Massive Open Online Courses – MOOCs – have come in for a bashing from a number of areas. But what’s it like to actually participate in a MOOC and see it all the way through? To be one of the few – some say as little as 7% – who actually complete a course? Well this post tells you all.
Back at the beginning of the year I said there would be a number of trends that I’d be watching. Relating to MOOCs I said: “Massive Open Online Courses – or MOOCs – are potentially transforming higher education as courses – some attracting over 100,000 students – are thrown open to all. I’ve read widely on this subject but still can’t see – from a business point of view – how all the numbers stack up. I’m still left wondering how MOOCs will, in the longer term, actually pay for themselves. I’ll be following this closely.”
But I decided to go a lot further than actually sticking to desk research. I decided to take a MOOC – and this is my story.
Choosing the course:
Using the MOOC aggregator – mooc-list – I sourced a course I already had some knowledge in, the thought being that as this was a totally new divergence for me it was better to enter some form of familiar territory. I therefore chose On strategy: What managers can learn from the great philosophers from Ecole Central Paris both for the links with my expertise and also the relative short duration of the programme. I wanted this to be a success!
The course was being operated though the Coursera platform and I was led here to register. The process was about as painless as it could be – just name, gender, age and a confirmation of my email address and I was in!
The course was provided through Ecole Central Paris but to be honest it didn’t really matter as it could have been any course in any city
The course consisted of 6 lessons – all of which were a series of video-based lectures. These were:
- The forgotten half of change
- How do we think
- On the shoulders of giants
- Mental models and perception
- Eureka or Caramba?
- Thinking in new boxes
Each lesson followed a familiar recipe:
- Introduction from the teaching staff – not much, just a simple page saying hello and welcome
- Video lectures – mostly 5-8 minutes in length – and between five and eight videos per lesson
- An assessment – generally this was pretty easy and the grading scales were clear
- Peer assessment – an unusual twist where your fellow course members marked your assessments – and vice versa – as part of your ongoing assessment
- Forums for general and lesson-specific discussion
The syllabus was timeline driven. You had to wait for a lesson to ‘open’ before you could start and peer assessment was only possible after the lesson had ‘closed’. This is a real throwback to the current classroom model and was – to be frank – something I hadn’t expected. There were occasions when I had the time and inclination to perhaps do two lessons in a row – but couldn’t. Equally there were times when due to work/travel pressure I could really have done with a few days extra for my assignment – again there was none.
Overall the assessments were straightforward and very short although at times quite confusing. This became apparent when there was a mass agreement that all students could retake lesson 4 because of the nature of the assessment and the fact that many of the students did not have English as their first language. As the course provider said, “It’s a first experience for us too, and we have to learn and to improve, so feel free to post feedbacks and advices, we’ll notice them.”
Part of the marks awarded for each lesson came from the fact that you would review and mark the work of fellow students. The marking pages were always clear, showing you how and why you should allocate marks e.g.
0 marks if no description
1 mark if description confusing or inadequate
2 marks for a comprehensive description
Each of my assignments was graded by a minimum of five students and the grade awarded is the median of all five grades. In my experience the biggest problem was that students failed to read the question – no change there then – and headed off in their own direction. The quality of the assignments was broad – as were the comments received
And now the acid test – did I learn anything? Well, to be honest – yes, and no. There was, in my view – and one expressed by many of the other students – a real disconnect between what should have been the soul of the course – what business can learn from philosophers – and many of the exercises we did. There were a number of times when I actually wondered what subject I was learning.
But here – for me anyway – was the interesting bit. As someone with two business degrees, who runs a business and who has set up and run businesses on behalf of other people I went into the course feeling that I probably knew most of the content – and I did. But the strange thing was that the assignments and video lectures made me think differently – they made me come at problems and situations from a different angle – and I will forever be grateful for that.
The platform was about as simple as you can get. Lists of lessons – broken down into videos and assignments. Not a complex system to develop and at times it showed. I guess over time it’ll get better and slicker but it worked – for the most part.
It’s been my first foray into a MOOC – it was tough at times but I’d certainly do it again. I now look at much of the current research in a different light – perhaps only 7% complete the course but if we have 100,000 on a course – as some do – and everyone learns a little then surely that’s something. Surely giving everyone a little access to education is better than giving a few access to it all.
Call to action
Go to http://www.mooc-list.com/ and give it a go. After all, it’s free and it’s education and while in the West we take it all for granted there are many across the globe who would cry out for such opportunities.