MOOCs were started in 2012 and since then they have continuously expanded at an exponential rate. The arrival of many different MOOCs has caused the need for platforms in simplifying the process of identifying useful MOOCs for learners. The arrival of platforms such as MoocLab and CourseTalk has eased this process to a large extent. One of the features in these websites is the sharing of experiences by the learners. These first time users are not only sharing their experience about the course (reviews, difficulty levels etc) but also inspiring prospective learners to try a variety of courses. This sharing creates a unique virtual world of mentorship where learners are both mentors and mentees. MoocLab has recently started the Find a Study Buddy project to help students learn from each other and offer mutual support during the course itself.
CourseTalk is a website where learners write about their experience to help others. Today, we are going to talk to one such enthusiastic learner and reviewer ‘Greg Hamel’. Greg has been taking online course since the beginning of the MOOC revolution in 2012 and has studied and reviewed 100 courses so far.
The following interview was conducted by MoocLab member @Ankit Khandelwal .
Ankit Khandelwal has pioneered the UNESCO endorsed “Zero Cost MBA” using MOOCs with a “quest to acquire skills to become a future global manager”. With over 20 completed MOOCs to his name, Ankit is an experienced MOOC-er and is keen to hear about other people’s MOOC journeys and had a vision to take the benefits of MOOCs from the perspectives of as many people as possible.
Q: Hi! Greg, welcome to this interview series. Can you tell us more about yourself?
A: Sure. I am a freelance writer from Minneapolis MN (USA) with a BA in Economics. As you know, I am an avid MOOC-taker and MOOC review writer. I’m the top course reviewer on Coursetalk.com. I recently posted my 100th course review!
Q: How did learn about MOOCs?
A: I took my first online course (MIT 6.00) in 2011 through MIT’s OpenCourseWare platform to learn about computer programming. Soon after I completed that course, interactive platforms like Coursera, Udacity or edX started popping up so I signed up for more courses and I’ve been taking MOOCs ever since.
Q: How did you adapt to the different style of learning offered by MOOCs?
A: Traditional education is very passive in nature. In a traditional setting, we are forced to adapt ourselves to learn from long lectures and note-taking. I prefer experiential, hands-on learning, so taking MOOCs did not feel like an adaptation so much as an outlet for my natural mode of learning.
Q: What were your favorite courses and why?
A: Intro to Theoretical Computer Science (Udacity) – For the topic
Introduction to Mathematical Thinking (Cousera) – For the professor
The Analytics Edge (edX) – For the practicality
CS188.1x Artificial Intelligence (edX) – For the programming assignments
Introduction to Probability - The Science of Uncertainty (edX) – For the depth and breadth of coverage
Q: Do you have any advice for prospective MOOC students?
A: If you take a self-paced course, break your study out across several days or weeks. If you get stuck, look for help in the forums, wait a day or two and try again. Using a flash card program like Anki to save and review key ideas can be helpful.
Q: How has taking MOOCs helped you?
A: The more I learn, the more I become aware of how much I don’t know. I find myself more willing to say “I don’t know.” If you are afraid to admit you don’t know something, you’ll never learn.
On the less philosophical side, I’ve picked up many new skills like python and R programming, data analysis and predictive modeling.
Q: Are MOOCs for everyone? What kind of qualities must a person possess before taking MOOCs?
A: MOOCs require curiosity and motivation to learn. If you have those qualities, you can succeed.
Q: What kind of improvements can be made to MOOCs in your view, to make them more effective?
A: I prefer courses with hands-on learning like interactive programming assignments. My ideal MOOC would strike a balance between succinct video lectures, short interactive exercises between lecture segments and longer, weekly homework assignments. Udacity has the right idea, although I find session-based courses to be better than self-paced ones.
Q: You are an extensive user of CourseTalk (MOOC review website). Can you tell us how reviews helped you in building the right impression about any course before actually taking it?
A: To be honest, I don’t read many course reviews. I tend to take new courses right away; I’m often the first person to post reviews on the courses I take.
Q: Why do you write course reviews on websites like CourseTalk?
A: I find reflecting on a course after completing it by writing a review aids learning. I also like to help other MOOC students enter courses with the right expectations.
Q: If you had to design a MOOC, what would it be?
A: Maybe be a MOOC about MOOCs. A meta-MOOC.
Q: Where is more innovation needed in MOOCs?
A: The biggest need for innovation in the MOOC industry is in finding sustainable business models. The big 3 MOOC companies (Coursera, Udacity and edX) all launched around 2012 offering nothing but free courses. Offering purely free content forever is not sustainable and recently we have seen a major push by these MOOC providers to monetize by offering paid certificates, specializations and the like. Providers need to find a balance between offering the quality, accessible learning material that attracted people to MOOCs in the first place and generating revenue.
I think we can expect to see content continue to shift away from liberal arts to professional education and practical tech skills, because at the end of the day, people are only going to pay for online education that enhances employment opportunities. I hope that the big MOOC providers maintain a free audit option for most of their courses, but I expect some premium content, if not the majority of content, to move behind paywalls eventually.
Unfortunately, in the current state of higher education, credentials trump learning. You can learn almost anything by taking MOOCs, but without a recognized credential to put on a resume, it’s hard to get a foot in the door. Conversely, you can go to college, learn little and get your foot in the door. The biggest hurdle for MOOC providers is convincing employers and students that their credentials mean something.
Q: Do you have any suggestions to modify the assessment methodology currently adopted in MOOCs?
A: Assessments don’t concern me too much as my goal is learning. Multiple-choice quizzes and exams are boring and of limited value for most classes. They are popular because they are easy to create and grade. Ideally, grades would depend, primarily, upon completing hands-on exercises and assignments.
Q: Which MOOCs are you currently taking or planning to take?
A: I am not currently taking any MOOCs. I recently finished going through the Coursera data mining track. Coursera is launching a bunch of new specializations around the middle of September; I have my eye on the machine learning and big data specializations in particular, but I’ll sample any that interest me. I’m also signed up for Statistics for Business II which starts in October on edX.
Learn more about Greg on his LinkedIn Profile
Discover other life-changing experiences of learning with MOOCs