Sunday, July 21, 2013

The MOOCs: Real or a Passing Fad?

The Economist has a piece on the MOOCs, those on line university like courses.

The article states:

But Anant Agarwal, the boss of EdX, reckons the MOOC providers will be more like online airline-booking services, expanding the market by improving the customer experience. Sebastian Thrun, Udacity’s co-founder, thinks the effect will be similar in magnitude to what the creation of cinema did to demand for staged fiction: he predicts a tenfold increase in the market for higher education.

Sceptics point to the MOOCs’ high drop-out rates, which in some cases exceed 90%. But Coursera and Udacity both insist that this reflects the different expectations of consumers of free products, who can browse costlessly. Both firms have now studied drop-out rates for those students who start with the stated intention of finishing, and found that the vast majority of them complete the courses.

I have tried, and am still trying, some of these courses, both Coursera and EdX. I have now four under my belt, I finished one, dropped two and are in process with another. My experience can be summarized as follows:

1. They have a lot to learn about teaching. Edx has a system which is reminiscent of software circa 1975. It is inflexible and if you have any question about what they are asking you have no way to find out how to answer it. They have a lot to learn from Google. Edx appears to have been designated by Microsoft.

2. I have done two Coursera courses; one taught by a Scot and the second an Aussie. Frankly I cannot understand at least half of what is said. They speak as if they were in class with local students and not dealing with a global class.

3. Coursera is now trying to monetize itself by charging for a certificate. If you just want to learn it is still free. Would I pay for any of these, not yet. I pay for professional courses from Mass Med Society and HMS but they are real and frankly better than any of the MOOCs.

4. EdX does not have a business model but it has a following. My problem is that the software must be much more adaptive. Strange to say this since it was originated from MIT CS group, but then again these folks in my experience often have the arrogance of the Chosen. If your mission is the world one should and must adapt.

5. One of the most interesting parts of these courses is the Discussion fora. I am not a user of Facebook, frankly it is too intrusive, so this is as close as I get. The comments are written by ego driven and arrogant and mindless morons. I have never seen such blather. They snipe at each other and make senseless remarks. One wonder what benefit they are. On the other hand it is a window to the minds of those who follow the material. I have also seen the classic "teacher's pet" writing how wonderful the instructor is. What good is this, there are issues to be remedied and if one remarks about such the anti-bodies surround you and the cells consume you in blather.

Thus the MOOCs need focus, they need professionalism, they need control, and they need a great deal of software improvement, especially EdX. I would not worry about MIT or Harvard, yet.