Friday, May 30, 2014

My MOOC Experiences

Last year, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen said “15 years from now half of US universities may be in bankruptcy.”  

So, I guess half of our schools have about 14 more years to go, according to Christensen.

At least part of the reason for Clayton Christensen’s prediction is the rise of online education, including so-called “massive open online courses” or “MOOCs.”

Recently, I completed a few MOOCs, mostly because I wanted to learn about MOOCs first-hand.  I also picked subjects that interested me.

The courses I took were:

Yale – Game Theory (Ben Polak)

MIT – The Challenges of Global Poverty (Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo)

Northwestern – Law and the Entrepreneur (Esther Barron and Steve Reed)

I will share some of my thoughts on MOOCs during my normal Friday posting slot, in three installments: (1) Effective MOOCs? (2) MOOCs v. In-Person Courses, and (3) MOOCs and the Future of Higher Education.

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I believe there is a place for online education. I do not believe it supplants the need for a "live classroom" or campus experience for an undergraduate nor do I believe that a pure online environment is sufficient to "mold the minds" of those pursuing a JD, licensure and law practice. However, in certain graduate school or MOOC settings, it is my opinion that online education is incredibly beneficial.

Although certainly the undergraduate is purportedly there to immerse themselves in education, I believe that it is the “college experience” or socialization that is of most benefit. Unless a late life student, the undergraduate experience is often the first opportunity to experiment with relatively unfettered freedom, responsibility and self-discipline. All the preceding require development of certain coping skills. It is the opportunity to more fully engage with persons of dissimilar backgrounds and perspectives. This, I think, is not sufficiently afforded in a wholesale virtual environment.

The classroom experience in pursuit of a law degree is, even more, critical. The Socratic method of teaching, I believe, is critical to the development of a legal mind. To seek to “mold minds of mush” in a virtual environment without the constant give and take and cacophony of classmates seems contradictory. I distilled from my legal education that the professor was the guide, but it was up to the student to “teach themselves the law.” Some of the most beneficial learning experiences were in repartee with fellow students. I simply don’t believe the virtual environment is sufficient. The classroom, assuming applicable skills are imparted, is a training ground for practice and the courtroom.

That said, I believe delivery of post-doctoral and other specialized degrees permitting progress at the pace of the student potentially without the same overhead costs is the wave of the future. Its only shortcoming is where such education is delivered in a vacuum without benefit of student interaction.

Posted by: Tom N | May 30, 2014 8:45:44 AM

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