Do you prefer to learn how to make magical landscapes on canvases through peaceful and methodical swipes of the paintbrush? Or would you prefer the whimsy of two brothers in a New York studio apartment creating a Thanksgiving meal in under an hour? Both of these learning experiences are available in MOOC formats: Creative Watercolors for Beginners and Cook a Full Thanksgiving Dinner in One Hour.
Creative Watercolors provides an innovative yet polished and structured learning experience. The instructor describes each paint stroke with details such as paint to water ratios and how heavily to place the brush on the paper. Learners see a completed picture beforehand, watch the video tutorials in brief segments, and read the clear instructions in PDF format. Each video is an 8–10 minute segment separated by pauses in which students have to answer questions or solve a problem. The idea is for learners to think about what they have experienced; “the deeper their engagement, studies showed, the better their retention” (Waldrop, 2013). While the class was very organized, one may find this boring as there was little social interaction. One suggestion to enhance the learning experience and make it more relatable is to have a novice-level student in the video. The virtual classmate would bring in social aspects to the cognitive approach that dominates this video.
In contrast, the witty banter of two New York brothers cooking a Thanksgiving meal was engaging and fluid. Learners feel they are in the kitchen with friends. This informal learning “takes place in all the private and non-organized contexts of everyday life” (Bierema, Merriam, 2014, p. 17). Games invite positive failure and the opportunity to correct and experiment. The brothers demonstrated the importance of fun and games as they turned small cooking challenges into exciting opportunities. The learners watch the brothers improvise with cooking tools, for example, using a spray bottle for basting. While this class was entertaining and high on the social scale, some learners may find it difficult to absorb information due to the lack of structure. One idea for this class would be to insert some creative pauses summarizing menus and ingredients to meet the needs of structure and reflection.
Taking Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle into perspective (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p108), an individual's learning style will play into which class was more effective or attractive. The structures and the watercolor class’s reflective nature will appeal to those that steer toward reflective observation or abstract conceptualization. The cooking class will appeal to the learners that lean toward concrete experience or active experimentation. While one may prefer one of the classes, learners can learn from either. As discussed, the classes could have been improved to accommodate the learner. Let's think about another angle. What is our responsibility as a learner to enhance our own learning experience? Merriam and Bierema (2014, p108) state that "effective learners are able to engage each aspect of the model.” If you know your learning style, what responsibilities can you take? For example, the cooking class had no structure or pauses. The learner, if needing that structure, could insert breaks to aid in the learning. If the watercolor class was too dull or constrictive, the learner could spice it up by doing the class with a friend, skimming videos, and hopping around the material to allow more exploration.
Was one class more effective than the other, or is it in the eye/spirit of the learner? Watch them for yourself and see what you think!
Merriam, S. B., & Bierema, L. L. (2014). Adult Learning - Linking Theory and Practice.Jossey-Bass.
Taylor, K., & Marienau, C. (2016). Facilitating learning with the adult brain in mind: A conceptual and practical guide. Jossey-Bass.
Waldrop, M and Nature Magazine. (2013, March). Massive Open Online Courses, aka MOOCs, Transform Higher Education and Science. Scientific American, Retrieved from URL.
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