The knowledge buffet

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According to a recent article of The Atlantic, students treat MOOC courses like a buffet, sampling materials according to their interests and needs. So knowledge is at your finger tips. 

catbuffetIf MOOCs provide us a buffet, how do we measure its success?

In a buffet, we encourage consumers to complete the food they take. Anyone who takes the next course without finishing the last one shall be really ashamed of himself. But in the world of online education, can we enforce that rule?

We measure the success of a buffet restaurant by its traffic, not consumers’ completion rate. And a restaurant goer pays. Can we use the same metrics for a knowledge buffet restaurant? Should a knowledge customer pay? If so when does the charging point happen? At the viewing stage or at the assessment stage or social interaction stage.

With a lot of research going on about online education, I felt the research on business model shall follow as well. 

What is Education?

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M told me a definition of education during our coffee chat – Education is what is left after you forget all that is taught. I believe he touched a very deeper level of education, the part that became part of who one is eventually.

cat reading paperThat kind of education shapes who we are and is offered via a general environment. It is via our parents, our friends and families, our classmates, the museums, libraries around us. All of them influenced us so gradually that we often forget it is a process of education as well. 

Therefore saying MOOC is revolutionising our education system is a bit of an exaggeration. MOOC provides us with information and knowledge. But to be knowledgable is different from being educated. When we talk about learning and teaching, education technology, I think it is important to define which kind of education is being transmitted first. 

The next PIVOT

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For a long time, I Interpreted MOOC as (Free) Massive Open Online Course. I was taking the FREE for granted. Is that the happy ever after ending for online education?

Coursera announced a new goal to provide corporate training for companies such as MasterCard; Stanford predicts the university might turn away from offering online education for free. The Utopian view of MOOC is coming to a pivot, if not an end.

Is that a bad news? Not necessarily in my view. cat-money

MOOC, if charging student fee, is expected to run a low fee, mass student base model.

For those who really cannot afford the cost of taking MOOCs, grants and fee waves can be given, if they have shown strong motivation to complete and turn this into action. 

For most of current MOOC learners who are well educated middle class, paying a bit of the money might not be a bad idea to increase engagement and persistence to finish the course. The current no barrier to enter or exit does make people take good quality education for granted. Well, it is free, available any time, anywhere so why not study it tomorrow. With that thought, I then go on watching videos, eating ice creams. 

Having that said, I believe platforms need to figure out two key questions – who is the paying consumer and what they are paying for? The first strategic question is who pays here? individuals or companies? Then the second question follow, what value proposition exactly the payers are paying for. 

The magic book

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There is something MOOCy about how the MOOC workshop shares its conference content differently this year compared to last year. In 2013, the workshop shares its researching findings via slides and phd summaries. This year the sharing is all done via videos of live sessions recorded and uploaded on Youtube

Yes, you are right. Learning is being MOOCed. 

cat-video-729-2-620x349Which format do I prefer? It is hard to say though.

I am a fast reader therefore I read pdf relatively fast. Slides are good but many times readers are lost in what the graphs and pictures are trying to convey without actually listening to the presentation once.

Videos on Youtube work for me now but will be less so after I go back to China. I am distracted easily when listening to these videos which easily go beyond one hour. So I am finding myself checking smartphone, Facebook while the conference videos are playing. I am also not interested in the part of people acknowledging sponsors etc. For a textbook I can just flip through contents I judge less relevant. But it is hard to do in a video. I feel unsure fast forwarding as there is no way I can find out if I miss important messages or not. I am a bit frustrated that I cannot take a more active role in my learning pace.

Does text win video? Not 100%. Listening to these videos somehow makes learning a bit casual and reduce my perceived brain load. I downloaded a few on my iPad so in the future I can listen to them during commutes. A good speaker who choose talking points wisely makes me less a victim overwhelmed by information ocean, losing sight what is important. Rather he/she helps me construct an effective learning map fairly quickly.

So is video a special type of magic textbook for the future? It is at least a question worth to ask.

What does data and experiment tell?

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Together with the emergence of MOOC practices, we see an increasing number of MOOC researches. I met people who are excited about big data and controlled experiment, who believe the power of data and experiment in improving learning and teaching. 

a.aaa-cat-calculatingAt a coffee with M, he raised an extremely good point – what does all these research really tell?

I was reading MIT post doc’s work on [how video production affects student engagement] this week. The article, based on data of four courses, concludes shorter videos, informal instruction style, video with a talking head are more engaging. That is a statistic conclusion but does it mean all our courses will be shorter, with an informal speaking instructor’s head? If so, are we going to take the course with higher completion rate and use its instruction style as a standard formula for all?

I read research papers as if I were reading comic books. The difference is, with a comic book I just need remember the plot and main figure; with a research paper, many times we rely on their applications. 

Some people think learning is a pure science, data will be a great way to interpret, analyse and present it. Somehow, I believe there is more to it. 

I feel like Penny

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No kidding. My neighbour, a freshman of computer science major in Carnegie Mellon is showing me the iPhone apps he built to turn on room light and shoot a gun.

Penny-and-Sheldon-XD-the-big-bang-theory-29337534-765-544A big fan of [Big Bang Theory], I used to REALLY make sure I finished my work before 5:30 pm so I could go home to watch the Big Bang Theory TV show starting at 6 pm every day. Sitting on the couch, I watched the geeks making robots to attach each other and giggled. I thought – wow, that is really cool and imaginative.

Today after the 19 year old who showed me his apps to turn on dorm room light, I saw the real figure of Sheldon coming out alive. The ‘Sheldon’ went on trying to teach me what he is learning in college about optimisation, data visualisation, what is the difference between programming and computer science. I used to feel like nerdy, today I feel like Penny.

Look into the future

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cat captainYes, I had a lot of coffee chats recently. In one of them, S threw out a really interesting question – how does MOOC look like in ten years?

I would, however, like to re-frame the question and break it down into two parts: (1) how does the web-based, open-access education look like for university ecosystem in ten years? (2) how does the web-based, open-access education look like for professional/vocational training in ten years?

The reason I modified the question slightly is, first, I am not too sure if the M (Massive) would stay relevant in a decade. To have a video-based instruction for millions of users, Youtube or TED talk, serve the purpose. To interact with millions of peer students on the internet is a mission impossible. We have the web technology to scale up buying and selling, searching for information, but is good education scalable? I do not have an answer.

I also divorce university system and vocational training as they are of different  nature and structure. University system carries a social mission to provide education as a human right, as well as a responsibility to advance research. Corporate training, on the other hand, is driven by commercial interest, funded by the private sector, to develop, retain human capital.

Mirror mirror on the wall, tell me how the future will fall!