Doin’ MOOC Time – Learning from Mistakes

It dawned on me while taking the quiz associated with one of the latest lessons in Udacity’s Statistics class that I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what I was doing.

This concern actually began last week when I got through a similar quiz by plugging as many numbers into as many equations as I could pull from my notes, as well as leveraging suggestions from discussion comments that Udacity links to individual test questions.

At that point, rather than accept that I hadn’t really learned enough of the material needed to confidently answer the questions I was being asked (even if I could stumble my way to correct answers), I decided to press on.  For when you are juggling 6-7 classes at the same time (as I happen to be doing at this stage of my Degree of Freedom project), you feel a certain pressure to not get bogged down on any one course.

But this week’s roadblock showed me that I really hadn’t yet internalized important lessons I was being taught.  And in a course like statistics (where material builds from one lesson to the next) taught through a system like Udacity (that breaks lessons down into tiny increments with questions acting as armed guards determining whether you’re eligible to move from one lesson to the next), you will eventually come to a point where you have to confront the fact that you don’t know something and decide what you want to do about it.

Those choices turned into their own lesson regarding the time issues I’ve been discussing here all week.  For the most obvious choices were to either (1) go back to the last identifiable point where I clearly understood the material and repeat the lessons after that (despite the amount of time this would add to the project); or (2) drop a class that could potentially become a time sink.

I went with option (1) and, as it turned out, an extra day was all that was needed to get back on track.  (It was during this day that I remembered my learning style with regard to math and science subjects – a style that I can recall going all the way back to elementary school where I struggled with subtracting fractions – in which bewilderment leads to panic which leads to focused concentration on the subject which ultimately leads to comprehension).

The lessons I drew from this experience (which are applicable to any independent learner include):

  • We are ultimately responsible for our own learning, whether were using MOOCs or any other resource to power our education; which means that:
  • We need to recognize when learning is not taking place (not simply assume that going through the motions of listening to lectures and answering a few homework or quiz questions means we’ve understood what we’ve been taught); and:
  • If we don’t feel we’ve “gotten it,” we need to set aside enough time to figure out what’s gone wrong and how we can close the gap between what we have been taught and what we have actually learned

To a certain extent, this experience lays bare all of the issues regarding time I’ve been discussing throughout the week.  For how we arrange our time, how much time we allocate to one part of the learning experience vs. another, what we should be doing during the times we’ve set aside for our courses needs to all add up to genuine vs. pidgin learning being achieved.

So how should our time to arranged, allocated and spent in our online, independent classrooms?  I’ll give you some thoughts (based on what’s been working with my atypical concentrated course schedule) when this series concludes tomorrow.

Next – Staying on schedule

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5 Responses to Doin’ MOOC Time – Learning from Mistakes

  1. Maxine April 6, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    I found myself in a similar situation the other day with a quiz. Fortunately, it was only in week two so backing up and going through it again wasn’t a problem. However, it really snapped me into reality that I am the ONLY one responsible for my learning. This isn’t like going to a B&M Univ. where I can skate by now and again — as long as I pass the course I get the credit. There is no credit with a MOOC. So, the only one I’m cheating is myself. If I really want to feel proud of finishing a course than I better take the skates off!


  2. Karen April 7, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    I think this is a great point, and one that I would personally use to argue that until professors and assistants can devote the time to actually assign and grade papers, give individual feedback and instruction, foster a “classroom” type environment through the message boards by having minimum participation requirements as accredited college courses do – something I think would be a near impossibility unless enrollment was limited in a similar manner – MOOCs should not be accredited.

    That being said, I think MOOCs (in their current state) ARE invaluable for a self-motivated learner who can take that education outside of the box of accreditation and degrees and use it to better their lives and circumstances… it IS possible. I’ve done it all my life.

  3. Robert McGuire April 9, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    As a teacher, I’ve long had a pet theory that grades actually inhibit learning. As much as I know they’re necessary, I dream of a world where they aren’t. Every calorie of energy students put into worrying about their grades is energy on the wrong thing. Now with MOOCs as presently constructed — no degree at the end; education for its own sake — we have a test of that theory. It might be possible that for the population of students who are self-motivated enough to finish a MOOC despite their being no tangible reward, there is more learning going on.

    • DegreeofFreedom April 10, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

      I think you have two points here, Robert. One is whehter grades should ever be part of the types of courses I have been taking since truly self-motivated learners should be drawn to the opportunity to learn, not get a high grade at the end. The second question would be what role the things that normally contribute to a grade (like tests and other assignments) play in a class where there is no meaningful final grade at the end. As of now, while MOOCs provide people certificates of completion, these don’t have a lot of value beyond what they mean to the learner. Which means at this point, things like tests and assigned papers are an opportunity for students to put themselves to the test by doing the best job possible on any assignment, with scores being just a way of validating the work you’ve done.

      • Josh Haigh April 22, 2013 at 2:45 am #

        You say “truly self-motivated learners should be drawn to the opportunity to learn, not get a high grade at the end”.

        I agree, but…

        I like to get a high grade at the end as well. I might think I’ve learned and mastered the material, but have I really? Testing and high grade shows that I have, dependent on the quality of the test of course.

        Liking your blog!

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