Sunday, January 12, 2014

The MOOC experience, continued

I recently completed my second massive open online course (MOOC). This time the course was User Experience for the Web offered by Open2Study. The course was self-paced.

It was completely different from my first MOOC.

The differences are attributable to three main things:
Details and observations
While the recent course was self-paced, mostly what this means is the material is already canned. You don't have to wait until the following week for the next block of videos and quizzes to be released.

This course does actually have some structure, 4 modules that could be consumed over 4 weeks. (Quite likely this course may actually have been first introduced with weekly releases.)

The course information for User Experience indicated that the material would require 2-4 hours a week. I'd say it's significantly less. (For Kierkegaard, I'd put in more time than indicated.)

(One could at this point access the Kierkegaard material and consume it at one's own pace, condensing it all into a week or so. But I doubt many people would want to do so, given the intensity of the subject and the time commitment for an 8-week course.)

Each module consisted of 8-10 topics presented in videos ranging in length from about 2 to 7 minutes. There is a 1-question quiz at the end of each video segment that reinforces a key point.

I did most of the coursework (that is, watched the videos) over my morning coffee. With the videos at about 4 minutes a pop, they're bite-sized and it's really easy to say, just one more. I did about 2 modules a week (with a break for Christmas between weeks). I can easily imagine that one might complete the entire course in 1 day.

This setup really did motivate me to keep going.

The videos show the instructor talking, and writing key points on a clear-glass whiteboard. It's all shot against a black background; he uses pink, yellow, green, and blue pens. The presentation is very clean and minimal. While it doesn't compare to the production of the Kierkegaard course videos, it is well suited to the course material.

No required reading. No essay.

Because the course is self-paced, the forum has the feel of a static archive more than of an ongoing and dynamic discussion. The discussion is filtered by module, but this wasn't obvious to me. The setup does not encourage participation.

Class stats indicate that 8,386 students have taken this course and that there are 1,316 classroom posts. (Less discussion and fewer students than Kierkegaard, but no organization. Invisible yet chaotic.)

Open2Study gives you badges for "accomplishments" (like linking a social media account). I hate this kind of thing (I wonder who likes this kind of thing). The alerts are distracting, not motivating. (The alerts are probably configurable, but I'm lazy.) (My skepty-sense is tingling: badges are less to do with motivating a user than generating soundbites that are sharable on social media for the purpose of product promotion disguised as individual accomplishment.)

The final grade is based on the module "assessments" — multiple-choice tests consisting of 5 or 10 questions. (I suspect the format may have been changed from 5 to 10 questions sometime during my enrollment, as for the first three modules, 10 questions now appear, 5 of which I have not answered.)

This course was not affiliated with any university or other learning institution (other than Open2Study itself). The instructor was a professional consultant.

Intangibles
For Kiekegaard, the course page felt like its own place, with discussions, assignments, resources all handy and centralized. I felt engaged and immersed in the course material. I felt like a student.

For User Experience (ironically) I felt very much like a consumer; the classroom is just a slight corner of the Open2Study brand.

I felt less invested in the User Experience course, partly because of the subject, but the whole of the presentation of the course contributed to my not taking it too seriously.

This was reflected in my grade, an easy 88%. A perfect score would be in easy grasp for anyone, but because of both online and real-life distractions, I didn't care enough to make it happen. Contrast this to the 92% I scored for Kierkegaard, of which I am immensely proud and I feel I worked hard for.

I don't feel that I learned anything; rather it served to consolidate what I already know from business experience, editorial instinct, and common sense. (This is still worth something.)

The User Experience course felt very lightweight. That's definitely due to a combination of factors: the subject and my attitude towards it, as well as the course design.

Summary
It's probably fair to say that you get from MOOCs what you put in to them.

I took the User Experience course because I have a mild interest in the subject as it relates to my work; it's not a deep personal interest or an academic curiosity as I felt with Kierkegaard. And I was curious to see how other types of courses in different MOOC environments operated.

Also, I think I may be somewhat addicted to MOOCs, the rush of the combination of learning, discipline, and achievement.

This week I start 2 more courses: Content Strategy for Professionals: Engaging Audiences for Your Organization and Writing for the Web. They are a little more closely related to each other in terms of subject matter (and I'm taking both because of how they're related to my work, rather than purely for personal interest), but they are on different platforms, so they should be easier to compare.

See you on the other side.
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