Can we think beyond video lectures?

I talk in broad strokes about MOOC lectures and probably why there should be fewer video lectures.

Today formal education (schools and colleges) and MOOCs dominate learning methods. They both rely on lectures as primary method of information sharing.

Why is this important to me?

As someone trying to learn on his own, I think lectures (and videos too) have abysmal return on time invested for the learner. This piece is an attempt to understand if I am alone in this :)

What do MOOCs and Colleges have in common?

A lot.

Most successful MOOC platforms have come out of Top 5 (not even top 10 or 20) universities. Coursera was started by then Professors at Stanford Andrew Ng and Koller. edX is a MIT and Harvard initiative.

Auto-graded Assignments:
One of the tweaks which allowed these platforms to scale is auto graded assignments. Or in other words assignments machine graded assignments. They provide quick, reliable, and unbiased feedback. These machines don’t care if you are black, BJP bhakt, Dalit, Muslim, woman, IITian. They don’t even care if you are murderer who kills old drought hit farmers.

These modern day bazookas still have something common with 14th Century : lectures.

Talking and sleeping students in this 14th century painting by Laurentius de Voltolina as evidence that the lecture has never worked; Garbarino drew different lessons from the same image — Wikimedia

Video Lectures have found their critics for a variety of reasons. I have only two:

  1. Cost: A single high quality MOOC can cost upto $100,000 to make. Even if I overshot the cost estimate by say 10 times, it is still expensive. How the heck is a poor country like India supposed to scale vernacular learning?
  2. Recall: While academic jury is still out, anecdotal evidence has come with a clear verdict. You can’t remember and recall what you don’t use.

Lorena A. Barba put it well when she wrote this:

Now, consider this: I have a PhD in Aeronautics from Caltech — I’ve proved that I am a “good student.” Yet, without manipulating the new concepts through writing things down, making summaries, diagrams, working through examples and so on, I just forgot.

To make things worse most of the metrics around these MOOCs are around vanity metrics. These include such as time spent watching videos and cohort performance on auto-graded assignments. MITx, Harvardx and Coursera are the execution of the belief that videos are central to learning.

“Lecture videos are a central feature in the student learning experience in nearly all MOOCs,” advises the MITx Office of Digital Learning.

That is bad. Like Peter Pettigrew bad. It has courage, but no loyalty or love.

There in only one thing more dangerous than having no information. That is to have fooled ourselves into thinking that we understand an idea — when we don’t!

In the next piece, let us find out how MOOCs and formal college learning tries to overcome these limitations. Then, we will find out other alternative forms of learning for the passionate learner. Then we can think about experiments to scale those niche learning methods.

In the meantime,
Do you think I make sense?

Related Reading:

This post is part of the #ImperfectionChallenge, where we ship imperfect content and products — such as this ;)

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