Teaching and Learning in a Net-Centric World

All MOOCs don't work for all students. Are you surprised?

Both the commercial and the unpaid online blog pundits have been having an armchair quarterback’s field day over MOOC poster boy Sebastin Thrun’s confession that his Udacity MOOC platform doesn’t work.  None of this outcry from the “I told you so” critics is more biting (nor more witty) then the critique by Slate columnist Rebecca Shuman.

Shuman aptly blames Thrun, for blaming the students – they have personal problems, they don’t have access to multiple tablets and they are not Ivy League rich kids – suggesting that the MOOC depends on students who don’t really need them and who can learn under any conditions – as evidenced by their succeeding in crowded lecture halls their whole post secondary career.

But I don’t equate Udacity’s supposed failure with “ordinary” struggling students is evidence for the failure of online learning and Shuman’s contention  that MOOCs can now be dismissed as “neoliberal wet dreams”.  Shuman goes on to claim that distance education (at least in the form of correspondence courses) tells only a sorry tale of failure and that it has “never worked”. She may have trouble convincing the million plus students at the Open University of ChinaAnadola University in Turkey or Indira Gandhi National Open University in India that their education (largely print based ‘correspondence’) doesn’t and has never worked. Truman seems to argue that it is only elite students who can succeed at MOOCs, – discounting the 50+ years of research showing that distance education (including its latest instantiation in online formats) does work for many students- including the second chance, and poverty stricken.  No form of education works for all students -including the ‘tiny, for-credit, in-person seminar”. Doesn’t everyone know of students from campus based schools that have failed to complete their program? Haven’t you ever dropped a course – I certainly have!

But perhaps most appalling is the staggering debt load, the wasted time and energy of both students and teachers and the coddling and cover up of poor teaching that marks much of campus based education today.  That model is as badly broken and just as expensive as MOOCs driverless car !

Udacity, unlike Coursera and Edx and most cMOOCs, choose the self-paced route. While this model of learning maximizes student freedom, it has always been associated with higher drop out rates. Were you ever ready to take that final exam, or did the dreaded date just coming marching along?

I’ve argued that in a few papers in which I developed my “Interaction Equivalency Theory” that students can and do learn when provided with highly quality levels of one of student-teacher, student–content or student-student interaction opportunities.  But has Terumi Miyazoe and I wrote recently, both higher satisfaction and higher completion rates may be obtained (at higher costs and time commitment) by augmenting one form of interaction with one or both of the other two.  MOOCs, meet-ups and OERs can provide tools and opportunity by which students can, AT LOW COST, augment and enhance their education and the prospects of success.  But students aren’t born with instinctual knowledge of how to use these new tools – or any other educational opportunity. They have to learn to learn. Sitting in classrooms, dominated by a face-to-face teacher for every moment of their primary, secondary and post secondary education, hardly encourages or rewards them to develop the skills they need to become self-directed and life long learners.

Rather than blaming either the drugs or the addicts, maybe we should pay attention to the dope dealers, who make a living, by fostering educational dependency.

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