Reflection on a Video Presentation by Peter Norvig on Online Education

Here is my reflection of Peter Norvig’s fabulous presentation on Online Education.

The take away:


– Will power

– Due dates

– Peers

– Pride (Early Adopter, Accomplishment)

– Authenticity

I agree with Peter’s explanation on motivation, mainly that participants of MOOCs took pride in their participation, especially when they were the first to embark on the MOOC journey.  Such views got me thinking about what I felt when I joined CCK08 back in 2008, with the excitement associated with learning something “novel” as Connectivism.  As I wasn’t doing the MOOC for credit purpose, the due dates for assignment didn’t compel me to complete any assignments suggested.  The motivation of connecting with others who are also participating in MOOCs could be unique given the huge number of students who one doesn’t know much.


Here Peter quoted: Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and think.  The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn. (Herb Simon)

I have reflected on how Constructivism and Connectivism might be perceived under a MOOC learning environment here.

– Problem first, then explanation

– Student has to make prediction, get things wrong

– They didn’t like that

– Would like to have more open-ended activities

– Can do (to some extent) with programming problems, or activities that doe not need to be graded right/wrong

I like Peter’s approaches with his xMOOCs.  I do find that students might prefer to have explanations given before they try the problems.  However, I also find that students who are well experienced would prefer challenges, and so the problem first, then explanation makes a lot of senses in encouraging students to do it first, by exploring and experimenting through project or problem, rather than “spoon-feeding” them with answers.  This depends much on the pre-requisite knowledge and background experience of the students, and the context of learning too, when deciding whether to present theory first, before application, or vice-versa.

I was struck by remarks on the quote:

“Richard hamming told me his secret:  First get together the problem sets and exams that you want the students to be able to solve.  Then write a book that will teach them how to solve them.” Hal Varian (1993)

That was based on Test Driven Development.  Under an institutional framework, it seems natural to “teach to the test or exams” as that is exactly what “many students” want, in order to achieve great results.  From an efficiency point of view, teaching exactly what the students need to answer, based on the questions asked in the assignments and examinations provides a perfect solution.  The demerit with such a teaching approach seems to lie with the assumption that for each “ounce” of teaching, there would be an “ounce” of learning, that could be tested by the examination, test or assignment question, and that such learning be best validated by the repetition of knowledge remembered by the students.  Would this approach lead to surface and rote learning?  Would students merely regurgitate the information (and remember the “correct answer”) without clearly understanding the concepts behind the right answer?  This is important from an education point of view.  Besides, what sort of advanced learning – like critical thinking, creative thinking is encouraged with such a teach to test approach education?

Individualization.  Peter elaborated on the drawbacks of having a course where all students are taking a linear path.  This does not take into account the needs and expectations of students in MOOCs.  The one-on-one tutoring would make a lot of senses in learning in a MOOC, though this is really difficult to achieve.

– Mixed initiative: lecture only for a few minutes

– Multi-path, not single path

– Flipped classroom (Koller)

– Peer Instruction (Mazur)

I have commented on the above in my previous posts.  It seems that these are common learning with our experiences with the cMOOCs in the past 6 years (since 2008).


– Interaction between students

– Discussion forums

– Dynamic range (differences in background)

– Cohorts plus flexibility

– All sorts of social media sites (created by students)

– Students went to all these sites, have more sense of identities, and a feeling of “we made these sites”

– Students gained a sense of intimacy – by working in groups and sharing their learning

I agree on what Peter mentioned in the presentation, in particular for the students to be active in sharing their views in the various social media platforms.  I would add that students could create their own blogs (especially with cMOOCs), wikis and various social platforms to advance their learning.  We have experienced a sense of community with the cMOOCs, during and after the MOOCs.

Continuous Improvement

– Move away from single sequence from one to another, but to community of authors

– Online education classes – not based on individual classes.  Rather, students could be learning in different ways, with different objectives.

These sound exactly as what I (and some of our peer learners) have experienced in MOOCs, and have been reported and shared in various blog posts and MOOC research papers.

Evaluation Model

– The use of portfolio approach to document the evidence of learning, where people could present to their employers a portfolio of evidences

Data Threshold – This relates to the diversity of students’ interaction that would likely enrich the quality of learning.

To move from a broadcasting mode to an interactive mode (preferably one-on-one) where peer learning takes place.

Pedagogical Practice

– 1 on 1

– 100,000 at a time

– Power of square of 100,000 – as a result of peer-to-peer interaction and learning

I think that is also what we have learnt from the cMOOCs.  What I would conceive is a MOOC model where learning is more customised and personalized,  learner-centered and learner originated, with self-organised learning, likely based on a PLE/PLN coupled with a mentoring (one-on-one or one-on- a few) model, in the coming future.

Conclusion: I found Peter Norvig’s presentation wonderful and insightful.  He has fully addressed the issues and challenges related to MOOCs – in motivation, pedagogy, and the need of socialization and interaction among students in MOOCs.  The suggestions and recommendations on improvement by Peter were valuable for further exploration and experimentation.  I think there are lots of common grounds between x and c MOOCs, and that there are lots of experiences that I could find similar to those with my learning in cMOOCs.

How would you measures success?

Interesting to reflect on what Clay Christensen shared about

(a) How we measure success in our life?

(b) Why successful companies fail?

We often measure success in organization based on the achievement of business goals, and for business organisations, often on the results achieved, such as profits made, market share and growth, or increase in customers’ base and satisfaction, or the degree of technology innovation the company has adopted etc.  Is that really guaranteeing success for the business?  Is such success sustainable?  Not always, in the long run, as Clay explained in the video.  That may just be a short term measure of success. There could be competitors entering into market, where they may offer a cheaper, simpler and often lower quality product or service.  These niche products then penetrate into the big business market, gradually grow and beat the big businesses, and thus disrupting the successful businesses in a surprising way.

There are numerous examples that we could quote based on such a pattern of disruption: “Examples of companies that have not survived include Kodak, a firm over 100 years old, Blockbuster and Borders.   It is likely that each of us has done business with all of these firms, and today Kodak and Blockbuster are in bankruptcy and Borders has been liquidated.  Disruptions are impacting industries like education; Coursera and others offering these massive open online courses are a challenge for Universities.” (Coursera)

The new technologies that had brought the big established companies down weren’t better or more advanced – they were actually worse.  (Christensen) The new products were usually cheaper and easier to use, and so people or business would soon buy these products.

Is such technology disruption also revealed in the present MOOC movement?  MOOC as a new format and platform of online education has led Higher Education to re-think what and how they need to adapt and respond to the changes to competition, this time between the MOOC provision as alternative education options.

This paper on MOOC (Bremer, 2011) provides an insider look into MOOCs.

How effective are MOOCs in learning and education?  MOOC may not be very effective if measured in a traditional way.

The real problem, though, is that more than 90% of these would-be learners don’t finish. Many don’t even start the courses for which they are registered. And a lot of those who finish don’t take another one. That means the number of people actually learning anything substantial is much less massive than the PR suggests.

This is difficult to measure success based on 5 to 15% completion rate, in the case of MOOCs.  These depend on how we measure success, as we could see that such disruptive technology (MOOCs) could gradually creep in and takes hold as a mainstream, exactly like what we have seen with the news media, where the internet and various niches media providers are now superseding the dominance of “major providers”.  Would this phenomenon be repeated with higher education, where MOOCs take a center stage in providing HE?

Stephen in this evaluation of MOOC says:

The process perspective asks whether the MOOC satisfied the criteria for successful networks.  The outcomes perspective looks at the MOOC as a knowing system.

Under a connectivist framework, both process and outcomes perspective would relate to the criteria of success of networks and system, especially when it is adopted by the institutions.

Do you think MOOC be for you and your institution? What is the reality?

If the MOOC medium for educational delivery is not right for your institution, fine. No one says that it has to be, but you must do something to strategically address the underlying message. If you decide to ignore the message that MOOCS are trying to teach us and make only a token effort at helping your organization become more accessible, more flexible, and more affordable, then you will wake up in the not-too-distant future to a bankrupt institution and ask, “What happened?”

In this connection, MOOC has shaken the belief that the century old traditional Higher Education of mass lecture is here to stay, but also add to the uncertainties of where Higher Education should be heading, in view of the disruptive nature of the MOOCs that those institutions have embraced.  There are further myths that are challenged by both MOOC providers and supporters, and those don’t feel comfortable with the MOOCs as part of the “mainstream” education.

Should we measure success in education based on whether MOOC could revolutionize Higher Education or not?

I think success is an emergent “property” when it comes to education, and just as Clay has mentioned, the higher level of personal success does not always relate to how much one possesses in terms of wealth, or personal achievement, that would result in immediate gratification.

The long term success lies with our continuous strive for personal growth, by helping ourselves, and that of helping others.  Can we measure such success using objective criteria?  May be we need to re-define what success means when it comes to learning, both personally and socially.

Do we know what we should teach or learn in the future?

Teach our children coding, that is the message of these video presentations.

There are various free courses, including coding by Codecademy and Scratch by MIT.  See this review on Scratch.

Sounds interesting.

My questions are:

1. What do “we” want to achieve with teaching how to code?

2. What do the children want to achieve by learning how to code?

3. Are we determining what the children need to learn for their future?

4. What are the actual needs in business in the future?  Are all workers merely “coders”, or should they be more than coders?

For me, I love coding, but I don’t play a lot of games.  I see games as part of the learning, especially for our new generation.  Do we really want to “push” our children to learn coding, just because we want them to learn them so they could get a better job in the future?

Do we really know what to teach in preparation of the new generations in the future?  Did we remember that we (at least for me) once learnt all the programming and coding, but then they soon have gone obsolete after a few years?  Who could still remember the DB (Database II), Multiplan, Wordstar, or DOS?  Are they still important, or relevant?

May be, we need to learn new tools, new codes from time to time to keep up with the changing landscape of the industry.  What we learn today in coding might only be useful when the technology is still used in ten or twenty years’ time.  Do you know what technology be used in the future?

A good example to illustrate why updating our learning is important  is MOOCs. Would MOOCs be still there in a decade’s time?

My conclusion is that learning how to code is important in order to prepare us to cater for the future’s needs, but that is not good enough.  What is most important is to be aware of what we need to know and learn, and thus keep up-to-date in our life-long quest for learning.  Coding is just a means to a never -ending goal, and is not the only one that we should learn.  The MOOCs phenomenon well illustrate why we might also need to look at the big picture of education and learning, not just learning a particular skill – like coding, with a limited mindset.