MOOCs And Science Education

My nephew is a bright kid.  He likes to look for shortcuts, the smarter way of doing something.  He was at a two-year college in California taking a mandatory chemistry class because he was interested in biochemistry.

He was really frustrated by the class because of the learning  disparities of the students.  Many hadn’t prepared for the lectures and flat out didn’t know the material or do the homework.

So, he went MOOC shopping for chemistry classes and supplemented his classroom work with a free, online course that put him light years in front of his classmates.  In fact, he had practically finished the class material almost before it had even started.

That type of motivation has students signing up for science MOOCs in record numbers.  And although the completion rates are low, MOOCs are freeing up lecturers to do other research and making life easier for a rapidly changing student population with global ambitions.

The MOOC, or massive open online course movement, got a real boost at Stanford University in California in the summer of 2011.  A free course on artificial-intelligence attracted 160,000 students globally — 23,000 of whom finished.    Appetites were whet and now MOOCs are being viewed by some educators as the only way to meet global demand for higher level learning without building bricks-and-mortar campuses.

A popularly quoted stat is that one 30,000-student university campus would have to be built every week to accommodate children who will be eligible for enrollment by 2025.

Despite low completion rates, which can be attributed to students who sign up without intending to take the class, MOOCs continue to lead the vanguard in science training.  The reason for this is that MOOCs can be diced up into digestible bits of information.

Instead of subjecting students to the drone of lectures for 55 minutes, which has been proven to be a lousy way to learn and retain information, MOOC lectures are often pared down into 8 to 10 minute video clips followed by questions or problem solving to reinforce the information.  Microlearning in action.

Given that most of us have limited attention spans, MOOCs  are playing to the strength of any e-learning design—short and sweet information tidbits on a nice platter, followed by a reinforcing problem solving activity with a “well done” when the answer is right.

My nephew knew this so he signed up and cruised through his chemistry class thanks the MOOCs movement in science education.