Posted tagged ‘interaction’

Constructive criticism of Coursera

23 November 2016

Well it’s taken me over 3 and a half years, but I’ve finally completed another mooc.

I use the term completed loosely, because while I consumed all the content, I didn’t submit any of the assignments. In other words, I completed the course as far as my personal learning needs are concerned, while still feeding the naysayers’ MOOCs-are-a-failure-because-their-completion-rate-is-low argument.

The mooc in question was e-Learning Ecologies: Innovative Approaches to Teaching and Learning for the Digital Age by the University of Illinois on the Coursera platform. I found the Australian accents of the instructors a pleasant surprise, and the quality of the content top-notch.

The course revolved around 7 affordances of e-learning “ecologies”, with 2 presented each week. I have put the word ecologies in inverted commas because I would have used the term “pedagogies” instead. Nonetheless, while most e-learning professionals would be familiar with (or at least aware of) each of the affordances, I found it worthwhile to review them in turn, which also provoked deep tangential thinking.

Speaking of tangents, one of the instructors supplemented his presentations with interesting vignettes about his educational heroes from history, which I found both informative and engaging.

Pulp fiction cover entitled Amazing Wonder Stories: Cognitive Reality: Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and other stuff!

Despite my overall satisfaction with this course, however, I experienced yet again a couple of perennial bugbears. Accordingly I offer the following points of constructive criticism to Coursera.

1. Lack of instructor interaction.

I am sensitive to the “massive” in mooc, and appreciate the fact that the instructors can’t possibly respond to every contribution in the social forum.

However, I found their total lack of participation really quite odd, especially in the early days when I seemed to be the only one posting anything.

Given the subject matter of this course, it’s also ironic!

2. Obscure pricing.

It may be widely known among enthusiasts that moocs are free, but this fact is not widely known among the general population.

I’ve lost count of the number of times my colleagues have contacted me to double- and triple-check that the Coursera courses which I have curated for them are indeed free. Either the price (i.e. $0 or “FREE”) is not mentioned, or the effectively meaningless “Audit” is used in its place.

Coursera’s push towards paid courses – which, by the way, are not moocs – only serves to muddy the waters.

I don’t know if it’s due to Coursera’s genesis in Higher Education or for some other reason, but it’s evident they do not understand their prospective customers in the corporate sector.

Face time

16 September 2013

My wife and I are studying Foundations of Business Strategy together. And by “studying”, I mean we are watching the videos – which are excellent, by the way.

My wife is a marketing professional, while I’ve been in the corporate sector for most of my working life, so we find ourselves regularly pausing the videos and launching into conversation about what was said. And it’s great!

I’m learning from her, she’s learning from me, and we’re both learning from the professor. Much more so than if either of us were studying alone.

A Moai in a field on Rapa Nui

Of course, peer-to-peer interaction isn’t a novel concept in e-learning. We have asynchronous tools such as online discussion forums, synchronous tools such as instant messaging, and semi-synchronous tools such as Twitter.

To add voice to the conversation we can use teleconferencing or VoIP. To add faces we can use webcams and maybe, one day, holograms.

But what strikes me about my interaction with my study buddy is that it’s so natural. Of course we know each other well, but being at the same place at the same time means we can read each other’s body language, recognise non-verbal cues, and follow the rhythm of the conversation. Which makes for a rich learning experience.

I recall thinking along similar lines after attending the local meetups that I organised for my colleagues and members of the public who were participating in a particularly popular mooc. I had never attended a mooc meetup before, and I severely underestimated it. The opportunity for the attendees to put a face to a name, share their experiences, gripe about common problems, suggest ways to solve them, and simply feel less alone left a lasting impression on me.

Then for good measure, I read Helen Blunden’s gorgeous Sometimes You Just Need to Meet Your PLN Face-to-Face, in which she recounts her experience meeting up with her Twitter buddies while on holiday in the UK. My favourite part appears towards the end of her post:

Reflecting on the LPITweetUp, the gathering made me realise that the relationship with our PLN is strengthened when we include a face-to-face connection – and you only need one of those to transform what was a digital online relationship to a whole new different level to one which has impact, meaningful and memorable.

Helen's tweetup partners enjoying a refreshing beverage

So my suggestion is to face up to better instructional design.

By all means, continue to facilitate asynchronous discussions – they’re incredibly important. And if you can, organise synchronous sessions, preferably featuring the participants’ voices and faces.

But if you want to transform the digital online relationship to a whole new different level which has meaningful and memorable impact, the answer is clear: you need face time.