Why massively open online courses?


I’d like to re-imagine education that last year has seen the invention of a new four letter word. It starts with an M. Mook massive open online courses. Many organizations are offering these online courses to students all over the world in the millions for free. Anybody who has an internet connection and the will to learn can access these great courses from excellent universities and get a credential at the end of it. Now in this discussion today I am going to focus on a different aspect of books. We are taking what we are learning and the technologies we are developing in the large and applying them in the small to create a blended model of education to really reinvent and re-imagine what we do in the classroom.

 Now our classrooms could use change. So here’s a classroom at this little three letter institute there in the northeast of America. M.I.T. and this was a classroom of 50 60 years ago and this is a classroom today. What’s changed? The seats are in color. What we do. In. Education really hasn’t changed in the past 500 years. The last big innovation in education was the printing press and the textbooks. Everything else has changed around us you know from health care to transportation everything is different. But education hasn’t changed.

 It’s ultimately real issue in terms of access. So what you see here is not a rock concert. And the person you see at the end of the stage is not Madonna. This is a classroom at the Obeid family of a local university in Nigeria. Now we’ve all heard of distance education but the students were in the back 200 feet away from the instructor. I think they’re undergoing long distance education now. I really believe that we can transform education both in quality and scale and access through technology for example that Ed X we are trying to transform education through online technologies given education has been calcified for 500 years.

 We really cannot think about reengineering it micromanaging it. We really have to completely reimagine it. It’s like going from ox carts to the airplane. Even the infrastructure has to change. Everything has to change. We need to go from lectures on the blackboard to online exercises online videos. We have to go to interactive virtual laboratories and gasification. We have to go to completely online grading and peer interaction and discussion boards. Everything really has to change. So at ADX and a number of other organizations we are applying these technologies to education through books to really increase access to education.

 And you heard of this example where when we launched our very first course and this was at M.I.T. hard Circuits and Electronics course about a year ago year and a half ago one hundred and fifty five thousand students from 162 countries and all in this course. And we had no marketing budget. Now one hundred fifty five thousand is a big number. This number is bigger than the total number of alumni of M.I.T. in its 150 year history 7200 students passed the course. And this was a hard course 7200 is also a big number.

 If I were to teach at M.I.T. to semester every year I would have to teach for 40 years before I could teach this many students know these large numbers are just one part of the story. So today I want to discuss a different aspect. The other side of mooks takes a different perspective. We’re are taking what we develop and learning the large and applied in the small to the classroom to create a blended model of learning. But before I go into that let me tell you a story when my daughter turned 13 became a teenager she stopped speaking English as she began speaking this new language.

I call it the English it’s a digital language. It’s got to sounds a grunt and its silence.


HEY DID YOU HEAR ME silence. Can you listen to me. Hmm.

So we had a real issue with communicating and we just we were just not communicating until one day I had this epiphany I texted her.

I got an instant response. I said no. That must have been by accident she must have thought you had some friend of hers are calling her texted her again. Boom another response. I said this is great. And so since then our life has changed. I text her. She responds.

It’s just been absolutely great.

So our millennial generation is built differently now. I’m older but my youthful looks might belie that but I’m not in the. I’m not in the millennial generation but our kids are really different. The millennial generation is completely comfortable with online technology. So why are we fighting it in the classroom. Let’s not fight it let’s embrace it in fact I believe in I have two fat thumbs I can’t text very well but I’m willing to bet that with evolution now our kids and the grandchildren will develop really little. Everybody comes to text much better.

 The evolution to level fix all of that stuff but to why don’t we embrace technology embrace the millennial generations in a pretty like natural predilections and really think about creating these online technologies blend them into their lives. So here’s what we can do. So rather than driving our kids into a classroom herding them out there at eight o’clock in the morning I hated going to class at eight o’clock in the morning. So why are we forcing the kids to do that. So instead what you do is you have them watch videos and do interactive exercises in the comfort of their dorm rooms in their bedroom in the dining room in the bathroom wherever the most creative then they come into the classroom for some in-person interaction.

 They can have discussions among themselves. They can solve problems together. They can work with the professor and have the professor answer their questions. In fact with Ed X when we were teaching our first course on circuits and electronics around the world this was happening unbeknownst to us to high school teachers at the Sant High School in Mongolia had flipped the classroom and they were using our video lectures and interactive exercises where they were the learners in the High School 15 year olds mind you would go and do these things in their own homes and they would come into class and as you see from this image here they would interact with each other and do some physical laboratory work.

 And the only way we discovered this was they wrote a blog and we happened to stumble upon that blog been also doing other pilots. So we did a pilot experimental blended course working with San Jose State University in California again with the circuits and electronic scores. You’ll hear that a lot that courses become are sort of like our petri dish of learning so well. So there the students who are up again. The instructors flipped the classroom blended online and in person and the results were staggering. They don’t take these results to the bank just yet just wait a little bit longer as we experiment for the summer.

 But the early results are incredible. So traditionally semester upon semester for the past several years discourse again a hard course had a failure rate of about 40 to 41 percent every semester. With this blended class late last year the failure rate fell to 9 percent. So the results can be extremely extremely good. Now before we go up too far into this I’d like to spend some time discussing some key ideas. What are some key ideas that make all of this work. One idea is active learning. The idea here is rather than have students walk into class watch lectures we replace this with what we call lessons.

 Lessons are into live sequences of videos and interactive exercises so a student might watch a five seven minute video and followed that with an interactive exercise. Think of this as the ultimate soccer desertion of education. You teach by asking questions and this is a form of learning called active learning and really promoted by a very early paper in 1972 by Greg and Lockhart where they said and discovered that learning and retention really relates strongly to the depth of mental processing. Students learn much better when they are interacting with the material. The second idea is self pacing.

 Now when I went to a lecture hall and you were like me by the fifth minute I would lose the professor. I wasn’t all that smart now would be scrambling taking notes and then I would lose the lecture for the rest of the rest of the hour instead. Wouldn’t it be nice with online technologies we offer videos and interactive engagements as students they can hit the pause button they can rewind the professor. Heck they could even mute the professor. So this form of self pacing can be very helpful to learning. The third idea that we have is instant feedback with instant feedback.

 The computer grades exercises. I mean how else you teach a hundred fifty thousand students. Your computer’s reading all the exercises. Then people all submitted homework’s and your grades come back two weeks later you’ve forgotten all about it. I don’t think I’ve still received some of the homework’s from my undergraduate days. Some are never graded to an instant feedback. Students can try to apply answers if they get it wrong they can get instant feedback. They can try it again and try again. And this really becomes much more engaging they get the instant feedback and this little green checkmark that you see here is becoming somewhat of a cult symbol at ADX the lawyers are telling us that they go to bed at night dreaming of the green checkmark.

 In fact one of our lawyers who took the circuit’s course early last year. He then went on to take a software course from Berkeley at the end of the year and this is what the learner had to say on our discussion board when he just started that course about the green checkmark Oh God have I missed you. When’s the last time you’ve seen students posting comments like this about homework.

My colleague Ed Berninger who heads up the physics department at M.I.T. know has this to say about instant feedback and he indicated that instant feedback terms teaching moments into learning outcomes the next big idea is gasification in all learners engage really well with interactive videos and so on. They would sit down and shoot alien spaceships all day long till they get it.

So we apply these gasification techniques to learning and we can build these online laboratories. How do you teach creativity how do you teach design. We can do this through online labs and use computing power to build these online labs. So as this little video shows here you can engage students much like the design with Logos. So you’re the learners are building a circuit with Lego like E’s and this can also be graded by the computer theft is pure learning. So here we use discussion forums and discussions and Facebook like interaction not as a distraction but to really help students learn.

 Let me tell you a story when we did our circuit course with the Harlem 55000 students I didn’t sleep for three nights leading up to the launch of the course. I told my teachers OK seven by 24 we’re going to be up monitoring the forum answering questions that answered questions for 100 students. How do you do that for 150000. So one night I’m sitting up there to air midnight and I think there’s this question from my student from Pakistan and he asked a question then it’s okay let me go up type up an answer I don’t type all that fast and I begin typing up the answer.

 And before I can finish. Another student from Egypt popped in with a with an answer not quite right. And fixing the answer. And before I can finish a student from the U.S. and partnering with a different answer and I sat back fascinated. Boom boom boom boom. The students were discussing and you interact with each other. And by 4:00 a.m. that night I’m totally fascinated and having this epiphany before him in the morning that discovered the right answer. And all I had to do was go and blessed. Good answer.

 So this is that this is absolutely amazing where students are learning from each other and they’re telling us that they are learning by teaching. Now this is all just not in the future. This is happening today. So we’re applying these blended learning pilots in a number of universities and high schools around the world from jingo in China to the national units in Mongolia and Mongolia to Berkeley in California all over the world. And these kinds of technologies really help the blended models can really help revolutionize education. It can also solve the practical problem of mocks the business aspect.

 We can also license these new courses to other universities. And therein lies the revenue model for books where the university the license it with the professor can use these online courses like the next generation textbook they can use as much or as little as the like. It becomes a tool in there in the teacher’s arsenal.

Finally I would like to have you dream with me for a little bit. I would like us to really re-imagine education.

We will have to move from lecture halls to spaces. We have to move from books to tablets like the Akash in India or the Raspberry Pi the 20 dollars their cash is 40 dollars. We have to move from bricks and mortar school buildings to digital dormitories but I think at the end of the day I think we will still need one lecture hall in our universities. Otherwise how else do we tell our grandchildren that you know your grandparents sat in that room in neat little rows like cornstalks and watched this professor at the end you know talk about content and you know you didn’t even have a rewind button?

 Thanks for reading this article. Please leave a comments.

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