Sunday, October 19, 2014

How Well Do MOOC's Teach?

The short answer is - they don't! Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Udacity, was upset and puzzled to find that only 4% of students who paid to take a course actually completed it. The first time I heard this, I immediately knew why. It's the same reason why the publishing industry in the US can sell 60 million cookbooks a year but people still find it difficult to cook at home on a regular basis. Instructional materials, whether books or MOOC's, do not teach themselves; it's the students working from these instructional materials who are teaching themselves. Because it can be difficult to teach yourself something, students rely on teachers as well as instructional materials. Teachers teach.

I was thus immediately drawn to a blog post entitled "MOOCs are a fundamental misperception of how teaching works" (link here), by Mark Guzdial (January 4, 2013). He makes three points:
  • The main activity of a higher-education teacher is not to lecture.
  • A teacher is an expert at teaching the topic, and the teaching is dependent on the domain.
  • The job of the teacher is to educate, not filter, and that includes motivating students.

Guzdial spells out clearly why a MOOC does not accomplish these three points, and thus is not teaching as properly understood.

Guzdial's argument, by the way, is not an argument against MOOC's, it's an argument against thinking that MOOC's can replace teachers. Instructional materials are vital to learning, but they do not, in themselves, teach. Without a teacher, a student is left to teach himself - a risky enterprise.

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