May 12, 2013

The changing face of education: Part 2

In the previous column, I discussed some of my reactions to the arrival of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) into the world of Education. Initially I was interested in comparing online courses of yesteryear with this new entry and particularly in comparing ACCOLADE (A pretty good online computer-managed instruction system that I designed and implemented in the early 70s) with them. Like many comparisons in real life, there were tradeoffs — pros and cons on each side of the ledger — but I had to give the edge to the MOOCs. In this column I want to examine the next and more important question: What are some of the Pros and Cons of using a MOOC vs. the traditional classroom?


In theory, a MOOC allows Mastery learning. Unlike a conventional course where the learning period is fixed (usually one semester or 15 weeks) and the grades vary between E (failure) and A (Excellence), Mastery Learning has only two outcomes: Mastery of the subject or Not Yet Mastered and the time period allowed for completion of the course varies amongst the students. Like the US Army: you keep at it until you’ve mastered the subject; some take longer, some don’t. In a nutshell: conventional classes vary the grades and fix the time period while Mastery Learning varies the time period and fixes the grade. Additionally, the student has opportunity to engage in self-paced learning and evaluation.

Students in large classes are more likely to speak out on the email/chat room portion of a MOOC than they would be in a live classroom.

Ability to reach a truly massive number of students in one course — while there is a low bar for admission, to receive credit the bar can be set as high as the instructor wishes.

In a large, globally offered course there is going to be much more diversity in age and culture and thus each student benefits from being exposed to diverse and different points of view. Student’s perspective is broadened.

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