Are open online courses substitution for classroom learning?

Open online education – can it replace face-to-face classroom education and learning, in HE?

Here in a post on open-online-courses-are-not-subsitutes-for-classroom-learning  by Joshua Kim, he says

Efforts such as the Harvard/MIT edX project are wonderful developments, but massively open online courses are not substitutes for the learning that takes place in traditional courses (whether delivered as face-to-face, online, or in a blended method). Authentic learning requires a two-way dialogue between student and instructor. College teaching at its best is much more than the delivery of content: It’s about the co-construction of knowledge with students and faculty. If you believe that one of the most important attributes of post-secondary education is the development of relationships between faculty and students, experts and learners, then the advent of massively open online courses does not represent a substitute for the traditional course.

Are massively open online courses substitutes for the learning that takes place in traditional courses?

Yes, and no. No, there are certain sort of learning that are still only possible in traditional courses, such as face-to-face interaction, with immediate questions and answers, and feedback with the instructors or fellow students.  This depends on the type of interaction and engagement that both the instructors and students want, and need in the course, based on the course content and context.  There are however, not that much difference in terms of assessment, if there are assignments, tests, examinations held to check the achievement of outcomes or demonstration of performance.

Yes.  Authentic learning requires a two-way dialogue between student and instructor.  But, is that enough?  Our researches from past MOOCs (connectivist MOOCs in particular) reveal the importance of social, teaching and cognitive presence for the meaningful learning.  So, the mere dialogue between student and instructor, whether it is traditional or online education does not always provide or guarantee the “authentic learning”.  Rather it is the “multi-dialogue” among student and instructor(s) and other students, especially in the case of MOOC that would contribute to a deep, meaningful, and valued educational and learning experience.

One of the most important attributes of post-secondary education is the development of relationships between faculty and students, experts and learners.  Yes.  But there is something more in and behind MOOCs.  There are also development of relationships between students and students, and other “learners” and experts that are within, or lying in the edge of MOOCs.  The presence of knowledgeable others and participants in providing feedback or comments about what they think and learn about MOOCs are also relevant to the learning within community or network environment. I am particularly impressed with some of the comments posted in the blog:

In many MOOCs, there are many opportunities to engage the instructors and other students in two-way communication. Discussion forums and IRC chats moderated by community TAs and professors provide opportunities to ask and answer questions. Online student-led study discussion groups and local student meet-ups create further opportunities for students to form friendships, collaborate, and further engage the course content. In terms of interactivity, online platforms are often superior to those in traditional institutions, allowing students to participate in the discussion at any time of day with a self-motivated group of peers. Recently, MOOCs have utilized live discussion sessions lead by the course instructor using video chat as well as peer-reviewed assignments, further blurring the line between online courses and a real classroom experience. (Feynman Liang)

Traditional forms of education might be considered preferable, but really, wake up – traditional education is irrelevant if you cannot enrol in the first place, due to monetary, geological or other restrictions. MOOCs are not discriminatory in these respects.
The reality is, online learning really is teaching bigger numbers of people, at a faster rate and a lower cost. It is also cutting away some of the unnecessary ‘fat’ that comes with traditional learning.
If the knowledge is imparted, and the learning is effected, no matter the method, what is really important is what the student does with their new knowledge. (Darren McWilliams)

MOOCs as viewed from an educator’s perspective could be different from learners’ perspectives, though there are lots of commonalities too, such as concerns on design, delivery and assessment.

Here are some student responses on some proto-type courses on MITx.  There are many discussion forums relating to the merits and limitations of e or online learning, as a substitute to classroom learning.

I think there are both pros and cons with each type of learning – traditional and online learning (and the MOOCs).

Even with the MOOCs , there are different approaches (i.e. instructivist MOOCs, connectivist MOOCs).

It is never easy to compare and contrast between the two, though there has been many attempts in critically examining the pedagogy (of connectivist MOOCs), in conducting researches, and the experiences and backing here on the super MOOCs.

What MOOCs could offer is the Community that would be “sustainable” even after the completion of the course as I shared here.

The importance of discourse in MOOC is not about what is right or wrong about MOOCs, but what values MOOCs could bring to the world of education, and how the ideologies could be identified and understood, and be evaluated accordingly.

Disclosure: As an educator, I am commenting on MOOCs both from a learner and an educator point of views.

Photo credit: From Google
I will leave it to you to continue your exploration and sharing of opinions on this.


12 thoughts on “Are open online courses substitution for classroom learning?

  1. I think the debate (as you have framed it here) becomes MOOT if the x MOOCs supplant/take market share/or continue to be highly subscribed. I often wonder if the opponents of MOOCs who preach the virtues of classroom teachers are in fact employed as classroom teachers? If so, then perhaps their opinion might be somewhat biased?

  2. It is interesting to see then, in what follows in the x MOOCs. If people are desperate in studying, but could not afford to attend University, MOOCs (x) are surely a good alternative. How would it impact on ‘traditional’ classroom teachers and professors who still prefer face-to-face small class teaching? Hmm…

  3. Another related post that pointed out that x MOOC as content mastery by individuals and Connectivist MOOCs as knowledge construction in community. “That is, the Stanford & MITx-ish MOOCs are about content mastery whereas the “Siemens-Downes-Wiley” MOOCs are about knowledge construction in community.]”

    Interesting dichotomy – on content and community, residential and non-residential. Content mastery relates more to individual cognitive development and the typical personal mastery learning (as espoused by Bloom). The x MOOC would just become a tool (or a platform) that the learner would use to achieve the mastery of content, if that is the case. Would that be enough to stimulate the learners to solve real problems? To what extent would it prepare learners to tackle challenges in the relevant domains, which requires more than content mastery? Those are challenges and remaining questions. Is x MOOC value neutral in an educational context?
    What do you see?

  4. Pingback: Are open online courses substitution for classroom learning? | Educación a Distancia (EaD) |

  5. I am not so confident there is such a clear distinction. Nor am I convinced that the SDW MOOCs produce problem-solvers through community knowledge construction. After all, those MOOCs were largely based on content (connectivist-theory content) too. It has been my thought and position that looking at these offerings as tools/platforms is a good way to go.

  6. I see. There are blurred boundaries, and there are lots of assumptions about content – connections. As you mentioned MOOCs were largely based on content (connectivist-theory content) too. To me, content is important when it relates to accurate information with evidence back up (whether it is fact, or opinions of people collected through narratives, surveys, or scientific methods etc.) Without some content to start with, the connection and the subsequent discourse (conversation, open critique) would be based on experience and personal opinions. Your thoughts on the offerings as tools/platforms sound relevant.

    Are MOOCs able to produce problem-solvers through community knowledge construction? MOOCs seem ideal for generation of ideas, as least that would encourage people to think about them, though not always ending up in solving problems. I have once conceived that MOOCs could be useful for tackling wicked problems, as those problems are seldom addressed in formal institutions (under closed environment). Such problems are not easily defined nor agreed upon, both in terms of causes and solutions, due to the complexity nature of problems. A diversity of opinions (both positive, negative, or even irrational ones) are needed to look at the problems and opportunities. Is the x MOOC one of them?

    Education provider is now becoming a “Broker or agent” to help people (students) in securing a job as practised by Udacity. If you could excel in the course, there are lots of opportunities of getting a great recommendation, especially if you are the 99+ percentile. This seems common to the x MOOC, in the promotion of elitism.

    This seems different from the Connectivist MOOCs where egalitarianism and openness is focused, especially in the connections and learning. Whether one could get a job at the end of the course would depend on how one could achieve them through “weak connections”.

    Can’t wait to draw up another few sets of attributes before coming up with a taxonomy.

    There must be someone exploring these categorizations of MOOCs.

    How about yours?

    Here is another post relating to online teaching

  7. These comments would benefit from being constructed in an argumentation system like IBIS. See “Dialogue Mapping” by Jeff Conklin for a thorough discussion of the Issue Based Information System developed by an architecture professor at UCB.

    But remember the year a few years back when the off campus Stanford students at companies around Silicon Valley learned noticeably better than the on campus students. Turned out that with the lecture on VCR tape, it could be rewound a bit to catch something that people missed the first time. And the teaching assistant who came with the tape could explain things that went by too quickly. You CANNOT do that in a lecture hall with even fifty or sixty students, but it works when there are a dozen. Similar opportunities occur here in MOOCs.

    Another point worth making is that the best way to learn a topic really well is to teach it. When you utilize the students to assist those in the next season of a class, both the new and the old students can learn better. When you have huge numbers, even if only five or ten percent of the students are willing and able to help the next set of students, it will be a vast improvement for both.

    We also get to take advantage of, for example, “The A3 Process at Toyota: Managing to Learn”, and apply kaizen to the teaching/learning process in real time. This takes good advantage of the incredible flexibility that is presented by the communication technologies that MOOCs must of necessity employ.

  8. Pingback: What makes the difference – with the different MOOCs? | Learner Weblog

  9. Hi Richard,
    Yes, recorded videos are useful for referencing, and content mastery.
    Couldn’t agree more: “the best way to learn a topic really well is to teach it. When you utilize the students to assist those in the next season of a class, both the new and the old students can learn better.” How would you apply kaizen to the teaching/learning process in real time? Any examples that you would like to share?

  10. Pingback: Are open online courses substitution for classr...

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