Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The True Revenge of the Nerds (Why MOOCs are great)


There's a lot of controversy over MOOCs.  If they're so great, why do we need 50k/year universities? Do you get what you pay for with MOOCs?  I have my opinion, having worked a long time with e-learning in general.

Let me tell you why MOOCs are good. Their quality of the learning materials can be superior because it pays to invest in their quality when the user-base is so large. Just like Google invests in the quality of their search-results.

I studied in a "prestigious" university and saw that quality of the learning materials could vary greatly. On some courses they were great, on some they were just undecipherable lecture-notes written by a brilliant mathematician who was a flawed communicator.

Sometimes it felt the learning materials were difficult on purpose, to discourage the less-than-genious students from picking up theoretical physics. It was a process of natural selection for students who wanted to become scientists. But more likely the materials were difficult to understand because the professor just did not have the time or skill to produce great learning-aids.

MOOC developers get a lot of feedback, since they have so many students. Like with Open Source, with enough eyeballs, defects get weeded out.

So in a great university it is (more or less) about the process of selecting the best and most motivated students. In MOOCs the process is about selecting the best learning-aids.

MOOCs is the true revenge of the nerds. Now it is the professors who need to compete for producing the best study-aids.

© 2013 Panu Viljamaa