MOOCs and the unmotivated

When we discuss MOOCs’ potential for scaling up public officials’ learning opportunities in developing countries, many concerns naturally arise. Will they have access to a good internet connection? Will they have a computer or tablet? These are important questions, and I look forward to learning the answers. I’m encouraged that so many people from developing countries are participating in MOOCs; enterprising faculty are even using MOOC resources within schools and universities as a means to strengthen course quality.

Folks with many years of experience teaching in face-to-face and small, facilitated online courses worry that unmotivated officials will fare poorly in MOOCs, since they have less support and structure. I share their concern to a degree. MOOCs certainly demand a higher degree of learner-directedness (and a degree of familiarity with the technology and tools). But, motivation? Do MOOCs require more motivation to learn? Will an unmotivated participant learn much in a face-to-face short course or a small, facilitated online course? I am skeptical.

Keith Devlin, a Stanford math professor, currently offering his second MOOC recently noted that a number of the students in his MOOC are frustrated that his course isn’t teaching them:

many forum posters  seem to view education as something done to them, by other people who are in control. This is completely wrong, and is the opposite of what you will find in a good university.  ”To learn” is an active verb. The focus should be creating an environment where the student can learn, wants to learn, and can obtain the support required to do so. There is no other way, and anyone who claims to do anything more than help you to learn is trying to extract money from you.

Professor Devlin’s suggests the best any course can do is to create an opportunity to learn. And, at least for mathematical concepts, no course can succeed in educating the passive, unmotivated student. I suspect this holds true for policymakers and public officials in developing countries.

 

 

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