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.

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Law at the Open University LearningSpace

These days the enquiries that come to the library from fee-earners are the really tricky ones that they can’t answer with a quick dip into Westlaw or PLC and an up to date knowledge of law and business is really helpful for library staff are to tackle these.  It’s a long while since I studied law (an HNC in legal studies at Glasgow College of Commerce in 2002) so I felt in need of a refresher, but without the time commitment or cost of a law degree.

I remembered reading something in an Open University alumini magazine about free course from the OU so went digging around on their website and found the OpenLearn LearningSpace which is crammed full of interesting looking courses, all free and online.

So far I have restricted myself to the Law section and started with “An Introduction to Law in Contemporary Scotland“; I read through this unit very quickly in a lot less than the recommended 10 hours. I don’t think I learnt anything new from this unit but it was certainly a useful reminder.  Next I looked at “Europe and the Law“; again I have studied this before but things have changed since then with new countries joining up and all the hoo ha over the Constitution.  I found this unit to be a useful refresher on the legislative procedure in the European Union and also ordered the recent developments in my mind.

My intention is to work through all the Law units which have relevance to the work my firm does. I then plan to study some of the units in the Business and Management and Computing and ICT sections which should be useful for soft skills and also some new knowledge on the financial sector.

I have asked the assistant librarian to also take a little time each week to study the relevant units and brush up her knowledge too.

And as for me, well I’m addicted to studying. I’ve had a wee break since the last time I was with the OU so who knows where this may lead ….