Journalists Experience MOOCs

June 19, 2013 by Bill Bradley


Title: What’s It Like to Take an Online Class?

Competency: self-development, managing self, achievement orientation

Who benefits: all of us

Consultant Usage: may be good background material for coaches and career counselors

What’s it about? Two excellent newspaper writers/reporters have written about their personal experiences taking classes from MOOCs. Larry Gordon of the Los Angeles Times wrote about taking a single class. Likely in preparation for another book, A.J. Jacobs wrote about taking 11 classes for the New York Times. Both had generally positive experiences. Larry gave his class experience an implied “B”. Jacobs gave his overall experience a “B”.

I have three general criticisms of their articles. First, with a short nod to others in their class(es), they graded the MOOCs on their personal experiences. Fair enough, but their experiences do not represent anywhere near the experiences of many of those who are taking the courses. The writers are taking these courses as if they were students in a university and comparing them to classroom experiences. A majority who take these classes, likely a vast majority, are taking these classes for other reasons.

Many of us (I am up to six classes now) are taking the classes for continuing education. Most of us in the continuing ed mode don’t care about a grade or even a certificate. We don’t do all requirements. We do what interest us, what we have time for, what satisfies our need. I watch all the videos, take all the quizzes and test, and do some of the suggested readings. I leave the writing assignments (if any) and forums (fora?) for others.

There are groups of people who take these classes in preparation for college.

There are groups of people who can’t get near a college. This is all they have.

There are university students who are having trouble in a campus class who supplement their learning with an appropriate class.

Now that classes are appearing in other languages, I am sending Spanish links to poor school children in high school that I sponsor in Mexico. I am hoping these classes will help them get accepted in a year or two into a 4-year college.

The list of why people enroll in MOOCs is lengthy. And to compare MOOCs to campuses (campi?) is like the proverbial “apples to oranges”.

My second general criticism is implied in what these two write. They review their experience as if their classes were finished products. MOOCs have made it abundantly clear that they are still learning as they go. These are the first generation of classes. Of course there are bugs to be worked out. This is MOOC generation 1.0. Let’s wait a year or two to see how they evolve.

My third general criticism is in what isn’t said. Some university faculty and administrators may feel that they are in competition with MOOCs. But they are not. MOOCs do not intend, do not advocate, do not wish to defeat the traditional class room. They are likely to end up being useful supplements. They may force changes, especially in how universities are financed … and that is likely to be a good thing. But they have not declared war on universities and colleges. In fact, the entire invention is coming from within the institutions themselves with Stanford, MIT, Harvard, California taking the lead. MOOCs are the invention of practicing professors. Consider MOOCs one giant research project.

So in conclusion, I give the two writers an overall grade of “B”. Their articles are excellent but incomplete. They needed to add a caveat: Your experience may vary.

Catch you later.

Bill Bradley (mostly) retired after 35 years in organizational consulting, training and management development. During those years he worked internally with seven organizations and trained and consulted externally with more than 90 large and small businesses, government agencies, hospitals and schools.

Posted in Leadership Development

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