Are MOOCs ineffective at training? I think so.
Okay, well, if we’re going to be pedantic, I think some MOOCs are ineffective. I don’t think I can even say “most” because, well, I haven’t taken “most” MOOCs.
I should also clarify further: I’m discussing MOOCs that are professional skill topics, not the academic-for-fun courses.
But, the title pulled you in, right? Why? Do you agree with me? Did you come to argue? Are you wondering if all the time you just spent feeling guilty over not completing that one course was wasted because the course was probably ineffective anyways?
Well, let’s talk about it.
The Learning Objectives Suck
This post was inspired by these terrible learning objectives I ran across in Coursera’s Communication in the 21st Century Workplace course.
These learning objectives make me want to bash my head in. For example, let’s look at the objective “describe benefits of effective communication in the workplace.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be able to describe the benefits. I want to be able to effectively communicate with others… and that’s not even a learning objective.
If I could rewrite these learning objectives, they would be something along the lines of
“But Rachel, as long as the content is good, then why does it matter?” Because learning objectives shape the training. The original learning objectives were not action or task based, and the course suffers.
But I’m not here to bash that particular course (and truly, it’s not the worst, it could be just so much better), so let’s continue.
The Content Is Presented WeaKly
Originally, this heading said “the content is weak.” But that’s not true. The content is usually good. Great, even. But it’s presented weakly. It suffers from lots of little bits of content, lack of practice… and well, sometimes even just bad presentation skills.
Lots of Little Bits of Content
I recently finished Open2Study’s Writing for the Web course. It was a 4 week course intended for beginners. I thought I was going in to learn about writing effectively, with perhaps some sprinkling of SEO and UI.
I learned quite a bit about UI and SEO and web design and agency strategies and… the list goes on. There was a lot of great information. There was also a lot of subjects. In the end, I learned very little about a whole lot.
Lots of little bits of content seems to be a common theme, which I can understand the tendency towards. “These are free courses for beginners right? Let’s pack in as many subjects as possible about this one topic so that they get a nice rounded view of the whole thing.”
Or let’s not. Let’s instead focus on giving the learner information they can walk away with and apply immediately. Then the learner can come back and learn more, but at least they’ve started.
Where’s the Practice?
I’m going to return to the Communication in the Workplace course. You would think there would be some actual example videos of communication in the workplace, right? …right?
As a learner in that MOOC, I don’t see the discussed strategies in action, or even a glimpse of a real conversation. But the module is even called Communication in the Workplace!
Rather than just reading the content to you by way of video, MOOCs need to provide real world examples and practice to professionals. You may say that it’s difficult, but most of these instructors have friends or students that would jump at the opportunity to be in a video for Coursera. It doesn’t need to be trained actors to get a good point across.
P.S. “Writing for the Web” did have lots of examples – they did a good job there. It was just a bit overwhelming.
Just a Bad Presentation in General
I don’t feel like I need to go into this. You’ve seen bad presentations before, I’m sure. They’ve sometimes bled into MOOCs as well.
I Feel Like I’m in College Again
…and that isn’t a good thing. Most of the time I feel like I’m just being lectured at, then I answer arbitrary questions on a message board with other students, then I take a quiz that doesn’t actually ask me to practice what I know.
Much of this, I believe, stems from the university accreditation on a lot, if not most, popular MOOCs. I understand the need or want to be accredited, but universities and academics are often out of touch with the professional world. This leads to MOOCs focusing on the content first, not the learner. This is okay for academic topics, but for professional skill building concepts, focusing on just the content is just plain ineffective.
There are some upcoming accrediting systems to combat this, but they’re not here yet. For now we have to depend on universities to say whether the course passes their accrediting system.
Read: From hours to outcomes
MOOCs can be Better
Now, I’m not knocking MOOCs entirely. They have so much potential, but they’re not quite living up to it yet. They have room for improvement, and I absolutely hope they do improve. Free/inexpensive training on specific topics that you need to know in the workplace? Awesome!
But, they need to be quality to be worth even the time and effort we put into them.
So, now you talk. Tell me, am I wrong? Have I just had bad luck with MOOCs? Or is there a point that I missed?
The featured image of this post adapted from thetextureproject’s image on DeviantArt.