MOOCs and exercise bikes: more in common than you’d think

If you have an exercise bike in the back room, you could be the small selection of people that use it everyday to get fit.

moocs-exercise-bikeBut then again, you could be one of many more who bought it in the hope of regular practice but were unable to make it part of your routine.

The MOOC, or massive open online course, which has come to prominence this year, often has much the same effect.

Students may enroll in the online free courses from prestigious universities in their tens of thousands, but overwhelmingly they bomb out with attrition rates up to 80-90 percent.

For most would-be participants, the MOOC is like the unloved exercise bike that haunts you with feelings of inadequacy and failure.

The theory is sound

MOOCs have gathered a lot of attention recently for good reasons.

They are built by excellent charismatic teachers from brand name universities; they are very convenient and free to access. Predictions suggest that they will inevitably replace much that universities do. Among polite academics, you can fill a room with instant fear just by saying the acronym.

In one sublime syllable, this specter seems to spell death for conventional teaching or even blended learning.

The MOOC also comes at a time when the Australian government and universities are trying to broaden participation, including a government target to get 40 percent of 25-34 year olds holding a bachelors degree or higher qualification by 2025.

In this context, the free-to-try education may be seen as a tempting capacity-builder on a sector that is already stretched, particularly when trying to target students who may be under-prepared or from rural, regional, or outer-metropolitan areas.

Existing programs designed to bridge these students’ transitions to higher education privilege pastoral care and often have high staff to student ratios. Sending students to “do a MOOC” would be a free trial-by-fire: and we could give the stars who complete Norvig’s Artificial Intelligence course entry into a computer science degree at an Australian university.

Perhaps the Australian Institute of Sport could do the same with exercise bike users with the most successful to become track cyclists? But of course, herein lies the problem.

Beginners need not apply

For many academics MOOCs make sense – they are a bit like the elite athlete, who might need do training at home, for which the exercise bike is a great all-weather, convenient option. But for the average person new to physical activity, the exercise bike is alluring but ultimately problematic.