Are MOOCs For You?
By Leadership Learning Group 4
Ever think about continuing your education? Maybe you have, but the idea of possibly taking on any more school loan debt is too much to bear. Enter MOOCs. MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses are free online courses available for anyone to enroll. These courses are a great way to learn new skills, increase your knowledge, and get quality educational experiences.
To get an idea of the format, content, and effectiveness of MOOCs we asked four graduate students to try out two different courses and give us their thoughts. Read below for Kelly, Dominique, Amman, and Meghan’s thoughts on “The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact on Pop Culture” from the Smithsonian and “Leaders in Learning” from Harvard.
I love the idea of this MOOC course. I think it's important to understand and learn how pop culture influences our society. When looking through the course, I liked how they designed the layout. Each section was called “Issues”, which I thought was great in keeping with the comic book theme. The course was easy to follow, meaning in each Issue, there are activities, homework prompts, discussion posts and a checklist at the end to see what you have completed. The checklist at the end of each Issue, to me, was extremely helpful. This course used different Google platforms making it easier for people around the world to stay in contact with each other. I like using Google platforms for group projects, so this was very helpful and easy for me to follow. Throughout the course there are videos with transcripts next to them. I enjoyed this feature. Sometimes when I am watching something, I like to put on the subtitles incase I missed something they said. So I thought this was a great added bonus and smart for them to engage different learning styles. Since I have an Imagining Learning Style, I like to reflect on different ideas and experiences. The discussion posts in this course made it easy for me to reflect and engage in meaningful conversations with the others in the course. I like bouncing ideas off of people and hearing their point of view. Since I like to engage with others in order for me to learn, learner engagement is very important in any course. All of the examples and activities that were provided throughout this MOOC course were engaging. I had the opportunity to create my own superhero, analyze the influence of a chosen superhero and participate in discussion posts. The discussion posts had many posts and replies, showing that others were eager to learn.
I think this MOOC course had an Constructivism learning approach. This course gave individuals the opportunity to build a personal experience and be social during the learning process. There was an opportunity for collaborative work and being able to work in groups. The constructivism is a student learning based approach, which is something that I also like learning from. Overall, I thought that this course was very engaging and easy to follow. This course was fun and the developers/teachers thought outside the box to keep their learners engaged.
Leaders in Learning
To me this MOOC course was more in-depth. It gave me and other learners the opportunity to define their own personal learning theory, what leadership in different learning environments look like, how the structure of organizations reflects theories of learning and how much more. At the beginning of this course, there was an survey to gage how important learning and this course was to each individual learner. I thought this was interesting and a good idea for the teacher to see what each person wants to get out of the course before they even start. Like the other course, this one was broken up into sections outlining what I would be learning during each. This course offered explanatory videos featuring the professor of the course. There are more readings and key concepts in this course as well. It was easy to follow but did not seem as student based learning as the other MOOC course. This course also involved quizzes to check our understanding and to see if we are actually learning the material. It also showed the grading scale and how different activities, quizzes and participation would be graded. I found out that I learn better when something is of interest for me and to other members that I could learn with. I like communal learning when there is shared values and interests. When I learn something I like to teach others and let them know what I have learned, which is also a way that I study.
There were many different examples of learning theories throughout the course. To me, this was more a teacher based learning environment. There were some points where I was able to share my ideas about what I have learned with some discussions, but I enjoyed the other course better. It was harder to gage the amount of learner engagement with this course. I did enjoy learning from this course, and I liked how easy it was to follow.
My experience taking the courses “The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture” and “Leaders of Learning” was something similar to what I was used to when I took classes online in my previous degree program. In each course there was a plethora of content to provide you with the information you needed to complete the course and learn a lot. Throughout navigating through the course I noticed that there was a mixture of text documents and videos which help with my specific learning style and how I retain information. The Rise of Superheroes course had a lot more written content than Leaders of Learning did. Leaders of Learning was all videos which was more interesting to me than reading a bunch of content that doesn’t really paint a good picture.
The impact of the course design was different for each course. I was not really interested in comics and superheroes, so doing a lot of reading wasn’t too interesting to me. I am an observer and a listener so watching videos and documentaries to learn about the history of a subject intrigues me a little bit more. Leaders of Learning was a topic I am interested in and is more relevant to my education so I was more willing to digest the information. Also, with the course providing a lot of video content I was able to learn in the style format that I prefer. My learning style is visual so that spoke to the way I retain information better and it allows me to show more interest that way.
I noticed some adult learning theories like: self-directed learning which was the ability to learn at your own pace. The course was available 24/7 and you could take it at once or 1 hour per day which was the recommendation. Leaders of Learning course incorporated the transformational learning theory which incorporates psychological, convictional, and behavioral prospective that allows the reader to self-reflect. The learner engagement was more effective in Leaders of Learning because I was more motivated and benefit the progress of my education. Overall, these courses can effective for adult learners who are disciplined and who are interested in the course material itself. I enjoyed having the opportunity to learn in this format and all the information it provides in the content.
The Rise of Superheroes was a very thought-provoking course to have viewed. Reasons being, I was never intrigued by anything pertaining to superheroes and really never really thought too deep into their characters and the affect it had on people of many ages. Leaders of Learning were similar to The Rise of Superheroes as it was also a thought-provoking course. Both of which, I’ve never had to do before or anything similar. Both courses provided a vast amount of information to support it. They were both also designed in a way to grab your attention, and possibly keep it. The courses offered quizzes, surveys, videos, and text which for me were great because it spoke to my learning style and how I grasp things.
My learning style is concrete experience. With that said I learn easily by being present and interested in the topic. I also retain the information better if there’s an interest. The Rise of Superheroes had me in the beginning with the background on how superheroes derived, and then it became boring to me. I don’t truly think that I’ve learned something if I cannot remember what I read or viewed. What I observed was that those that participated in the videos were authentic and passionate about the topics. Specifically, Leaders of Learning spoke a little more to me because of the real shared experiences that were provided which were more relatable and transparent.
The courses are available to take at any time during the day which of course, is very support for adult learners and hectic schedules. I saw adult learning theories such as transformative learning which is dramatic change, fundamental change in the way we see ourselves and the world in which we live; and Experience and Learning which is learning from experience. I think we can all agree that we learn from experience. However, it also depends on how the experience affects you and your learning. The learner engagement was more effective in Leaders of Learning than The Rise of Superheroes. However, I think it depends on the learner’s interest of the topic being offered. The effectiveness of the course and course design was so-so for The Rise of Superheroes it had too much text to read. I think that the Leaders of Learning was more effective because it spoke directly to the learner with the videos. Overall, I enjoyed the experience due to the requirement to really think about what was being viewed and the messaged being conveyed.
What a fun idea for a course! This was my first experience with a MOOC. Although it did feel like it took a little bit to get to the actual course content, I liked the format of the class. There were short videos, text, discussion boards, narratives, homework which leads into a final project, checklists, and additional/recommended readings. My favorite part of the course is that you are given the option to choose a track of study: Historical Analysis or Creative Analysis (or both!). I chose the Creative Analysis track which, through the homework assignments over the course of the class, has you create your own superhero - very cool! The goal of this course is to learn about the history of comic books and their link to and influence by society at any given point in time.
There was a good balance between the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles in this course. I can see how this makes sense from the perspective of the course creator, but as a learner this could lead to engagement with certain parts of the course and a glossing over of other parts. This is, to an extent, self-directed learning, so I suppose each student/learner will get out of the course what they want or will.
For me, personally, this course was only OK. The format of the information didn’t always appeal to my reflective observation/abstract conceptualization learning styles. The course would present some ideas or concepts, but then leave it to the learner to do the extra reading or apply the idea/concept to real examples on their own. I much more prefer to have the idea or concept laid out in its entirety as well as the practical application, and then I can absorb, reflect, and analyze what I am seeing and hearing. There seemed to more emphasis placed on kinesthetic learning with a project-based approach, which doesn’t always appeal to me, personally. But, I can see how this course would work really well for learners with concrete experience and active experimentation learning styles.
Leaders in Learning
I actually liked this course so much that I am considering continuing on and fully completing the course. The majority of the course content is presented in short videos, with links to additional/supplemental material. There are short “quizzes” at the end of each section with a self-reflection short writing prompt. This course also included a learning mode assessment (I’m a sucker for assessments!). The goal of the course is to help the learner develop their own theory of learning and determine how they would like to engage in leading other learners.
This course relies on the learner to set their own pace and maintain motivation. The short quizzes and self-reflection writing prompts help track progress, so it is not totally up to the learner. To fully complete the course, the learner is required to watch all videos, take all assessments, pass the quizzes, and complete the self-reflection prompts. The course creators make it very clear what is expected of the learner. Most of the course, that I experienced, catered to visual and auditory learning styles. Most of the content is delivered in short videos. The visual and auditory approaches are tempered with the self-reflection writing prompts which gives the learner the opportunity to apply the ideas/concepts to their own life and situation, and evaluate their own learning to a certain extent. Given the clear expectations laid out at the beginning of course, I think it would be easy for a learner to decide if this course will work for them or not, which could help ensure only those who are really committed and engage in this type of learning will stick with the course.
I really liked this course. It worked especially well for my reflective observation/abstract conceptualization learning styles. The course did a really great job of presenting ideas and concepts and then demonstrating them with real life examples. The self-reflection writing prompts allowed me to reflect on and analyze the content and how it can or does relate to my circumstances. I felt really engaged throughout the course, especially while watching the videos that demonstrated the practical application of the concepts. Despite this course working particularly well for me, I can understand how some other learning styles, like active experimentation, might struggle to stay engaged with the material in the way that is it presented.
Due to the shared platform, both MOOCs felt very similar. However, there were many key differences. The Superhero course had much more kinesthetic learning than the Leaders in Learning course. This would be a good fit for someone with a dominate active experimentation learning style. The Leaders in Learning course would appeal more to someone with a dominate reflective observation learning style.
As I suspect most MOOCs are designed, these courses heavily relied on the learner to set their own pace, maintain motivation, track their own progress, and invest as much time or energy as they desire. This drove home the fact that, as the learner, you need to be very committed to this type of learning. I suspect this would be difficult for learners who require a certain level of external accountability to maintain commitment and engagement.
Both courses demonstrated links to self-directed learning and transformational learning theories. Despite being self-paced, the tracking of progress was a little different for each. Superheroes allowed the learner to track and report on their own progress, while Leaders in Learning had more tracking built into the course in the form of quizzes and writing prompts that require responses before moving on to more content. Superheroes seemed to embrace the experiential learning theory in that they built in assignments that created direct experience for the learner with hands-on learning.
The nature of the Superheroes course suggests a constructivist orientation to learning. The course creators designed the content and homework so that the learner can build knowledge and construct their own meanings through examining the history presented as well as through experimentation. The Leaders in Learning course seems to take on multiple learning orientations including humanist, cognitivist, social cognitive, and constructivist. The course creators explicitly state that they want to help the learner understand ways we learn, the ways we teach, the ways we think about learning and leadership, develop their own theory of learning, and explore how it fits into the shifting landscape of learning.
Overall, I would definitely recommend MOOCs as an adult learning tool. There are so many options that I would encourage the learner to test out multiple courses to find the format that works best for their personal learning styles.
If one thing is clear after having four graduate students weigh in on this channel for learning, it is that the value of each course is in the eye of the learner. Just as we all have different tastes in music, movies, desserts, or fashion, everyone is unique in the way they learn best. So, although every MOOC might not fit with your personal learning style, if you find something you are passionate about and committed to, there’s a good chance you can make any number of these MOOCs work for you. There are so many options and additional courses are constantly being developed, that if one course doesn’t work for you, chances are there are dozens more that will! Happy learning!