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Can you watch a MOOC?

Have you ever watched a course as if it were a TV show? This is what's about to happen with MOOCs. It seems that you no longer take a MOOC or study a MOOC – as you would with any course – but instead, you watch it; you watch the videos and often judge the quality of the MOOC by the quality of the videos.

Recent studies have linked students' engagement to video elements including duration, structure and rhythm… Mike Sharples recently gave a talk, where he used data from FutureLearn to show that a video of over 10 minutes will make students leave the MOOC – not just turn off the video. Research by the MIT found that shorter videos are much more engaging, and that students engage differently with lecture and tutorial videos. Yishay Mor – P.A.U. Education’s Educational Design Scientist – created a "six-minute video" design pattern to put special emphasis on the issue. If a MOOC is an an audiovisual product, what would differentiate educational TV? Education writer Audrey Watters considers television a form of broadcasting educational content that could count as a MOOC. Where is the limit? Can we passively watch a MOOC like watching TV and learn? For Lorena A. Barba, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at George Washington University, “the fixation with videos in MOOCs, online courses and blended learning is worrisome”. For her – and many learning designers – MOOCs can provide a quality learning experience without videos. In fact, MOOCs are above all, a new way to activate learning. A recent study has demonstrated that abandoning traditional lecturing in favour of active learning has increased the number of students to receive a degree in science and maths. Another study has shown that students passively sitting in the classroom produces only minor changes in skin conductance – referred to as electrodermal activity (EDA) – and therefore indicates low emotion, cognition and attention. Active learning is not a trivial concept. Creating and facilitating group activities in online classes can be exceptionally effective in creating innovative learning experiences. The social dimension of learning has long been hidden by the “tyranny of contents”. Keri, a student at Duke University says that what she really enjoys about a MOOC is being able “to interact with many different students, read their opinions, and watch collaboration on problems sets or fundamental ideas. It made the class feel more interactive.” The future of MOOCs will rely on building an effective and participatory online learning community. This is one of the issues that will be addressed at the upcoming eMOOCs conference co-organized by the Université Catholique de Louvain and P.A.U. Education. It also the core of the strategy of Open Classrooms, a fascinating French startup that is introducing different types of community activities, including personal mentoring. Pierre Dubuc – Open Classrooms co-founder – links MOOCs’ success to the creation and management of cohorts to maintain social interactions.   Completion rates are usually defined as the number of completion / total number of enrollments, and are sometimes defined as the number of completion / total number of users that watched the first video. They will have to be measured against other true participation indicators, like number of interactions. Identifying and engaging active learners will be the key to MOOCs’ success. This could lead us to redefine the MOOC’s structure, by veering away from the audiovisual fascination, and managing, for instance, asynchronicity and removing time limits for the course delivery, in order to maintain registrant involvement regardless of enrollment date or giving the students the capacity to decide how the course will proceed and develop – like a new version of Dungeons & Dragons! This is the option explored by Yaacov Hecht – one of the speakers at the eMOOCS conference – and his team in Israel (Michael Shurp and Roi Ziko) with their teacher-training MOOC. The following “code of conduct” defined by Christian F. Freisleben, an Austrian journalist, encapsulates how MOOCs should depart from the “watch syndrome” and focus on cooperative learning: A MOOC is about:

  • getting to know each other
  • collaborating
  • inspiring and helping each other
  • sharing and learning from each other
  • creating new knowledge together
  • being innovative through collective action
  • bringing about unpredictable transformation and change around the world

"Change the world" – exactly what Andrew Ng from Coursera said last year at the eMOOCs conference. (He has since decided to leave the company before changing the world).