MOOCs and Independent Learners – Fini

I just noticed that this wrap-up piece is actually the 200th posting of the year here at Degree of Freedom.

As much fun as round numbers can be, I should mention that while my One Year BA is finishing up, that doesn’t mean this site is going to go dark.  I’ve got some final deadlines coming on Monday and plan to take the week off of blogging, although you should expect a new podcast next Friday that will provide some perspective on what this whole project might add up to.

And with so many people subscribed to the Degree of Freedom newsletter, that too shall continue.  There are still some courses to review, after which I’m hoping to move it in a different direction that will include ongoing analysis of issues related to free learning, combined with an occasional review of courses I plan to take at a more reasonable pace next year.

Sometime in the next few weeks I may try to consolidate Degree of Freedom with some other education-related assets I’ve put together over the years, but more on that as plans begin to crystalize.

Anyway, yesterday’s piece ended with a suggestion that independent learners capable of taking advantage of the bounty of free educational material that is only going to get huger in the years to come can be made, rather than having to wait for them to be born.

I won’t pretend to understand the psychological make-up of the independent learner beyond the anecdotal information I’ve gathered over the course of a year of interviewing some of them and sharing classed with others.  But some common characteristics seem to stick out enough that I’m starting to include the in the ongoing informal education that is part of child rearing.

A past project (my Critical Voter podcast that used the 2012 Presidential Election to teach practical critical thinking skills), actually grew out of some critical thinking lessons I developed for my kids.  And my older son actually appeared as a guest on the show which you can still listen to here.

This Degree of Freedom project grew more out of curiosity regarding the whole MOOC phenomenon, but as I made my way through countless courses this year, some of the meta-lessons I was learning (such as the need to focus, read, and treat every assignment as through a professor would be grading it in front of you) were directly applicable to the study skills my wife and I have been encouraging with our two boys (one a high-schooler, one a year away from middle school).

I’m happy to say that both boys are readers, and while they will grab any moment they can to be passive consumers of volatile information from the Internet, they will just as happily spend at least an hour a day with a book and have never gravitated towards hand-held gaming devices as a substitute for reading on long drives or flights.

Since the drive to satisfy curiosity seems to be such a large component of the successful independent learner, we have also become more tolerant of Internet usage that involves discovery and learning vs. pure entertainment.  Which means we have been ready to give our sons a few extra minutes online to watch things like the Vlog Brother’s crash course videos, even as we are ready to pull the plug when they seem to be spending more time than necessary on common Facebook blather.

Family movie nights have also become a place to indulge interests, such as my older son’s recent fascination with Chinese history (which we supported by watching the incomparable Chow Yan-Fat play Confucius) and Genghis Khan (indulged through last-night’s viewing of the somewhat bloddy Mongol).

Neither boy has actually partaken much in formal online learning, although the older one did subscribe to a Udemy music theory class he hasn’t finished, and my younger boy has a Khan Academy account.  I’ve not pushed their continued involvement in independent online courses, given that they don’t seem to have an interest level in any subject (yet) that would require them to work their way through an entire online program.  That said, they have certainly been involved with my project enough to understand what these resources can bring to them when and if they ever become inspired to participate fully in a MOOC or some other form of online free learning.

Our local public school system seems pretty good at specifying what is required to do well in classes (by providing rubrics for graded assignments in advance and sharing with students and parents what factors contribute to a grade), so I’m not that worried about a slippage into corner cutting.  That said, we have gone out of our way to celebrate our boys when they demonstrate the ambition to go beyond the syllabus and put effort into doing more work than is necessary to receive a high grade on an assignment.

I guess my last suggestion (in what I know must seem like a highly informal set of recommendations) is to treat curious learners of any age with the same seriousness the teachers of my many MOOC classes have treated me over the last year.  Yes I know I am just one of thousands enrolled in one of these classes with no personal relationship with the professor (beyond the few I’ve been lucky enough to interview).  But one of the key skills of successful MOOC instructors is their ability to make every student feel like an intelligent adult, and I think the more we treat any learner in such a manner (including young ones) the more seriously they will take both the subject they are studying and themselves.

As I mentioned towards the end of that podcast linked above, parenthood might just provide a philosophical framework for understanding the world as powerful (or at least as useful) as Plato’s Forms or Peirce’s Pragmatic Maxim.  And so I am closing off this 200th post, the final one written during my Degree of Freedom One Year BA, not as a student, journalist or researcher, but as a father eager to see my children (and everyone else’s children) able to take advantage of what today’s growing educational cornucopia has to offer.

And with that, it’s time to sign off.  But not before thanking every reader, every listener, ever guest, every professor, TA, and fellow student that has joined me on this journey.  And with the economics and politics of MOOCing best left for another day, I want to thank everyone behind the organizations like edX, Coursera, Udacity, Saylor, Apple, Canvas and the rest who have made all of this possible.

To my fellow East Coasters – stay warm!  And to everyone, tune in a week from today for the next posting – a wrap up Degree of Freedom podcast.

4 Responses to MOOCs and Independent Learners – Fini

  1. John Swope January 6, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

    Really sad to see this ending! I’ve been an avid reader, and enjoyed it immensely. Best of luck on your next project.

  2. marlene January 23, 2014 at 8:13 am #

    Great article! Do you have any suggestions on how to motivate or tap into the curiosity of a ten year old son with Aspergers? I’m looking for resources.

    • DegreeofFreedom January 24, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

      Not really my specialty, although I know there are some great resources out there (I suggest you connect with a local Asperger’s association to help you sort through what’s available).

  3. Brad April 15, 2014 at 7:44 am #

    Check this out:
    I’ve recently come across this website for MOOCs and Online Education

    A Directory of free online MOOC aggregator from top universities including MIT,Harvard, Stanford..etc ,which were offering courses via
    Coursera,edx, Udacity , Open2study, NovoED & others.

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