MOOC Dropouts

Audrey is grumpy and unhappy about the massive dropout rate vs. the hype of the open courses. She writes:

I’m starting to get more than a little grumpy about MOOCs, what with all the hype about the revolutionary disruptions and game-changing tsunamis. I’m tired of the mainstream media punditry and their predictions that Stanford University’s experiments with online education (and by extension now Coursera and Udacity) will change everything; I’m tired of Silicon Valley’s exuberance that this could mark the end-of-the-(academic)-world-as-we-know-it – a future that its press, its investors, and its entrepreneurs are all invested (sometimes literally) in being both high tech and highly lucrative.

And she goes on to say:

While aspiring to learn is, indeed, worth celebrating, I can’t imagine anyone seriously argue that aspiring to learn is sufficient. Yet The Atlantic suggests the low success rates are “a sign of the system’s efficiency.”
And perhaps as these MOOCs are all just experiments – hyped experiments, but experiments nonetheless – we can shrug and say it’s great folks want to learn and, alas, it’s a pity when they don’t. Perhaps. But when we praise the failure to complete a class (a failure to learn) as “efficiency” and simply stop there, then I’m not sure what we’re building with MOOCs even rises to the level of what Dean Dad calls a “useful extra.” I’m not sure we can even know that it’s useful at all.

This is symptomatic of the adaptation the MOOC idea has gone through. Where many people are amazed (including George who says “I can’t recall a time when universities at one moment have responded en masse as aggressively and as collaboratively” ) at the response in  the past few months, and others like Audrey mix scepticism with an open-ness to engage with the medium, I want to take a step back and talk about some of the major learning from the MOOCs starting 2008.

For me, and many others in CCK, the question of comparisons between existing systems and the MOOC model did not really exist – it was like comparing apples to oranges. There isn’t anything like the existing system (no vocabulary) that exists in a MOOC (except for the name, which has “course” in it).

We were witnessing the emergence of a new way of thinking about teaching and learning. New catchphrases – “Learning is the process of making connections”, “Knowledge is the network”, “to teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect” – emerged out of these original MOOCs.

The MOOCs taught me to appreciate emergence, complexity, self-organization and chaos in my learning, both at an individual level and at a group level. Perhaps the most difficult for me to “learn” was the absence of determinism in learning, except that negotiated during the process.

Learning then became something more than the sum of its parts. I have not seen a connectivist implementation of a learning experience that can stand against the traditional LMS and social collaboration add-ons (although George has been working on such an initiative) based learning experience, which focus on the parts rather than the whole. And there exists no pedagogical or andragogical recipe for a MOOC the way Coursera and others may want to advertise.

The vocabulary elements that indicate accomplishment and learning have not been been conceptualized for MOOCs. That is an important thing to remember (and Stephen could have something with his chess game analogy). Neither, more than conceptually, have we talked of the notion of competency. We are at a state of the art in Connectivism today that, in my opinion, defies implementation to any significant degree, for if we had, Audrey would be less grumpy.

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