Thoughts of a MOOCer

I’m currently maximizing those small spaces in life which could be boring by getting up to speed with how MOOCs operate and looking for their role in executive education.   So in the quiet late evening in hotels, the odd moments when an Iphone download could be watched and those moments in my home office when my brain needs a change of focus I’ve been enrolled for 4 MOOCS – three Coursera and one FutureLearn.  One is essentially finished (Duke University – history and future of mainly higher education) one is a few weeks in (University of Rochester– the music of the Beatles) and I’ve just completed the first week for a third (UEA – the secret power of brands).  Yes, I did say 4 earlier … but the 4th was so bad that I’ve decided to allow it to rest in peace.  It may well have been my fault in not really understanding what it was all about that made it such a bad experience!  Two weeks in I un-enrolled.

Overall I’ve been pretty impressed though with what I’ve seen.   Clearly MOOCs  are a little flaky around the edges with, for instance, differences in sound and picture quality even within modules. Some sections of individual MOOCs have obviously been quickly put together, but in general I am learning useful things.

Assessment is an interesting dimension to MOOCs.   In the ones I’ve enrolled for assessment is pretty basic and not always well thought out.  However, the value of these things is currently in learning rather than awards.   Robust assessment has a long way to go when I’ve been allowed up to ten attempts at an assessment quiz.  Sometimes there is no loss of marks for simply choosing another option in multiple choice and sometimes there is.  Sometimes the questions are simply crazy as assessments.  Look at the following question then think about it.

What are the four types of paradigm changes in higher education that we have discussed? Check all that apply.





This lack of robustness in assessment is perhaps understandable when anyone can join up  – there is no student selection by the course leaders.  Such selection would be really difficult given that tens of thousands have joined up to each of the MOOCs I’m following.  Assessment is basic and the cynic would suggest this is to encourage students to pay for the extra certification that is available as, for instance, “signature” track.  A more positive view would say that this is part of providing an inclusive education and anyway, many who MOOC do so for the knowledge and learning rather than any award.  This category would include me.  However, should MOOCs wish to offer respectable awards then there is a huge amount of work to do here.

Peer assessments are pretty basic within the MOOCs and it is unlikely that you are going to fail fellow students who you have never seen unless it is a truly dire piece of work.  However, maybe that is the way it should be?  In addition I found myself assessing peer work in a very superficial way nowhere near the approach I have taken when assessing MBA, MSc or undergraduate work at universities I have worked for.  This is not a huge problem as the assessment is made possible for anyone to do regardless of whether they have ever assessed anything in their life before or not.      MOOCing has to be fitted around an already busy week for most of us and there is always going to be the temptation to simply tick the boxes as complying with basic assessment criteria and move on.

The online forums and wikis have been reasonably well, and responsibly, used.  It is clear from the comments on these just how international the MOOC audience is and I have absorbed some insights from the posts.    This approach does provide some degree of interactivity, as do the opportunities for people in specific geographic areas to create their own meet-ups.  Such interactivity needs to be developed even further.  For example, the otherwise excellent FutureLearn “Secret power of brands”, disappoints a little by having a significant number of slideshows of slidesets which do not even have a voiceover never mind a video presenter.

In summary, I think that MOOCs are likely to turn out to be a very useful addition to the executive education kitbag of options.   Now off to think about what that means for my new role and perhaps even influence they way they are adopted by executive education……..