edcmooc,  education

#edcmooc The Trouble With MOOCs

I was very disappointed yesterday when I learned one of the MOOCs I’m taking was cancelled due to student comprehension problems and, let’s be frank, the technologically impaired.

Yes, I am simply saying how I feel. I can do that here. I have never seen so many people unable to use a simple spreadsheet. I have never run across so many folks who did not understand how to use a message board in my life! I also have never seen so many people needing hand-holding due to comprehension problems. One particular example: some people weren’t sure what the assignments were, or how to do them (even though it was spelled out IMHO).  Now granted for some folks the comprehension problem was due to not being a native English speaker, but that only accounts for SOME of the problem. A lot of the folks who weren’t getting it — English appeared to be their native language.

It was my favorite MOOC. Sorry #edcmooc! I love you, I do, but the Fundamentals of Online Education course was far more fascinating and challenging for me. I was learning A LOT and had already done three assignments.

This made me realize that there is a downside to MOOCs. While MOOCs may offer a lot of different viewpoints and peer to peer learning through sharing, if people have learning disabilities (where they need to be handheld) and if they’re not tech savvy – the entire learning process breaks down.

This may be one particular failure of MOOCs overall because they assume that students are at least competent enough to read and understand instructions as well as use the technology without difficulty. It also assumes they’re both self-directed and independent learners. I think this last bit is important. In classes of this nature it seems the teacher is merely a moderator or director to the learning. It’s actually up to the student to learn. This gives me a whole new appreciation for the saying, “You get out of an education what you put into it.”

Granted the MOOC environment may be more suited to younger learners who have never known a world where there wasn’t internet and computers in the classroom.

So where does this leave adult learners who may be more resistant to change or their lack of understanding how to use the technology is actually an impairment? It eliminates them from the equation by making them so frustrated that they drop out. That frustration can ultimately make comprehension of a course (even one well outlined with step-by-step instructions like the one above) unlikely.

This does suggest MOOC course design is likely best suited for younger, more technologically savvy people, or it suggests that keeping it simple is key. And by simple I mean no message board navigation, no extraneous links to cause confusion, and a course that hand-holds the student through every step.

I’ve notice the same complaints from some #edcmooc participants. One person asked, “Is there even a course here?”  I, being relatively tech savvy and having comprehension skills, cannot even fathom how someone could miss the course. I have learned a great deal in #edcmooc, too.  It’s pretty simple. Read the assignments and answer the questions they pose on your blog, or go discuss them on the message boards. It’s really simple. I should add here that it’s simple for someone like me.

Thank goodness none of the online courses I’ll be designing are MOOCs. I can’t imagine trying to get 40,000+ people on the same page.

So perhaps there are two rules for designing online courses.

  • 1. Keep it simple.
  • 2. Keep it small.

Steph is an award winning and bestselling author of thrilling steamy and paranormal romances, dark urban fantasy, occult horror-thrillers, cozy mysteries, contemporary romance, sword and sorcery fantasy, and books about the esoteric and Daemonolatry. A Daemonolatress and forever a resident of Smelt Isle, she is happily married and cat-mom to three pampered house cats. Her muse is a demanding sadistic Dom who often keeps her up into the wee hours of the morning. You can contact her at swordarkeereon@gmail.com


  • Elaine

    I completely agree!! I am taking both MOOC’s as well and Fundamentals was my preferred. It seems they are working on getting it online again. The discussion boards are back open. And the class was so well organized that I thought it was bizarre how much whining there was! I admit that in the beginning I had trouble finding the readings…either they weren’t on the Week 1 page when I started or I just didn’t scroll down far enough to see them. But once I discovered the Week 1 page, I found the course extremely easy to navigate. Everything I needed was there!

    I am afraid there are whiners amongst every generation. I certainly have seen a few in the 20-something crowd, not to mention every other age group out there. My 85 year old mom could easily take that Fundamentals MOOC. She just sticks with it till she figures it out!

    Thanks for your post.

    • Steph

      I do agree there are whiners in every age group. I’m actually 40 myself. But I’ve always been relatively forward thinking and good with tech. So perhaps I was wrong to suggest it’s an age issue. Perhaps it’s actually an adaptability issue. Those who adapt have no problems whereas those who cannot adapt will struggle. Survival of the fittest in action?

      • alan perez

        I cannot say that I agree with you. I was very gungho about the class and from the beginning links did not work and the first exam was over whether or not you changed groups and to cut and paste your posts. The entire experience was not thought out well and some of the links for information were to sources that just did not offer much. While I could over look such problems from most any other course, the fact is the class was on online learning by people who obviously had never ran an online course before. The lectures in my mind were very boring and contradicted the materials regarding engaging the students. I can agree to a point that teachers shouldnt have to baby sit the technologically challenged but it seemed to me that it was the teachers who were the most technologically challenged.

        • Steph

          Alan, Thanks for your post. While I had absolutely no issues getting the technology to work (or navigating it), I will agree that the readings were dry. In all fairness – most academic reading is horribly dry (depending on the field you’re in, I suppose). It also seems education professionals, of which I am not, seemed to dislike this course more than those of us who are trade industry educators, or simply authors who teach weekend workshops? Perhaps those of you “in the know” are better equipped to critique a class of this nature? As a complete beginner who only took a few teacher education classes in college (back in the early 90’s), I still enjoyed it. 🙂 Sadly I still contend the students had some responsibility for the course failure as much as the course designer. Yes – the spreadsheet was a dumb idea. Yes – forcing people into groups was somewhat unneccessary. But beyond these easily worked around issues, I thought the course design and material was fine. Plus it was FREE. So maybe I didn’t have high expectations?

  • Marcela

    …and write your responses on your blog…

    That’s exactly my problem. I have watched the videos, and read Chandler, Dahlberg, Daniel and Noble, and made notes with pencil and paper, and some comments on the pdf. But I am not into blogging, and it seems that for those of you who are really getting on with #edcmooc blogging comes naturally.

    I hadn’t thought I was so digitally impaired. It seemed to me that managing with Word (even macros), e-mail, twitter and some TenTs (Translation Environment Tools) was enough.

    • Steph

      There is definitely a learning curve that goes with online education if you’re not used to the many platforms one can use to communicate and share with other students. That’s why I wonder if the MOOC platform is easier traversed by those who are already tech savvy. It’s almost like those who aren’t have extra things to learn and get used to, making the course more difficult. On the upside – think of all the new platforms you’re being exposed to. You’re learning a lot about technology in general I bet!

      On that note, this is where smaller online courses are wonderful. They can introduce a student to a technical environment and there’s more personalized help in how to navigate the technology used in the course.

  • fran

    i think you are being a little harsh re the spreadsheet issue….sure people can be dumb but I would expect probems if you are trying to get 20,000…hell even a 1000 people to edit a document online at the same time. I heard one of the servers at google crashed under the load. I think the teacher will have learned some lessons about technology last week . hoho.
    I also disagree with you that moocs are for younger participants. Its ageist. Its also untrue. Im proof.

    • Steph

      Perhaps I am being harsh. I do tend to hold others up to the same expectations I hold myself up to. That’s probably unfair. And yes, my comments could be considered ageist. Don’t get me wrong. I know many older people who are tech savvy. I’m proof of that myself. But largely many people who are older don’t have the same level of tech skills as those who are just graduating high school. It’s a fact. There are always exceptions.

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