Here’s why MOOCs don’t work (and how they can be fixed)

I spent some time over the holidays looking at some MOOCs – either the freebie intro lectures available from some of the major providers, or the clips available on YouTube.

I also had a look at some course content, syllabi and related materials. This trawl is, of course, not representative or even properly systematic (I didn’t actually sign up for or try to complete a course), but it was instructive (to me, at least). I found the process dispiriting.

moocsWhy? Because here are large groups of interested, committed, motivated and enthusiastic individuals (or groups of individuals) coming together to try and deliver something new to 3rd level education. I’ve discussed MOOCs here previously – highlighting their problems and failures at a general level.

The interesting question is why are MOOCs failing?

The flaw in the thinking is that educational practice can be revolutionized by doing something new and interesting by way of course material delivery. And this is not simply not true.

What is wrong with the focus on delivery? It seems to me to suffer from the following problems, which in themselves are deeply problematic.

Lack the immersion in MOOCs that you get from actually attending a lecture

Too often they feel like something that could just easily be delivered on television – with the same problems of attentional disengagement that occur while television watching. Immersion has another dimension – the degree of perceived visual angle that being in a lecture generates. A lecture theater occupies the greater degree of visual angle, and does not suffer from the visual and other intrusion problems that screen viewing can have.

There is a totality of experience in the classroom that sitting at home with a laptop cannot deliver.

In other words, the ‘event boundaries’ that generate and support the appropriate cognitions, expectations and behaviors for learning are lacking.

I suspect some of this problem could be overcome by using wholly-immersible virtual reality delivery methods, where there is a proper 3d perspective present, and even avatars of the other students too (groups contexts are important for learning – think transactive memories).

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