MOOCs suck – A thorough analysis

If my generation feels prematurely old, one only needs to consider the massive amount of changes we have seen in our lives. Shit was different when I was a kid, and when I was a kid wasn’t all that long ago in the grand scheme of things. I truly think that this might be the most exhausting time to be alive. When I was a kid there was barely internet. Then at some point we all got online and a little bit later everyone and their fucking dog told us that MOOCs would be the future.

And then they fucking failed.

But recently I have not had anything to do with my life. So I signed up for one in hopes of improving my lot in life.

Which one? What did I learn. I won’t tell you because I have some fucking sense and a desire towards self preservation1.

But the point is that I took the damn course. It was truly an awful experience, and now I hope to have my say on it.

I know a lot about bad schools from my work experience. Just as soon as I transition out of the industry, I will blog about it. MOOCs fail for the same reasons most schools do. I think everyone dives into MOOCs with the same determined attitude at first, but once people catch on regarding how actually optional the work is, they quickly bow out and start following the path of least resistance. In ESL schools if you didn’t expel the bad students, you would soon find yourself with everyone behaving like the bad students. If there are no consequences, why wouldn’t you?

With MOOCs, you are very diligent initially You get all the work done, and you do so on time. And then, you start to notice some things that are off. In the first forum, you notice that the answers are a 50% mix of good and bad. The bad is not malevalent, and it is mostly just people whose grasp on English isn’t great. Then the next one comes around and you notice some people are phoning it in. The numbers overall have gone down. Halfway through the course and the comments are nonsensical. Fast forward to the end of the course and you can really see how fucked things are. Most comments are just “PARTICIPATION IS OPTIONAL”, or a copy paste of the question. The bad answers have reached a 90% saturation point. Truly, it feels like the rats have taken over the shit house.

And it is this lack of community that really damages the MOOCs. You truly see this on peer graded assignments. Again, it happens gradually, but at some point you notice that your grades seem random. One person passed you with perfect marks, and the other dinged you a few points. So you check the feedback and you notcie that they both checked boxes at random and just wrote ‘Good job’ at the bottom.

There is an honor code in place.

The content on the MOOCs can be good or bad, and that depends on the course and the instructor. I don’t think I have too many good generalities to go into here. What I can say that I have found is a good tangent of the ‘self-help book’ problem I have commented on repeatedly, wherein having a mass audience means you have to by necessity make things too broad. The extension here is that sometime the material is so basic as to bore you, and other times it is so advance as to confuse you. The middle road is never found, and never treaded. But of the two above options, mostly you will find things too basic, which again leads you to not taking things very seriously.

That’s going to be a reoccruing theme here.

MOOCs also offer a whole host of tests and quizes to make sure that you are doing well. However, you shouldn’t worry about these. Most of them are very common sense. Practically offensive. You can brute force the ones that aren’t. Hell, you can brute force most questions asked, as they give you infinte chances to answer. Most of the questions come in the form of multiple choice questions where more than one answer is selectable, and often more than one answer is correct. To get the question right, you need to select all the possible right answers. Should you not select all the right answers, it will tell you at the bottom of the screen. However, if you select an answer that should not be selected, it tells you this per question. So if you don’t know the answer, it becomes immediately clear that you should just select all the answers initially, and then when asked to correct yourself you will know which answer not to select2. The tests did have the additional difficulty of having a time lock after failing a number of times, and a random set of rotating questions. But frankly, I didn’t fail all that often. Again, easy, and mostly because they fail to walk that middle of the line.

What turns out to be most arduous about all this is just the need to keep going, month after month. Things all start to blur together after a while, and after trying to phone in an answer to a forum that you know no one will ever read, it starts to get on your nerves. You stop putting in the effort into all the assignments, as you know no one will look at those either, and that you can beat the machine at this game.

But of course, the biggest deal is the applicability. Unless you are learning something that you are practically applying as you learn, the knowledge likely won’t stick. But that is something I have already complained about elsewhere.


1 So, many years ago I knew one of those girls who turned up to the city of Rome an decided that she owned the place. In her defense, she was actually a really nice person (to me), and actually much nicer than her cohort. However, she made the mistake of blogging her sarcastic misadventures in her real name, and so after she worked her ass off to get a respectable job in Rome, her potential employer found her blog where she pretty much shat over everyone and everything. So into every post I try to bake in some distance between myself and the real world.’

2 If it helps you make sense of this, this is very similar to that old saw about ‘If you want to believe as many true things as possible, all you have to do is believe everything’.

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