Who’s Best Served by MOOCs?

I’m currently enrolled in my first-ever Massively Open Online Course, also known affectionately as a MOOC.  I decided to check out MOOCs a few months back because in the world of higher ed the topic has been as pervasive as Lebron James’ future team in the summer of 2010, in Cleveland.  Everybody has an opinion (via speech and funding) about how the free somewhat inexpensive courses will or won’t devastate the traditional higher ed landscape in the next few years. So I decided to try one out.

After perusing the offerings at Coursera.org, which I chose because of its ties to some of the high-caliber institutions that I always thought I was smart enough for, but didn’t have the circumstance or finances to attend, I settled on Gamification which is instructed by Kevin Werbach from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. It seemed to check all of the boxes; interesting topic that is relevant to my job, prestigious institution, and after watching the preview video I really enjoyed the instructor’s style.

We (the roster of 63,000 learners) are about 2/3 through the course and I’m proud to say that I’ve survived to make it down into the 10,000 learners who are still engaged in the course.  You see, since the MOOC is free somewhat inexpensive a lot of people stop engaging in course assignments or discussion fairly quickly.  In fact here are the most recent numbers from the instruction team:

  • Just under 63,000 students registered for the course.
  • Over 16,000 submitted Quiz 1
  • Over 12,000 submitted Quiz 2.
  • Over 10,000 students submitted Written Assignment 1

We’re now on Quiz 4 and Written Assignment 3, which I figure means that we must be below 10K.

How’s it Going?

So far, so good.  I’m really enjoying the content of the course and I’ve found it to be really flexible in terms of studying.  The instruction team tries to push use of the message boards in the course but I find that there are way too many (currently 1,750) topics and only rarely provide additional learning content. This course is a 6-week linear course, meaning that each week’s content is released on Monday morning and assignments are due the following Sunday, some MOOCs open all content at the get-go.  I like this linear approach as it keeps me from being overwhelmed and I feel like the instructor can adjust his lectures based on current events.

The Technology

Entering the course I was very excited to participate in and learn about the technology that Coursera was bringing to the table and while it’s been fairly easy-to-use, there’s nothing that’s breaking the innovation barrier.  The video lectures, which are the primary methods of instruction are fairly easy to watch and one of the nice features of the HTML5 player that is set to default is the ability to speed up time.  I usually watch the lecture at 1.5 or 1.75 times normal speed.  If I ever meet Professor Werbach I will probably have to ask him to speed it up!

However, the HTML5 player has one BIG issue.  I haven’t been able to replay a section of a lecture, the player always restarts the lecture if I fiddle with the player position slider.  The Flash player works well in this regard, but does not offer the speed adjustment of the HTML5 player, so I find myself switching back-and-forth to accomplish my goals.

I’ve chosen to participate in the Coursera Signature Track which adds a layer of validation when turning in assignments so that completion of the course can be verified if ever questioned, for a cost.  Verification is made via a webcam pic of my face each time I turn in an assignment alongside a typed honor code statement that supposedly allows Coursera to validate me via my typing patterns, however it has never indicated that my typing pattern is different even after significant effort as tricking it.

Overall, the course design and navigation is easy and straightforward.  I would be curious to see what kind of tech and assistance that they provide for the instructors. There also doesn’t seem to be a mobile app for Coursera which I would be interested in if I was a heavy commuter.

Who’s it Going to be?

Many folks who are talking about MOOCs as an alternative or supplement to higher education have now come to identify that there will likely serve specific populations of learners (for instance, curious higher ed people like me).  Interestingly enough, one of this week’s lessons in my Gamification course was on Player Types and the importance of understanding how members of each type will interact with your gamified system and I actually think that a core concept from this week can apply in projecting who will benefit from MOOCs.

In 1996 a game researcher named Richard Bartle came up with a way to organize player types of Massively Multiplayer Online Games (or MMOG, the inspiration for the MOOC acronym) into four regions of a 4 area quadrant:

Bartle's Player types

Bartle’s Player Types from Wikipedia

When I consider how these types might be used to describe students:

Achievers are those who try to accomplish all of the possible points in a class and are always on-time,

Explorers like to take different types of courses and engage with the elements of each course that are interesting to them,

Socializers enjoy class discussion and study groups, in fact they may only be able to succeed in a class via group study or projects, and

Killers (which are a controversial bunch in Bartle’s framework) are not only high achieving, but need to know that they are the best student in the class; they identify the other top students and try to beat them.

I believe that MOOCs will appeal to Explorers and Achievers the most because of the ability to engage with varied content, quickly disengage with a course, and access institutions and instructors that are not within their circumstantial grasp. Both of these types lay on the “Interested in work/content” side of the diagram, which lends itself well to a scenario where in-person contact is non-existent.

Finally, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve crossed out free multiple times in this post when referring to the financial cost of participating in my MOOC.  Because I signed up for the Signature Track I ended up paying Coursera a fee ($39.99 discounted from $79.99) to document and verify my participation and successful completion of the class.  I feel that these validation efforts will be the only way that completion of a MOOC will mean anything in the employment world, but because its a new idea it will take some time to flesh out.

Stay tuned for my next post on MOOCs after the course is over for more on the Signature Track.