A couple of observations which, while not scientific, are informed by enough of the experiences I’ve been having as part of this Degree of Freedom Project to serve as the starting point for conversation about “class time” required to successfully complete a MOOC (or comparable free learning course):
- So far, the hours of lecture associated with any MOOC I’ve taken is approximately one-half to two-thirds the amount of time you would expect from a comparable class taught in a traditional brick-and-mortar institution; but
- The actual amount of time dedicated to interacting with online lecture material within a MOOC is approximately 50% more than number of hours of actual video
The first observation is simply the result of addition. For with most of the MOOC classes I’ve taken to date, the amount of lecture video released weekly falls into the 60-90 minute range. And when I think back to my original college experience (where most courses included three 50-minute or two 70-minute classes per week), it certainly seems like the amount of time online courses dedicate to lectures is smaller than what I recall from my years attending a brick-and-mortar university.
This observation seems to be confirmed when I look at the total number of hours spent in courses that are just recordings of existing class lectures (including 24 lectures for my Harvard World War II course, 26 for my Yale Philosophy of Death course and 44 in my Ohio State Life in the Universe course – with each lecture about 45-50 minutes in length).
Now this calculation needs to be tempered with a couple of additional observations, notably:
- Most MOOCs are not trying to be simple transfers of lectures to the screen, which is why they are experimenting with different formats (that includes different ways to break up material)
- There is nothing sacred about being “in class” for 140-150 minutes per week (I certainly recall college classes where the professor did not make efficient use of his or her time). And, in many cases, only a percentage of physical classroom time is dedicated to lecture (the rest taken up by things such as labs or discussion sections which are handled separate from lectures within a MOOC)
- Not all MOOCs are meant to be replacements for existing college courses. My Property and Liability class, for example, seems to be designed to provide students a brief, efficient introduction to the subject, which may explain why the demands of this course (in terms of both lecture time and assignments) is about half of what’s been asked of me in my Modernity/Post Modernity MOOC offered by the same university
But getting back to the second point I made at the beginning of this piece, why has it tended to take 90 minutes to get through 60 minutes of lecture material in many of the courses I’ve been enrolled in?
Well keep in mind that absent additional discussion opportunities with the professor (which are highly limited in a course you’re taking with tens of thousands of other students), the best way to ensure that you’ve understood what a professor just tried to teach you is to hit the stop button, take notes, rewind and make sure you’ve adequately captured (and understood) what’s just been explained.
I found myself doing this quite a bit in classes covering technical subjects, such as my Think Again course in logic and reasoning. In fact, this class taught me how critical it was to practice “close listening” with lectures since, when I first started the course (before deciding to build it into a wider project that became this blog), I treated Think Again like any of the iTunes U or Great Courses recorded lecture classes I’ve listened to over the years (which involved just downloading videos and listening to them in my car).
But when it came time to take the graded quizzes associated with that class, I did poorly enough on the first two that I decided to switch to a slower, closer listening and watching mode that included stopping, starting, repeating and careful note taking all designed to ensure that I “got” one lesson before continuing to the next. And, lo and behold, this more careful approach to lectures led to significantly higher grades on the remaining quizzes for the course.
As I mentioned in my recent posting over at the Coursera blog, it seems a trite observation to point out that you only get as much from a learning experience (like a MOOC) as you put into it. But in an environment (such as online learning) where students bear a higher level of responsibility to ensure they have absorbed what is being taught, it is vital that we independent learners commit the time needed to internalize material we’re watching or listening to before moving on.