MOOCs and Intependant Learners – 1

Happy New Year all!

With this project winding towards the finish line, I’d like to spend the next few days talking not about the people who made the MOOCs but those of us who take them.

As I have pointed out a number of times, I began this project as a cautious optimist over what massive online learning can do to open up the academy to more people.  And given what I’ve been able to learn over the last year using not just MOOCs but all manner of free learning resources, it seems as though we are only at the beginning of a period when high-quality educational material will be increasingly free for all (or, at least those of us lucky enough to have a steady Internet connection).

There will no doubt be further ups and downs for the MOOC project, and it is far from a sure that MOOCs will still be around (at least in their present form) 3-4 years from now.  But even with the roller coaster ride they have been on since smashing through the gates a couple of years ago, they have provided educational opportunities to millions – demonstrating that huge numbers of people across the globe are hungry to study what universities are eager to teach.

But, as has been noted so many times, the number of people who have completed MOOC courses is in the thousands, rather than the millions.  And while this is still a significant number (and needs to be supplemented by an unknown but larger number of people who learned something from a MOOC, even if they did not complete all the requirements needed to obtain a certificate), there is clearly something separating those who have gotten the most from these free learning resources from those who just got a little from them (or the millions upon millions of people who have gotten their education somewhere else).

I would like to make the case that there exists something called the Independent Learner, a person possessing a certain mindset that allows them to succeed in learning situations that do not require the type of supervision and oversight one gets in most formalized educational situations.

I’ve touched on this subject previously in articles written on autodidactism and possible means of determining an “autodidact score,” and I would like to dwell on the subject a bit further over the next couple of days to see if we might be better off trying to create more independent leaners, rather than just create more courses and hoping that independent learners will emerge spontaneously to take advantage of the opportunities free learning provide.


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