw

When I discussed ‘trends in education’ during a presentation last summer 2013, I mentioned the Khan Academy, Open Access and particularly MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) as trends to watch out for. I thought it would be better to not to just talk about MOOCs, but rather talk about the MOOC experience. And although I suspect I am not in the priority target audience for MOOCs, I have taken the liberty to enjoy a few of them.

My MOOC premiere was at EdX, Introduction to Philosophy by Caspar Hare, MITx (if this MOOC does not get you excited about philosophy, you are forever lost – for philosophy). I followed up with Luc de Brabandere’s On Strategy : What Managers Can Learn from Philosophy, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Now that I just finished the assignments for my third MOOC (Leading Strategic Innovation in Organization by David Owens at Vanderbilt, Coursera), I thought a bit of reflection would be appropriate.

Especially after I attended (and organised) an event on life-long-learning last week, I am even more convinced that MOOCs will permanently change the education landscape. To me MOOCs are a natural way for educational institutions to do what they are here for: share knowledge in a most accessible manner. MOOCs enable them to reach out to a whole world of new ‘students’, or sometimes just ‘attendees to a lecture’, or two. I see clear benefits of MOOCs for educators as well: by making their 101 knowledge openly available, they don’t have to go into a repeat mode every year. And by also using the MOOC of other professors, they can fully focus on the magic that can only happen in the classroom.

So here are a few of my early experiences:

Sign up many, take only one
As there seems to be an avalanche of MOOCs of the various platforms these days (Weise/Christensen refer to ‘a fanfare of MOOCs’ in HIRE Education – do read), I have taking a ‘sign up many, take only one’ approach. I will decide to finish a class and stick to the program after the first lesson or two. The reasons I ‘quit’ are divers: schedule clashes, topics turns out to be less interesting compared to what I already know, may I write that not all MOOC lectures are created equal? A bit of digital enthusiasm certainly helps, but that is no different from the analogue classrooms I recall.

Blended learning
The various ways of learning which are available in these MOOCs complement each other and strengthen the learning capability: read papers, watch the video lecture, discuss in a forum (could be more of that). Real plusses are videos of class room discussions (with real students, not the models Clayton was lecturing to), (in video) quizzes and peer reviews. One can also learn by judging the work of others and get judged by them.

lots of partners at Coursera

How I have studied
Nothing is more personal than the way we learn. I treated these MOOCs as a regular education, meaning with dedicated hours in the week for reading and homework. It did help that the lectures could be downloaded on my iPhone (there is hardly a better way to spend your daily commute). I make notes during the video lectures, which means the lecture times easily doubles.

Sometimes the schedule and deadline have been difficult to figure out (time zone issues) and occasionally technology has failed us a well. But complaining about that just seems a bit more difficult when you don’t have to pay at all.

What I miss
Some of the learning in these MOOCs was a bit too ‘scripted’ for me. I missed being able to discuss about a certain topic – and actually get an answer that mattered. I did not yet value the forums as a way of getting to those answers.

Also, sometimes it was quite a quest to find the relevant documents. I would pay for better access to that and for a chat option – discuss with a teacher. I did miss a classroom-like experience and a local study group, with co-students who share the same fate) would help.  In that respect I am curious to find out if the innovation teams in David Owens’ MOOC have worked out.

So what is next?
Overall, participating in these MOOCs have been a genuine positive experience. A MOOC beats ‘just reading the book’ by light years. I have been able to ‘learn and apply’ (and enjoy) by participating in these MOOCs. A big thank you to professors Hare, de Brabandere and Owens, their colleagues and institutions to make these lessons publicly available.

When taken seriously, a MOOC requires serious time (no complaint). I look forward to the ones to come and intend to will contribute a bit more. If you are only half as passionate about education as I am, do give a MOOC of your interest a try. I predict that a series of MOOCs, all related to a certain topic, will count for real college credit in the near future.


Watch Clayton Christensen, about ‘it;s your life, go ahead and waste it’ (start at 37 minutes, but do watch the complete presentation)

As a tiny payback to these professors and institutions, below is one paragraph review of each of these MOOCs.

Introduction to Philosophy by Caspar Hare, MITx at Edx. Very inspiring professor. Lots of papers to read. Great classroom discussions. Actually missed the professors tapping his shoes. Will take this one again if it includes writing a paper, and getting it reviewed. Could do with more ‘further reading’ (or a beyond 101 lecture).

Luc de Brabandere’s On Strategy : What Managers Can Learn from Philosophy (a lot). Good structure of the lectures, keep the tensions. Good structure and forum discussions. Interesting presentations and graphics used.  Bought the book afterwards, will do a review of that.

Leading Strategic Innovation in Organization by David Owens at Vanderbilt, Coursera. Interesting approach of innovation (by zooming in to the constraints and trying to fix those). Long videos. Good schedule of lectures. Very practical method. Bought the book about halfway the MOOC. Review to follow.

On my watch list: HarvardX: ER22.1x Justice by Michael Sandel (will first read the book) and “A beginner’s guide to irrational behavior” by Dan Ariely (have read some of his books) and Advanced Competitive Strategy by Tobias Kretschmer, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (I had to stop after a few lectures, schedule issues).

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS