Some thoughts on MOOCs

Late in 2013 I made a foray into the world of the MOOC, specifically on the FutureLearn platform. My main purpose was personal interest in the content of the courses themselves but through the process I’ve had a few thoughts about the format itself.

My first attempt at a MOOC was a two week course on Fairness and Nature, unfortunately it coincided with a fortnight when I was very busy at work and socially and I failed to find time even for the 4 hours a week it requires. And with such a short course there was no time to catch up, the inevitable happened and I gave up after only a couple of days. Thankfully it is running again in March so I have signed up to try again.

Next I tried Web science: how the web is changing the world and was much more successful with this one.  I found the subject interesting so I was keen to keep going with it, it also wasn’t pitched at too difficult a level and not too many new topics to scare me off! The topics in this course were information professional relevant so I was able to count them as CPD for my Chartership revalidation, that helped a lot with motivation to do it at work lunch breaks.  I also found that with a 6 week course getting behind matters less as there is opportunity to catch up before the course is over.  I managed to complete this MOOC in the Christmas holidays, only a few days late, and was pleased to score quite highly on the test so I must have understood and remembered the content.

I tried a third FutureLearn MOOC, Sustainability, Society and You in January and again failed to complete!  This course required more engagement with blogging suggested along with participation on the FutureLearn platform, I found that I just didn’t have time for the work required.

More generally what do I think of MOOCs?  Starting with the FutureLearn platform itself, I really appreciate that there are transcripts of the videos. I read fast so this allows me to squeeze the course into lunchbreaks and rare free evenings. I also learn better from reading than from listening, transcripts cater for different types of learners.  I haven’t tried the other MOOC platforms to make a comparison but FutureLearn is pretty user friendly and I like it.

I believe that the reason I keep failing with MOOCs is lack of personal investment, chiefly they are free (I understand that they are free to widen access to education but this can also be a drawback) but also I don’t know the tutors or other students and I have no connection to the university. It’s just to easy to give up when life gets in the way.

I have tried distance learning before with the Open University and found this much more successful and I completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Social Science in 2008.  Making a considerable financial investment was a huge incentive not to waste that money and actually finish the course and gain a qualification.  The structure of tutorials and marked assessments kept me on track timewise and tutor support also helped when the going got tough.

I don’t know enough about the higher education sector to comment on the future of MOOCs and how disruptive they will be to the sector but for me they don’t work very well, I’d rather just read a book on a subject I am interested in.