MOOC as the silver bullet

I would like to relate to Alex Kuskis’ comments provided here where he points to:

  1. The unaffordability of the American campus model, based on tuition price increases year after year, with students incurring immense debts, leading to a student loans crisis and financial bubble that will sooner or later burst, just as the housing bubble did. See “A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College”, ; “Universities on the Brink”, ; “College Bubble Set to Burst in 2011”, .
  2. Questioning whether learning happens at all in traditional university education, especially undergrad education. See “Does College Make You Smarter”, .
  3. The traditional university’s crisis of purpose, . 
  4. The university: still dead – Andrew Delbanco’s insightful new book on the history and future of the American college exposes an institution that has no idea what it should be, by Angus Kennedy, .
  5. The fading legitimacy of liberal arts colleges, .
  6. The widespread perception that universities require “fixing”,
  7. The fact that universities are ripe for disruption: .
  8. The ineffectiveness of lectures, still the dominant teaching method in universities: “The College Lecture, Long Derided, May Be Fading”, .

Are MOOCs the silver bullets for education?  Not yet.

There are some positive results here with Udacity, though the experiment has again revealed that MOOCs could be helpful for certain students and learners whilst may not be a panacea for those who need individual learning or support, including mentoring, coaching or tutoring.  Such pedagogy has proven to be effective in traineeship and apprenticeship programs.

However, in an online environment and platform such as MOOCs, one on one mentoring with professors or personal tutors (teaching assistants) could be prohibitively costly and thus not possible.  An alternative is to arrange volunteer or paid tutors and mentors in such MOOCs who could provide the coaching required for novice learners, as I have shared here and here.   There are implications with such approaches, as additional mentoring and coaching may incur fees, and the need of an infrastructure with systems of policy, procedures and protocols as normally present in an institutional framework to assure quality support learning services.

There is also a need to balance between self-organizing nature of networked learning with a focus of autonomous learning embedded with the instructivist mastery learning approach in such MOOCs to ensure optimum learning outcomes.  Many novice learners may overly rely on the “teach, drill and test” sort of mastery learning.  Such instrumental learning is practised in senior high school or entry level college, in preparation of their entrance examination to university.  Though there are merits with mastery learning for prescriptive knowledge and learning on defined curriculum, the mechanistic and instrumental learning associated with the consumption of knowledge would limit their growth and development in critical thinking and metacognitive skills, sensemaking and way finding.

That is where MOOCs providers need to re-vamp their programs with technology as enabler, so as to cater for their learners’ needs. These would further foster new and emerging pedagogy in education, not just a reinforcement of what they are currently offering to their students.

In summary, continuous improvement and innovation in practice in an ever changing world of MOOCs and education.


Learning is about doing, application of skills and reflection, not just theory alone.

How do you find that in MOOCs?  What is the pedagogy adopted in MOOCs (xMOOCs) in particular?

I reckon that MOOCs that I have been involved in were all application based, as I have to practice and reflect on what I have learnt through the practice, using Personal Learning Environment and Personal Learning Network (PLE/PLN), Web 2.0 tools application, collective inquiry and open discourse, and social networking.

Similarly, when it comes to instruction in class (both face-to-face and online), we used to explain basic concepts and principles, together with some case application or scenarios, followed by discussion and application of knowledge concepts and skills or case application, through various activities, projects and assessment.

So, to me instruction is just one part of the learning process, provided by the professor(s) or teacher(s) to the learners.  Instruction should lead to learning, though it is often restricted when there is limited practice following the instruction, especially in a lecture format.

Learning is about doing,  application of skills learnt, and reflection, in order to keep on improving one’s learning.  It is not just about the theory presented to us by the professors or teachers.   Learning is also about organizing ones’ work in a structured way, in order to achieve the goals through certain tasks.   So, it relates to the basic principles of instruction too, where one must demonstrate to others how certain tasks are done in a systematic and orderly manner, through explicit explanation, followed by demonstration.  Learning is then achieved also through teaching oneself, and others, like peer-to-peer teaching, in order to “become” an expert learner, or teacher.

In this connection, would MOOCs be designed and run with these principles in mind?  It is not just about multiple choice, it is not just about providing a “great presentation with wonderful explanation”.  It is about engaging and involving the learners to do something –  it may relate to their thinking, reflection, practice or demonstration and modelling of the skills, through their own actions, activities, assignments and application at home, or at work.  It could be demonstrated through blogging, tweeting, wiki or Google doc creation or collaborative or creative writing, or project and problem assignments, or peer assessment.

Here is a 3 part video on Teaching teaching and learning learning:

In summary, instruction is one part of the learning process, provided by the professor or teacher to the learners. Learning should be motivating, engaging, and interactive, where the activities and assessment should also be relevant, value added to the learners.  These learning could be demonstrated through blogging, tweeting, wiki or Google doc creation or collaborative or creative writing, or project and problem assignments, or peer assessment.

I hope my fellow colleagues and students would also provide some comments and feedback as to how they have learnt.