Answering a Criticism of MOOCs

A recent blog written by Ian Bogogt offers a few gentle concerns about the new trend for offering “Massive Open Online Courses”. Note the added commentary from readers as well. I see a typical criticism expressed that seems to forget the “Adaptive Learning” approach that can be configured into online education. Without the adaptive part, the material offered in a MOOC does seem much like the same old story where content is shoved at a student to be absorbed sometime other than in a classroom (it’s called homework). Read the text and then come back the next day for class discussion. If the “homework” is in the form of a video it might, for a while, offer content in a fashion sufficiently novel to attract the interest of a student but after another “while” isn’t this just the same thing as studying the content in a text? I guess it is unless you add the adaptive learning part. As the student struggles with the online homework there is instant feedback that comes from the online computer delivering the goodies to be absorbed. Quick questions judge in real time how well the student is grasping the content and equally quick decisions are made by the computer regarding what the student might be having trouble understanding. Now the program branches off to offer special added help to get the student back on track. This is a key feature to the Polanyi theory of tacit knowledge where insight comes after the artful give and take between student and tutor. If a MOOC instructional design fails to offer adaptive learning as a core part of the instruction, then of course all you have is a rather elaborate system for delivering content without feedback; might as well just read a textbook.