They chose an alternative: record some lectures, and put a slew of course syllabi and homework assignments online. There's nothing necessary bad about what they did, except that it was completely uninspired and non-transformative. From a school that has had such a critical role in pushing the frontiers of technology, it was a disappointment.
A research professor lecturing to a large room of students is an effective way to teach to a room full of students (well, somewhat effective, as many research professors are terrible lecturers). Is it the most effective way to convey concepts in a digital medium? Of course not. It's just a minimal effort, cost-effective approach.
I thought that was an adequate use of digital technology to enhance learning, and I learned significantly more than I did from my failed attempts at taking introductory electronics in a live lecture setting. The ability to pause, rewind, and speed up the lectures was priceless.
Have subsequent MITx and edX courses been less impressive?
The course though is rough. I have found frequent spelling and grammar problems. The English is plain broken in the recorded examples. The interactive portions don't attempt to emulate a terminal, it is just straight string matching. Plus, it is amazingly easy even if you are unfamiliar with Linux.
To contrast this Udacity has made some great interactive learning experiences. Their python based courses were very good. The only disappointing this is that they were fairly watered down.
Coursera is in the middle. Some courses are great in the content aspect. Tim Roughgarden's algorithms course comes to mind. But at the same time they are usually a rough port of the classroom material with a slight amount of interactive window dressing.
As I try to pull myself from being a crap programmer to being a good software/hardware developer I am begging for difficult content. Everyone has a bunch of lower division courses in various subject available. I want hard courses that shape my thinking as I try to solve them rather than easy courses that stroke my ego about how "smart" I am.
Also I really wish Udacity and GIT would have opened their 7000$ masters up to people that never finished university. Though I probably wouldn't attempt all the coursework quite yet, I feel shut out of that option. The whole point of pervasive online learning was to remove barriers and friction to learning. By having a arbitrary degree requirement it just takes a step back to the old system that it shouldn't have.
I agree that most MOOCs seem to be rather watered down relative to what I expect their parent university classes are like. I suspect part of this is that a lot of both problem sets/projects/etc. and outside reading tend to be removed. Some of this don't well with the MOOC format. I also suspect there's a limited appetite for MOOCs requiring many hours of "homework" every week. They do exist but they seem to be in the minority based on what I've seen.
I've completed several courses through MITx, perhaps half a dozen total through edX and many more between edX, Coursera and Udacity.
The best content was an all around better experience than anything I've experienced in my time doing online programs as a adult student at an accredited university.
The best MOOC courses I've done are highly produced and thoughtful, particularly relative to the 'Read chapters 8,9,10 and submit these exercises directly from the painfully written $147 textbook.' accredited courses which I'm paying thousands each year for.
Relative to the state of the typical community college or state university online experience edX is revolutionary.
Opting for paid certificates of completion via MOOC wherever possible, I've spent the equivalent of perhaps 1.5 university credits and gained more than the 30 I've accrued over the past year.
MOOCs as a better and cheaper alternative to the current options for non-traditional students would seem like a great thing.
Obviously, there's one big issue, the gap between being educated (what you know) and having an education (what degree you hold).
Working in tech it's easy to forget that the field is pretty unique in valuing the former on par with if not completely in lieu of the latter. The rest of the world doesn't operate that way.
As long as MOOC courses are not accredited or otherwise valued by employers they aren't terribly useful to people who need education most.
Keep in mind, this article is 2.5 years old. While there were some good MOOCs at that point, a lot of MITx material was just PDFs of syllabi, homework assignments, and lecture notes posted online.
And to this day, most MOOCs are just a one-to-one mapping of how the professors teach their live class. I think Flowers' view is that MITx had the funding and talent to completely re-think digital education, develop new tools, and raise the bar. They did not do that. What they did wasn't bad, but it wasn't transformative either.
I don't disagree with that.
I don't know if making that sort of criticism with the benefit of hindsight is entirely fair though?
I'm thinking that to 'completely re-think' anything is always going to be something of a gamble - with success depending not only on the merits of the solution but specific timing as well.
It's easy to imagine the people behind OCW and later MITx opting for a 'safe' approach as opposed to an all or nothing moonshot. Create measurable results in terms of courses online, visitors and students and iterate from there.
Also, holding up Khan Academy (2006) as what OCW could have or should have been is questionable considering what most of the web looked like 2001/02 when OCW launched. Those intervening years were a pretty big deal in web time.
> As long as MOOC courses are not accredited or otherwise valued by employers they aren't terribly useful to people who need education most.
If you watch Chris Dixon's Startup School talk, he talks about how MOOCs are meant to replace, only one of the functions a tradition College is responsible for.
I think Startups should formulate solutions (easier said than done though) to revolutionize other functions of a College as well, like: credentials, networking & collaboration with classmates, on-campus job placements.... while MOOCs could continue to be the Course Material for the education. Something like blended learning with flipped classrooms. This could potentially be a very powerful change in the Education System.
Great comment. What were the courses that you really liked?
Yes. Other things not found:
* Program structure
* Incentive for passing your courses (i.e. getting kicked out of school)
* Brand recognition associated with a diploma, to help you land a good job
* Keg parties
* Networking with classmates, alumni, and, if you're lucky, professors, to help you land a good job
For these reasons, and others, MOOCs in their current form don't pose an immediate threat to colleges.
Still, I think technology could be leveraged to make traditional programs more efficient.
For instance, university professors serve two functions: they spend most of their time and effort doing research, then they also have to deliver calculus/biology/whatever lectures to undergrads. In practice, the overlap between great researchers and great lecturers is often small. Why not supplement undergraduate education using canonical lectures from the very best speakers? I imagine some students are already doing this, by watching Khan Academy or pulling the lectures from MOOCs that feature better speakers than their professors.
Also, as tablet/e-reader screens continue to improve, digital textbooks will likely become more prevalent. There is so much room for improvement of digital textbooks by abandoning the one-to-one mapping from paper textbooks; specifically, by using multimedia more effectively and providing interactive examples. Further, adaptive or interactive problem sets would provide a rich set of data to identify where students get lost. A/B testing could identify which presentations are most effective. There's a lot to be done here.
You either have the motovation to learn or you don't, but the point of online learning is to let people figure that out themselves. We absolutely do not need some ridiculous system of gating access when we won't need it.
The fact that student are mostly casual and at least shouldn't expect any sort of meaningful certification means that it's hard to expect the sort of time commitment that I put into many of my university courses.
There aren't good mechanisms to evaluate and provide quality feedback for in-depth homework. (And peer review most certainly doesn't count.)
I have only known a few people who were at all enamored by the PhD process. Even those who had an overall positive experience speak quite poorly of most of their student-teacher relationships, which seem to range from adversarial to abusive. The best professors are heavily overworked and seem to have little time left for close student interactions. But then all of the people I've worked with who had PhDs left academia, so perhaps it is a case of selection bias.
At that same conference, another professor mentioned that she was currently advising 18 students.
But, in case of the aforementioned professor, she seemed to deplore having that many students, and it was her remark about the number of advisees that prompted the comment from the graduate school dean.
I would love to know what the people here think about MITx, edX (& other MOOC providers) and how they will affect the future of education.
A good textbook is actually quite a bit more efficient than Coursera or edX-style lecture videos. The classes on OCW are more rigorous, the prereqs are clear and it's all about the learning. There's no certificate, so the only reason to be there is to learn. Newer MOOCs, on the other hand, are often watered down. Automated graders on programming classes are great, though.
I'm not sure they are really alternatives -- most Coursera and EdX courses I've seen have accompanying textbooks or or other assigned readings as part of the syllabus; very few are lecture-only though some list some or all of the readings as optional rather than required (particularly the case with non-free textbooks, though not all courses with non-free textbooks have the readings as optional.)
Most Coursera and EdX courses seem to be structured like college classes, but with the function of classroom lecture and discussion sections replaced with online video and instant-feedback miniquizzes, and the readings still present as readings. Sure, it'll be less valuable for learning if you just do the lecture and projects, just like it would be in a traditional college class if you did that and skipped the readings.
Would you mind me contacting you for some feedback/thoughts on a product I'm working on? I think you could help me out since the product has got something to do with programming textbooks, and you prefer textbooks to MOOCs (& have tried both.)
Is the email provided on logicmason yours?
Creating a virtual marketplace for tech/business talent, much in the way the Bloomberg BAT  has created a virtual marketplace to connect individuals and firms in the finance world.
Create the marketplace and you're guaranteed both a share of the profits from market-related events (conferences, tuition fees) and an increased brand awareness. This will only work if you have a good reputation that will attract both sides of the market: the students (workers) and the firms (employers). MIT has a great reputation, therefore it can put out basically whatever content it wants, and it will profit.
Some more thoughts:
1. A $7,500/year corporate membership gets you:
"-Free postings of company events on the MITX website Events Calendar
-Free access to complete contact information of all members
-Free company listing in MITX's comprehensive searchable online membership directory..."
2. How much does it cost to record a class, create a couple of self-grading exercises, reuse old powerpoints and PDFS, and then throw the whole bundle up online, where it can be used and reused by millions of people? The cost/user is ridiculously small from MIT's standpoint. Creating in-depth, comprehensive OCW would raise costs substantially. Yes, the students would benefit, but why should MIT have vested interests in students who aren't directly enrolled in the college (besides the whole "education for the good of humanity" argument). MITx students probably won't provide any returns in the form of fame/alumni donations.
3. I don't think this will lower the "prestige once enjoyed by higher education". Going to Harvard summer camp while in high school really only signals the ability to pay for such a privilege. The institution doesn't suffer any loss of reputation and earns cash by licensing out its reputation. I believe it will be the same for MITx.
That's an interesting thought.
If MITx were to ask me, I would be inclined to donate. As it is, edX does little/nothing in the way of building a sense of belonging among students - just an occasional email promoting upcoming courses.
I expect MITx students could be a resource, however small, but they're currently completely untapped. Every course I've taken has spawned post-course social groups and lists.
This is something the course operators could easily facilitate and use to some advantage.
From the article, "We have spent about $40 million over 10 years."
(I removed the part where I got confused by MITx and MITx.org, thanks keithwinstein for clearing that up!)
(Jumpstarting discussions about broadening education, yes, but the actual impact of which was mostly releasing a bunch of course notes--no. Probably not surprising in retrospect. Was it really realistic to expect that teachers in Africa would take all this and create courses for their students?)
I suspect we're well on our way to some sort of crash of this first wave of MOOCs as well. Whether something substantial comes out of it other than a gradual petering out caused by the lack of meaningful returns and results remains to be seen.
That site is not related to MITx, the MIT MOOC offering. MITx was essentially renamed edX (after MIT partnered with Harvard) and is here: https://www.edx.org/
The MIT part (still called MITx) is here: https://www.edx.org/school/mitx
MITx does not have a "$7,500/year corporate membership," etc.
The really sad thing is that the current battle isn't just about this or that "poor" offering in the present, it is against the whole effort. Do you have an idea for a better way to run distance learning? You too are a "solutionist" and have enemies in place.
* Use multimedia effective (video, animation, sound could all be integrated effectively with the text)
* Interactive examples (see this HN-featured page about Markov models for some nice examples: http://setosa.io/blog/2014/07/26/markov-chains/index.html)
* A/B testing to determine the most effective way to teach a concept
* Mine data from interactive problem sets to see where understanding tends to break down, then iterative on the text until you teach those concept effectively
Another specific example he touches on: better video content. Consider that a lot of MITx's video content was just a recording of a professor lecturing in a monotone at a blackboard. This is the least possible effort they could have made. For a specific example of a better way to lecture online, he references Khan Academy's video. I fully agree. And he points out that not only is this approach effective, it was also inexpensive to produce.
It's achilles heel is that it doesn't tap collaboration as well as it could. The future of (elite) online-education belongs to whoever can figure out how to blend competition and collaboration over the medium's limitations.