MOOC vs. Linear Online Self-paced Learning


MOOCs are a bit HOT right now. Coursera, the Minerva Project, Venture Lab (Stanford) – all recent examples of offering open courseware by prestigious colleges from well-known professors.

See prior posts that I’ve written when I was excited about the possibilities of this topic:

I’ve signed up for a few courses – gamification (Coursera), EdStartUp 101 (a WordPress based site I’ve talked about already), and a creativity class through the Venture Lab.

The key word is “signed up” for MOOCs.

I haven’t finished any of them.

Though I’ve mentioned being a stealth participant in all of these, I’m way beyond stealth now. I’m just not there.

Perhaps it is my personality type (INTJ sometimes teetering toward INFJ), or maybe my overwhelming workload, or (most likely) I’m finding that it is psychologically confining my normal informal learning patterns. Whatever the reason, I’m absent from class.

This is ironic because in parallel, I’m taking TONS of e-learning right now through DAU toward my level two and three program management certifications. I’m entrenched in that for two hours a day and longer on weekends. It is supposedly a more boring approach as well – linear, text and a few graphics, no instructor interaction, etc.

So, what’s up with me and the MOOCs?

The answer is “I’m not sure.”

But, here are some thoughts (some are pulled from this post) after thinking about this the last few months:

Socially Overwhelming – sure, I am involved in a lot of online social networks and fairly active. In fact, I lead a couple of Facebook groups and have multiple Twitter accounts. But, this is a random group of people with whom I may only interact with during this one class experience. Thousands of new friends? Yikes. That be a little much for the INTJ personality. Oh, and I already have over 500 Facebook friends and 400 LinkedIn connections that I don’t spend enough time with right now. Note: In August I took what I’d call an “OOC” because it had all the elements of a MOOC, but it was about 30 people. I loved it! Mentally manageable is what comes to mind.

Socially Structured Timeframes – a bit wordy, but does it make sense? In real life I tend to be involved in all the social networks I mentioned above, but I interact as I want to – sometimes daily, sometimes weekly and sometimes I go an entire month without logging in (Pinterest comes to mind). But the MOOC (and other facilitated online options) force me into a defined social expectation and often in a certain way. Years ago I was in a Blackboard course and we had to make two (2) contributions a week to the discussion thread. It was stressful because it had to be a well thought out post (and researched). The MOOCs don’t seem to require it, but just knowing there is this massive discussion board there awaiting people to contribute and share is somehow a mental block for me. I dive in and am completely active for a day and then never return. Note – I get a little of the same feeling with all of the LinkedIn Groups I’m in that send me the daily emails showing how many people are posting to the discussion. How do people do this with a day job? (I’m writing this at 11:00 p.m. on a Friday night in case you are wondering)

Prior Knowledge, Experience and Mental Models – so, I’m torn. In one class I happen to know something of the topic. But, what if I didn’t? Would I really have anything to add if I was just being exposed to the topic? In another MOOC all the upfront content is video. That’s lucky for me because I didn’t know anything of the topic and the last thing I wanted to do upon sign up was to collaborate with others about it. I just wanted to be “fed” some well designed information that would give me a mental model of what was being discussed. Perhaps this is something I need to keep in mind as I continue to promote social learning. It may be important to give more of a framework upfront before expecting people to jump in and contribute. Or, at least provide enough content that people who aren’t ready can absorb before going off into the wild world of personal blogs.

Assessmentright, like I took the tests. I wasn’t getting credit for anything and so I didn’t bother. However, you’ll see below in the linear write-up that the assessment was where most of my learning took place.


Linear Thoughts

In parallel, I took the online linear, self-paced, e-learning courses that had no instructor. They were fairly typical – text, a few graphics, a few photos, perhaps a minor voice over and maybe even a couple of video clips. Many would say boring or lacking interactivity.

But, I’ve liked them more lately.

Why? Hmmm. Some thoughts:

  • Progress – I can see my progress and feel like I know “the end” – though many of the MOOCs did show progress on videos. Plus, it was in a learning management system that “counts” toward my job performance goals and ultimately promotion.
  • Completely on my own time – really, on my own time – before work, after work, during a boring meeting, on the weekends.
  • No instructor – yes, sometimes don’t you just want to be alone? Like when you don’t want the waitress to come to your table too much or you don’t want help in the department store. Who answers your questions? I went to Google and conducted a search.
  • Scope and Noise Reduction – it is great to share ideas, learn from each other, expand our horizons. I actually LOVE doing that, but there is a time and a place. I’m wondering if sometimes we need to have well-organized experiences that help us focus, reduce, simplify, and absorb just a little better without all the extraneous noise.
  • Prior knowledge and experience – in most cases, I have prior knowledge in the courses I’m taking. The topics are related to my job. I’m finding that it helps give me even more context and expanded mental models in some areas and in other ways I freely skip through quickly because I know what they are talking about.
  • Assessment – the assessment becomes my learning experience in linear learning. I do everything possible to get to the test. We get three chances, but we MUST have 100% completion at the end of those three chances. Even so, I get all my PDF files and notes prepared and gear up for the first round of questions. The search begins! The questions become the reason for me to learn. I search and read to find out what the correct response should be. There is purpose and a consequence. Interesting, right? Personal gamification of my learning?

Final Thoughts…for now

Writing these thoughts all down made me realize that maybe I just need some alone time. Seriously, I do love to learn online and with other people. Maybe it is the timing of it all. In fact, as I wrote I could see that some things I was bringing up were areas that were common to both linear and MOOC experiences.

This is a thought in progress and so I will write more on the topic, but the bottom line is I haven’t had the motivation to go back into the learning experiences even though I love the topics. Yet, I’ve read e-books, took other courses, listened to a dozen podcasts and have written a few blogposts between now and then which leads me to an interesting question:

Am I perceiving this as yet another system (platform) to log into separate from my stream of other social experiences?

Hmm. That could be a barrier for me….except for those that create a MOOC discussion in Facebook group.

What do you think, my one blog reader?

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