With just a few weeks to go until “graduation,” some of the things I’ve learned through a year of taking and reviewing classes, writing about the subject of free learning on a daily basis, and interviewing leaders in the MOOC movement include:

  • While some MOOCs try to match the scope, rigor and level of demand of a traditional college course, others have different goals. For example, many professors prefer fitting the material they feel most passionate about teaching into a 6-8 week course, rather than a full semester.
  • MOOC range in level of rigor and demand, especially with regard to reading requirements and the number and difficulty of assignments. This ties into the first point since some courses are trying to measure all of the learning objectives of a semester-long course while others don’t want to create too many barriers to student participation.
  • A new visual language is slowly being created within the diverse realm of massive online courses as sage-on-stage lectures are being supplemented or replaced by filmed conversations between a professor and his colleagues, on-location shots or interviews with outside experts, turning video lectures into one of the most intimate parts of a MOOC class.

And creating such intimacy is vital in a class with thousands of participants where assessment still consists primarily of machine-scored multiple-choice tests and discussion forums are overcrowded with people primarily talking to themselves.

But it in the very areas of assessment and community building that current experimentation within MOOCs is most robust.

Which means that the MOOC experiment, informed by the wide range of voices (both supportive and critical), needs to continue if this important new learning technique is to be allowed to provide practical (rather than utopian) value to a transformed learning landscape.

Jonathan Haber is Chief Learn at Degree of Freedom whose work can be found at www.degreeoffreedom.org.

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