May 10, 2014

How to make MOOCs effective

The initial frenzy over the buzz-acronym MOOC, which stands for Massively Online Open Courses (or something like that), in which instead of students sitting in lecture halls at expensive colleges listening to lectures in person, they sit at home and watch videos of professors lecturing at even more expensive colleges, has died down somewhat. MOOCs turn out to have the same problems as correspondence courses have had for the last 100+ years or so. They are great for a handful of go-getters, but an awful lot of distance-learning students lose interest and don't finish.

So, here's my idea of how to improve online education: make it more expensive. Not only charge higher tuition so that student or their parents have some skin in the game, but make the first and last week of each term be residential. You go stay in a dorm for a week or a long weekend of orientation with the other students taking your class, meet the professor in person, hear the first lecture, get some indoctrination by the sales staff, and go to a bunch of parties. Then you go home and do the weekly work, then come back at the end of the term for a week of in person review, take the final in person (so no cheating), and then have a massive party. 

I explained this idea to an online education investor and his eyes lit up, "It's like the only good parts of going away to college!"


Anonymous said...

"They are great for a handful of go-getters, but an awful lot of distance-learning students lose interest and don't finish."

As someone who teaches at a public university with a (fairly typical) 50% graduation rate, I'd have to say that it sounds like you're describing American colleges generally, not just MOOCs.

Handle said...

You want to weed out two kinds of kids - the slackers and the fantasizers.

In the business world, if you want your contractor to be sure and get the job right and on time, you make him post bond, which he gets back if everything goes right. It works.

This is just like 'make it more expensive', except you get a large chunk of your money rebated if your succeed.

This will weed out a lot of people at the very beginning, who probably know themselves and understand that by going to school they are taking a long-shot.

Perhaps you could add a grace period. Make the first week hell-week and have a really hard test. Give the kids their score and say, "90% of people who got that score and decided to continue with the course failed the final and did not receive their rebate. However, you can quit now and still get nearly all your money back."

If they make it past that post, then they're neither slacker nor fantasizer, and then they've got a huge financial incentive to keep it up, study hard, finish and succeed.

Hubbub said...

But first, let's commit massive amounts of money and resources into this new 'dream' education system before we admit the obvious flaws should have prepared us for failure or less than admirable results. You know, like the continuing exploitation of the 'testing' culture in primary and secondary education where, any reasonable person knows but because of PC cannot comment, now matter how many more trillions we spend on these 'boondoggles' the results are going to be the same - unless we have after school 'change the answer to correct' meetings.

Anonymous said...

MOOCS can work if you force students to come to a class room and watch the video instruction together--and be graded on attendance.

But if someone's at home, he or she's keep checking other stuff on the internet.

School system is effective because it physically makes young ones get out of bed and do things. But if you don't have to go to class, you will just stay in bed.

Anonymous said...

My experience with these courses is that they can't even run a basic email system.

I sign up and the next I hear from them is six months later when I recieve a reminder that my 4th assignment is overdue.

Obviously the followthru is going to be terrible.

Anonymous said...

I've taken a few of the courses (coursera) and the main problem is that the courses are ad hoc and do not have an overalll unity (ie, a curriculum). Of course, at the 'public ivy'i work at, there are many internal talks about how atomized the curriculums there are as well.

Anonymous said...

I guess as an educator I'd come at this with a different take:

Large lectures are almost worthless educationally speaking.

The best intellectual instruction comes from the tutorial/seminar system -- lectures are a poor substitute.

In the sciences you learn more in labs than lectures.

MOOCs can replace History 101; Introduction to Physics and so on but not much more than that.

Anonymous said...

It's a freakin great idea Steve. One of your best.

Dan in DC

Mike said...

It's already being done at Duke: The Cross Continent MBA at Fuqua.

$132,500 plus some other incidentals.

Anonymous said...

A better idea is to get rid of the static shot of a professor blah blah blahing in front of a chalk board. Instead, they ought to use the ubiquitous and inexpensive video editing capabilities of modern desktop computers to winnow down a lesson to its essential elements. Use students from the media majors dept. to carefully edit the spoken word of the professor with the appropriate graphic that illustrates the point. Better yet, use somebody from the speech dept who has a good voice to Read the professors words. Finally, MAKE THE LESSONS SHORT! The average person has about a seven minute attention span before they start to drift off. There is a reason the Khan Academy became so popular.

Anonymous said...

MOOCs are a disappointment to people (ie. idealists or idiots) who believe you can take the average person and turn them into upper middle class banker, doctor, lawyer, engineer, professor, etc.

MOOCs are already effective. They filter out those without the IQ, ambition, and time. While colleges are financially incentivized to enroll anyone possible and keep them as long as possible.

The average person that regularly completes MOOC courses, would be among the top students of a typical University.

International Jew said...

Once you take out the human interaction, it seems MOOCs and correspondence courses and the rest end up as nothing but poor substitutes for reading a book. Indeed, if MOOCs are going to catch on now (and, like you, I'm not sure they will) part of the reason will be that reading is in decline.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of adding parties in a dorm setting to the online educational experience but I suspect there is enough VC money in this space to cover the costs of that and keep it free as well, and maybe even enough to cover my salary while I’m gone getting the full benefit of my education by getting familiar with the student body in person.
For my purposes I like MOOCs the way they are. I have had positive experiences with coursera, edx and others but there are only so many hours in a day for this stuff if you have real life commitments.

Discard said...

Handle: When I was learning a trade at a junior college, we had to pay a $100+ materials fee the first year. The second year, because of more free money from the state, the material fees were dropped. Goof-offs joined the program, cut class, didn't finish the projects, and otherwise wasted the space that able and willing students once filled. We, the last of the paying students, would have gladly paid fees for the second year in order to be free of all the slackers in the shop. By all means, throwing a few hurdles in the way makes for a better education.

ogunsiron said...

Is the presence of people merely auditing a course that much of a problem ?

Like most MOOC enthusiasts, I register for more courses that I can actually follow or complete.

I've been enjoying MOOCS very much. Some have been pleasant and informative and a few have been real challenges.

Some of the moocs seem quite successful. For a programming language like scala, it seems like the coursera course has become the quintessential introduction to that language, in quite short time.

ogunsiron said...

International Jew said...
Once you take out the human interaction, it seems MOOCs and correspondence courses and the rest end up as nothing but poor substitutes for reading a book.
I'm almost done with a MOOC on a grad level MOOC on simulating physical systems.
It was awesome to have homework challenges and people in forums discussing the material. I'm an intellectually curious person but I wouldn't have been driven enough to just go through the exercises in the official book on my own.