A funny thing happened as I attempted to turn from a fanatic to a leisurely learner.
My original thought was that once I was done taking eight courses every three months as part of last year’s Degree of Freedom project, I would still continue to take a couple of courses at leisure, with time now freed up to throw myself fully into each one (including participating actively in discussion – one area of MOOCs I never had enough time to do during my One Year BA).
But as January turned to February and now to March, I realized that without the framework of a faux-degree program, I’ve basically turned into an auditor on the MOOCs I’ve been continuing or signed up for. Deadlines for assignments, which I had carefully mapped on each week’s calendar in 2013, became dates I tried to keep in my head, but quickly forgot about. And thus, post “degree,” I’ve become one of those statistics of someone who signs up for a class but doesn’t earn a certificate.
At first, I thought this loss of learning momentum might just be a continuation of some of the burnout I was experiencing towards the end of last year, with commitment to course work hindered by a schedule filling up with other activities, such as getting another draft of my MOOC book to MIT Press, speaking gigs (some of which involved travel), and family obligations (including vacation). Yet an even more hectic schedule didn’t keep me from keeping track of far more courses and getting all my work done last year.
Reflecting on my own behavior, I realized I’d become an example of a lesson that was stressed in nearly every piece of writing I did over the last fourteen months; one that pointed out the need to treat MOOCs with the same level of seriousness one would treat a college course at a residential college or university.
This was the key lesson I learned after enrolling in my first MOOC, where I treated the first half like a podcast (earning mediocre grades in the process), then switching gears to treat it like a real course (which led to much higher grades during the second half of the course). With that lesson always in the back of my mind, I made sure that every course I took as part of my One Year BA was on a strict schedule, that I was taking notes during lectures, carving out reading hours, and setting aside specific and sufficient time to complete assignments to the best of my ability.
Without that framework in place, I seem to have slipped back into passive learning mode, one where I listen to lectures when I can but am not motivated to do all the work necessary to earn a certificate.
Now it needs to be stressed that I’m still learning things from the MOOCs I’m enrolled in (and thus shouldn’t be considered a generic drop out), and have even started another lecture course (quite an interesting one on reason and faith) that I listen to during my many regular kid pickups and drop-offs. And as the haze from last year fades, I’m recalling how this has been my default learning mode for years, during which educational podcasts, books on tape and iTunes U lectures were my companions on daily commutes.
But absent a formal (albeit self-imposed) structure, this passive modality has replaced the far more active learning mode I forced myself into for all of 2013. And thus I’ve become my own example of the importance of taking MOOCs seriously and treating them just as one would a course one paid thousands to take (and would be embarrassed to fail) if one wants to get the most out of what free learning has to offer.