Friday, July 17, 2015


[I'm in full mad-scientist mode here, so things may be a bit incoherent in places but I do have some more realistic (or at least, less febrile) plans in the queue.]

MOOC advocates like Friedman have been both wildly ambitious about the potential impact of the technology and strangely timid about pushing its boundaries. Mostly, they fall back on the catalytic theory of educational technology. Rather than doing hard thinking about what different media are good at, they simply assume that the presence of technology will automatically make things better.

For all the talk about reinventing the form, MOOCS still tend to look pretty much like this:

A series of lessons and assignments given in a specific order, in other words, just like any other course..

Why are courses so linear? Because the current system is based on having instructors interact face-to-face with large numbers of students, and the only cost-efficient way to do this on a large scale is to collect the students in groups and take them through standardized instruction. We can go back-and-forth on the value of this face-to-face interaction, but it is clear that, once you have eliminated this requirement, you have no need for this level of standardization.

Even if we accept the necessity of having everybody take a common set of exams (and I am not entirely prepared to concede that one either), there is still no reason for all students in a MOOC to take the same instructional units in the same order.

Instead of thinking lesson one, lesson two, exam one, lesson three, exam two and so forth ad nauseam, we should probably be thinking more in the lines of this:

We have some kind of assessment. Based on the results of that assessment, the student is sent to a certain module. That module could be pretty much anything. The student could be directed to watch a video clip, listen to an audio file, read a section of text, play a game, chat with an instructor, or even have a tutoring session or study group. Even the assessments might vary based on path.

In addition to being customized to each student and allowing for an wide array of modules, the MOO? is an evolving format. Assessments can be changed, paths can shift, and, most importantly, more modules can always be added (possibly even user based content).

I know this is all very rough and inchoate, but I do plan to get specific in the near future, starting with our old friend, Eugen Weber.

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