A critical look at educational technology – are MOOCs losers?

by Grace

Arnold Kling gives his opinions on educational technology, labeling each option he reviews as either a Loser, Winner, or Magic Bullet.  His evaluations are based on his preference for a  many-to-one model.

… I believe that the future of teaching is not one-to-many. Instead, it is many-to-one. By many-to-one, I mean that one student receives personalized instruction that comes from many educators. To make that work, technology must act as an intermediary, taking the information from the educators and customizing it to fit the student’s knowledge, ability, and even his or her emotional state.


MOOCs – LOSER

Kling believe MOOCs are not working out, an opinion partly supported by the fact that over 90% of students who enroll do not finish the course.  This particular bit of data doesn’t necessarily persuade me since I think a free “Stanford” course will attract many curious people who just want to see what it’s about and who feel no urgency to complete it.  But I do like this argument – that it is misguided to believe one particular course will always find acceptance among hundreds of thousands of students scattered across the globe.

We should not be surprised that MOOCs do not benefit most of those who try them. Students differ in their cognitive abilities and learning styles. Even within a relatively homogenous school, you will see students put into separate tracks. If we do not teach the same course to students in a single high school, why would we expect one teaching style to fit all in an unsorted population of tens of thousands?

An online course that has been designed at Stanford is likely to best fit the students who are suited to that particular university. The other beneficiaries are likely to be students who have the right cognitive skills and learning style but happen to be unable to attend college in the United States.

Tablets – WINNER

Although I do not even own an iPad, I am optimistic that tablets can be winners in education. It strikes me that a tablet can replace anything students carry today in their backpacks, other than lunch. You can read your textbooks in electronic format. With the right app, you have a scientific calculator. With another app, you can have a day planner, and it is easy to imagine enhancing such an app so that teachers can access it to add assignments and reminders.

Adaptive Textbooks – MAGIC BULLET

… an electronic textbook that adjusts to the cognitive ability and learning style of the student. Adaptive textbooks will query students in order to make sure that they understand what they have been studying. They will also respond to student queries. Adaptive textbooks will implement the many-to-one teaching model.

More opinions from other writers

Not so fast on the “adaptive” power of technology –  Katherine Beals writes that there is still a signficant “feedback gap” in educational technology, so far failing to give the personalized feedback provided by a good teacher.  Kitchen Table Math

A bad review for a MOOC course  – A college math teacher finds that “Thrun was a terrible lecturer and that the Udacity Statistics 101 course was badly structured and poorly taught—nowhere near the quality of a standard community college offering of the similar courses”.  Gas station without pumps

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3 Comments to “A critical look at educational technology – are MOOCs losers?”

  1. I also find lack of written resources very limiting in learning situations, but I wonder if we’re unusual. I can be much more efficient if I can read/skim/highlight a text whereas a video can be clumsy if it’s by itself. Of course, depending on the subject a video can add a lot to a course.

    I’m sure I would be one of those students complaining about R programming. Did the course description say anything about prior knowledge of that?

  2. I agree that the lack of a real keyboard limits a tablet. Maybe that will be part of an upcoming evolution. I used to have a netbook that was a little larger than tablet-sized, and I found it very handy as far as portability.

  3. The Coursera course sounds dreadful. Let me know if you’d like to write this up as a guest post.

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