MOOC-ing Together – Personal Experiences

Given that pace required to learn the equivalent of a liberal arts BA in just twelve months using only MOOCs and other forms of free learning, the time I’ve dedicated to learning within a community has been fairly minimal.

I’ve commented previously on the lack of reward for participating in discussion forums (although if and when I start taking classes at a normal pace, I do plan to throw myself into them more energetically).  Similarly, attempts to reach out to fellow MOOCers has been pretty light during my Freshman, Sophomore and Junior years (consisting primarily of posting my availability in forums dedicated to meet ups, only to never hear back from anyone).

But like every part of the MOOC experience, what you get out of the system is directly proportional to what you put in.  So for my Senior year, I decided to see what it would take to build some learning teams around my last “year” of classes.

The trade winds were favorable for such an approach this time around, given that I had ready communities to draw from with regard to two of my classes.  For instance, when I enrolled in Coursera’s Fall and Rise of Jerusalem class (taught by a team from the University of Tel Aviv), I put word out to the members of the temple I belong to (a pretty large one in suburban Boston) that asked people to join me in studying this fascinating and (for the temple community) relevant subject.

Similarly, HarvardX Science and Cooking allowed me to reach out to a family member (my mom, actually) who is deeply involved with the food and cooking worlds to see if any of her friends and colleagues might be interested in taking this class as a group.

Finally, a Stanford course in high tech entrepreneurship actually requires you to join a team that works on assignments together.  Which meant that everyone enrolled in the class would be forced to at least join a learning group, even if what happened after that would likely be highly variable.

So how is my experiment in team learning working out?

Well with regard to the Jerusalem class, I got one taker from my temple and also corralled a fellow stay-at-home dad in the neighborhood to take the class with me.  And so far, we’ve managed one meeting in which just two of us showed.

My Science and Cooking learning team ended up consisting of two members (me and my mom), with everyone she reached out to recruit being too busy to join up (although I just got word that one of her friends on the West Coast is taking the course and wants to participate in some way).

That entrepreneurship class is more promising, given that a resourceful participant reached out to me and others involved with educational technology enterprises and formed us into a team to explore a bringing a new (hypothetical) learning product to market. But here the problem has not been numbers but organization.  For as we enter Week 2 of our team activities, I’m still not sure if communication is primarily going on via the e-mail facility within the courses learning management system or via the Google group set up for the class.  And having spent three days in the wilderness over the holiday weekend, I’m still struggling to find out who is doing what so I can participate meaningfully in upcoming group assignments.

Now I’m just a few weeks into all three of these classes, so it’s too early to tell if my experiments in team learning will succeed and fail.  But I think it’s safe to assume that my Jerusalem and Cooking groups won’t get any larger.  And I expect I’ll have to continue to be the driving force behind getting even these small groups together on a regular basis.

And in the case of that entrepreneurship group that has critical mass, I expect we will continue to struggle with all of the issues that plague virtual teams (even ones that share things like a common employer).

Since the information provided in this final piece of my series on learning teams is purely anecdotal, I should highlight two additional anecdotes that came to me via the contact form: one from an employee at a company who has incorporated MOOCs into his team’s internal training program, another from a MOOC student who has successfully created an online learning group that decides which classes to take and then takes them together.

So take that all (and anything else you read on this blog) with the same salt grains I hope you reserve for any argument based purely on individual stories which can be illuminating, but are no substitute for enough data to form a trend (which, as far as I can tell, we currently lack with regard to determining the best means of facilitating group study via MOOCs).

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