Class Warfare Blog

December 11, 2013

Will We Ever Learn . . .

I have written before about Massive Open Online Courses having been touted as a major innovation in how we educate college students. I argued that there is a long history of such innovations and they have all failed. I argued, and continue to argue, that education is a social activity and any barrier put between the human beings involved will diminish success. I do not mean that under extraordinary circumstances, a few students can’t succeed fabulously using some form of distance learning, just that such things make the process much harder for the bulk of students.

Consider the following from today’s New York Times:
A study of a million users of massive open online courses, known as MOOCs, released this month by the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education found that, on average, only about half of those who registered for a course ever viewed a lecture, and only about 4 percent completed the courses.

Four percent! Wow, what a success rate! Now consider what students and other adults do with “social media.” There is frantic activity to share what the participants are doing socially. Huge amounts of time and effort are spent sharing social activities, but not face-to-face. How effective do you think those actions are in improving the social lives of the participants? Do you think those efforts are worthwhile or closer to what I call a GWOT or a Giant Waste of Time?

So, my question is, why take an intense social activity like education and insert the same barriers to success that social media do?



  1. We’ve had some success with DL courses in my department, where they replace large lecture sections. The students are forced to engage with the material more intensively and regularly through quizzes and writing assignments (which replace the old practice of 3 essay/short answer exams). They don’t engage with each other that much, but neither do they in a course of 200. There is a negative in that those who can’t get organized and meet deadlines drop or fail at a higher rate than f2f students. But it’s typically 10-20%, not 96%.
    In the cases where we’ve been able to incorporate “social media” type features into the courses (such as “liking” what another student writes), the response has been quite positive.
    For almost any other type of course, however, the advantages of face to face are clear.


    Comment by linnetmoss — December 11, 2013 @ 9:42 am | Reply

    • There have been successes but we don’t seem to learn from them very well (which is embarrassing for our profession). But so many innovations were never supported well or correctly or were followed through upon as there is massive inertia in the system. I remember a well-funded project I undertook with two colleagues involving three colleges to create a self-paced chemistry course. Our primary conclusion was that self-paced was the equivalent of “slow.” The people who pulled this exercise off rode their students like horses (not to the detriment of their reputations with the students, by the way) but there was a clear whip hand being employed. This, of course, is heavily depended upon the teacher involved having the personality traits to pull this off.


      Comment by stephenpruis — December 11, 2013 @ 11:08 am | Reply

      • Yes, our experience shows that students will do the absolute minimum required, but they also scorn the online courses that fail to challenge them (and the latter constitute the majority, unfortunately).


        Comment by linnetmoss — December 11, 2013 @ 12:26 pm | Reply

  2. Hell, i can’t even read a book on my computer screen, let alone contemplate doing a full degree.

    4% is pretty dismal.


    Comment by john zande — December 11, 2013 @ 10:05 am | Reply

    • The problem always has been that there are no cues to encourage participation (penalties for being late to class or missing class being examples). So people just drift off as there is no regular commitment. If they required people to log in every day, they might have better success but I am not sure even then.

      I am reading the book from the Acts Seminar and a lot of things are coming together in my mind. Questions like why was there such a long wait for the gospels to be written? Why was Paul’s teaching so disconnected from the anothers? Why is there so much evidence of multiple authorship of these documents (if they are divinely inspired) which aren’t answered by redactions?

      If I write about this stuff for EOA it might go several posts and the connection with atheism is only oblique, so do you think EOA is the right venue? (I know the header has topics like god and religion but I don’t want to bigmouth my way to a bad reputation.)



      Comment by stephenpruis — December 11, 2013 @ 11:03 am | Reply

      • Sure, it’s perfect for it! I read Vridar’s brief summary, but i’d like to learn more.


        Comment by john zande — December 11, 2013 @ 11:17 am | Reply

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