Monday, April 29, 2013

Why people register for MOOCs (moving beyond completion rate)

People take MOOCs for many different reasons. I believe that a lot of this is getting lost in the news about MOOCs' dismal completion rates (approximately 5-15% of registrants).

What if my goal is to learn a specific thing, I complete the lesson or activity related to that topic, and then I go on my merry way, happy to have learned something new? What if I wanted to learn one new thing about a topic? I have friends and relatives who wanted to learn a few new tips and tricks from Power Searching with Google and walked away happy from the course even though they did not earn a certificate of completion.

What if my goal is to earn a certificate of completion without completing any of the course work? What if my goal is to meet someone who likes to learn about similar topics?

Phil Hill summarizes student patterns in his post at e-Literate. We have seen similar categories of students in our MOOCs.

I would love to be able to say that 95% of students met their goals in an online course instead of merely reporting that 10% of students who registered completed the course.

Implications for MOOC instructional design

  • Make it easy for students to access specific pieces of information by providing a clear outline with links to specific videos and activities.  
  • Clearly communicate the objectives and agenda of videos and activities so that students can pick and choose which ones interest them. 
  • Provide a text alternative to videos so students can skim through and/or search for information that interests them.
  • Provide alternative paths for students to follow; maybe there is a "fast track" or an "explorers track" that consist of different lessons.

Areas for future research
I think we need to better understand our students and their goals. How aware of their goals are students when they register? How do we recognize different goals as legitimate? More importantly, how do we change the design of our courses to help students meet their goals?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Time is not a valid reason for low MOOC completion rate

We asked students who completed several of our previous MOOCs (Power Searching and Advanced Power Searching with Google) why they didn't complete the course. The most frequently selected answer, nearly 70% of self-selected survey completers, was "not enough time," which was much more frequently selected than alternatives like "class was too difficult" or "problems with technology." This corresponds with what I've been reading and hearing about MOOCs (like this non-scientific article in OpenCulture).

I believe that when someone says they don't have time for something, it really means that they did not find that activity valuable enough to prioritize it over other activities. If I say I don't have time to call my grandmother, it's not because I don't have time. It's because I'd rather play a few extra rounds of Candy Crush. I prioritize tasks based on their inherent value to me. Relaxing with some casual games almost always seems more fun than writing blog posts. I don't play games while I'm at work, though, not because I don't have time, but because I prioritize getting my work done instead of risking the consequences.

Implications for MOOC instructional design

  • Communicate how long you expect students will spend in your course. (I am guilty of seriously underestimating how long it will take students to complete assignments. For Advanced Power Searching, I even said in the intro video, "We estimate that you could complete this course in three hours." We found via anecdotes that some students took ten to twelve hours to complete a single challenge.)
  • Communicate the benefits to the students early and often. What will they be expected to do differently after the course? Will they earn a certificate? If so, what's the value of the certificate?
  • Make the course as flexible as possible. If students don't want to sit through seven hours of lectures, can they jump directly to the end of course projects? Can they complete activities without watching videos? Can they choose the content that is relevant to them? 

Areas of future research
I'd like to know, when students say, "I didn't have time to complete this course," what they really meant. Did they mean, "I had more important obligations," or "I didn't see the value in completing it," or "It was a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be?"

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Google's Experiments with MOOCs at ASTD Conference

I'm excited to be presenting at the ASTD international conference in Dallas, TX in May. Phil Wagner and I will be talking about what it's like to create a MOOC from an Instructional Design perspective. We will highlight examples from our work on Google's MOOCs, including Power Searching with Google and Advanced Power Searching with Google.

Session Description

Will we see you there?

Friday, April 19, 2013

SXSWedu: Thoughts, reflections, and questions

I enjoyed attending SXSWedu this month on behalf of Google. Between spending time chatting with folks in the Google lounge and giving presentations about Course Builder, I managed to sit in on a few sessions. I left the conference with more questions than answers.

Overall thoughts, reflections, and questions

  • I thought it was highly ironic that the panelists in the Online Education session were touting the benefits of open online learning but still rely on elite schools/degrees to find their “experts.” 
  • Will employers get beyond requiring formal degrees from high-powered schools to a model where potential employees will be able to demonstrate their skills prior to being hired? 
  • MOOCs + Makers? How could we blend the two to get the best of both worlds? If you flip your classroom and provide the background knowledge via video/text, then in class you could have maker-style projects to apply the skills.
  • Who sets the common core standards? Why aren’t skills like collaboration, research, presentation, and negotiations in there? These are skills that will enable students to succeed in most businesses. Why is there such a disconnect between education and business?
  • I wanted to meet more teachers. There weren't as many as I had hoped, likely because it was in the middle of a 

Hanging out

I was one of the panelists in EdSurge’s Live from SXSWEDU Hangout on Air about the current state and future of higher education. Betsy Corcoran from EdSurge moderated the panel; there were two other folks from Noodle and 2U. She asked questions about trends, quality of online courses, equity of access to courses, and who owns student data.

MOOC Keynote

Andrew Ng (Coursera) and Anant Agarwal (EdX) spoke about the history and future of MOOCs. 
  • Why have MOOCs exploded now? 
    • Students can take courses from the best professors at the best universities along with a community that supports each other
    • Social networking + video (YouTube) + expensive college
  • “I think that what our conception of a MOOC is may turn out to be wrong.” -Andrew Ng
  • “[Working with humanities professors has been] An inspiration to learn about different types of pedagogy.” -Ng 
  • Will half of all colleges be bankrupt in 15 years? 
    • Ng: no. Espcially for weaker students, the relationship between professors and students is sacred
    • The real value in attending a top university is the interaction between students and with professors
    • Flipped classrooms will take over in the future
    • We’re shifting to a continuous-knowledge world; 4-year colleges will morph into 2, 3, 7, year colleges that we will use for the rest of our lives
  • The question of credit/accreditation: how is it evolving?
    • Students have been adding MOOC “letters of completion” to their resumes
    • Agarwal: Employers want skills, not credentials
    • Agarwal: The degree concept is starting to change
  • Why are most MOOCs semi-synchronous on a certain time frame? 
    • Cohort effect: students in the community can work on materials together
    • No deadlines: saw much lower traffic
    • Probably something in the middle will emerge
    • EdX courses leave the materials open after the course ends without certificates
  • At many universities, profs were rewarded for research, not for teaching (because research would have a bigger impact on the world). This is starting to change!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Reviving the blog

A lot has changed in the three years since I posted last. I have been heavily involved in the MOOC trend that has swept through Silicon Valley (I would say that it's more grandiose than that, but I still encounter people who haven't heard of MOOCs). It's time to publish some thoughts about my MOOC philosophy, experiences, and experiments, if only to help refine my own perspectives.

In theory, there are people who are interested in reading what I write, and I hope will comment thoughtfully.