26 December 2014

Why I use MOOCs

I saw a Google Plus post saying ‘I hope to hear less about MOOCs in 2015’. Well, I hope to hear more. Here's why.

The author of the Google Plus post is a popular blogger, Daniel Lemire. The Google Plus post links to a blog post, in which Lemire explains why MOOC advocates don't understand what they do, and concludes that MOOCs are probably doomed. The two main arguments are:

  • MOOCs are supposed to be open, but they are in fact closed, and
  • content itself is of little value.

None of these arguments is remotely relevant to why I use MOOCs. I will first explain why and how I use MOOCs. Then I'll come back to Lemire's arguments.

For my work, I get most of the information from articles and books. I never pay myself for articles because all the prices I've seen are ridiculous. For this reason, I sympathize with the recent movement pro open access. Books, however, often provide sufficient value to justify their cost. So, I buy them.

I don't use MOOCs for work. I use MOOCs either in the morning while waking up to the smell of coffee, or in the evening while cuddling in bed. I use MOOCs to find out things for which I wouldn't otherwise have time. I use MOOCs because they have a game-like quality that keeps me addicted. What quality am I talking about? I'm talking about the quality of homeworks to come with deadlines and points. They are exactly like the small tasks that you find in games. For me, homeworks are the core of MOOCs, not lectures. In fact, I rarely look at the lectures, unless I can't do the homeworks otherwise.

In short, I play MOOCs just like I play games.

Let's get back now to Lemire's arguments.

First, suppose I agree that MOOCs are closed. So what? I only care whether I pay or not; I don't care about idealistic definitions of openness. By Lemire's own account, Facebook is closed as well. Plenty of people still use it. That's because most people are pragmatic about openness.

Second, Lemire says colleges offer something of value, but that something is not content — content is cheaply available online and from books. Instead, according to Lemire, the value of colleges resides in (a) diplomas, (b) physical meetings, and (c) an ‘experience’. (I don't know what point (c) is supposed to mean.) Here, I kind of agree. Colleges indeed do not offer content: for my work, I do indeed easily get content from Google and Amazon. And indeed physical meetings are valuable. More precisely, it is great to interact regularly with colleagues and lecturers.

But, what does this have to do with MOOCs? Oh, it must be that some people see MOOCs as an alternative to colleges. That is indeed not a very balanced alternative: colleges win hands down. But, I see MOOCs as an alternative to Candy Crush. And, here, MOOCs win hands down.

Long live the MOOCs, the best games I ever played!

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