This article on ‘MOOC’s (massively open online courses) peaked my interest. First, because I did an undergrad paper about the possibilities of online learning. Second, a later course I took was purely online (considering the state of technology in the 90’s, quite a pain).

It’s a very well written piece, but the salient point are made in the first fifty words. The byeline, as it is, states the courses were supposed to be ‘educational communities’. And so it was in the early nineties. The sordid truth? It sucked. Not for course content – that was reasonably thought out. It was the lack of discipline of the students, the sixty percent that did not bother to do the work, or communicate with their class partners, that engendered failure. At least with an in-person class you could get your hands around the neck of the shiftless students. Online, you just sucked it up.

The purveyors of this format saw this happening, and modified courses to accommodate. Dumbing down. When in doubt, follow the money.

But MOOCs aren’t supposed to be for profit. As stated, ‘for the edification of the student’. The fact that they are trying to measure success rates on what the schools are instructing seems to be a waste of time. If there is no credit being conferred, and no monies being offered or exchanged, what’s the point?

There is a place and a need for online education. It can work, given a true carrot and stick approach. Back in the day, instructors had no stick – just a large tree to smash the student teams when one or more failed. Forcing group projects and saying the team building skills were good real-world examples, was a cop out. It just made grading easier (6 students, 1project vs. 6 separate projects? Do the cost/time analysis and follow the money).

Maybe a MOOC isn’t the way to handle it. An alternative might be to simply offer a slightly dated textbook with access to the instructor’s guide. For myself, I seek out whatever free information is out there. Sometimes I get frustrated at a pay wall (technical white papers, mostly recent), but I can find through multiple sources enough data to be conversant.