This photo is here mainly because my friends tell me it would be a good idea to have a girl’s photo for visibility.

Why we need to think beyond video lectures?

I talk in broad strokes how MOOCs are trying to fight the shortcomings of video lectures: cost and retention deficit.

Before we continue to see what MOOCs have done right and the weapons in their arsenal, let us look at the feedback from the previous piece:

Low-cost Government Sponsored MOOCs

A respected friend mentioned the Swayam initiative by Ministry of Human Resources & Development, Government of India. This has an excellent catalog of courses on a wide variety of topics. I presume that MIT OCW’s course on Artificial Intelligence is more rigorous than the AI Course by Gujarat University on Swayam.

Swayam is not a MOOC. This is partially because it is not Massive. To give you a reference point: Coursera.org is ranked at 552 in India, while Swayam.gov.in 13,321 by popularity. It is just an online course offering, with less scale than Udemy.

The Swayam Homepage: Note how it tries retrofit learner to formal schooling levels. This is it’s USP. This is IGNOU 2.0 lovely reader!

Swayam in many ways is what IGNOU + NIOS would have looked like, had they grown up to adulthood. Instead, they went straight to old age. It is an excellent idea with poor execution. Not unlike many MHRD initiatives.

Learner is not Production-Cost Sensitive

Another friend pointed out that the learner does not care as the course is free or affordable. I agree.

But the content maker cares. If each MOOC is so expensive, it forces the focus of the MOOC Platform on high return investments. These are STEM courses and particularly Computer Science courses. Case in point: Udacity is a Computer Science only MOOC platform.

I understand that this a weak and incomplete argument. An intelligent reader will notice that I am pointing to simple old idea: there is no free lunch.

Bite-sized Videos

Dalan from Instamojo mentioned that MOOC lessons are offered in pieces. Each 10–15 minute chunk has one concept. Coursera, edX and Unacademy do this.

This tackles attention deficit. This induces binge-watching. It allows us to rewind to a particular lesson/topic. It has helped me persist when I am about to give up on a MOOC. This hack is due to the pioneering research by Barbara Oakley. She has a course on Learning How to Learn which I recommend to every self-learner.

This might fail to tackle lack of retention. It gives an incentive to the user to proceed without attempting the assignments. Coursera has tried to fix this, Udacity has not. MITx/edX attempts a fix by having higher quality and quantity in-class MCQ problems.

Why single-out MOOCs ?

Another interesting argument mentioned that I am singling out MOOCs for poor retention. I am not. I am not even singling out video lectures. I love them, and I learn from MOOCs.

I am stating that this medium too creates the illusion that you have learned a topic, when you have not. It messes up the self-assessment compass inside the learner’s head. It allows us to do well on auto-graded assignments all the time. It allows us to forget much more quickly than old school self-learning by scribbling.

Why we need to look beyond video lectures?

The entire above feedback is asking the same question: why?

Video works well. Why am I trying to fix a problem which does not exist?

As I mentioned in the first piece, there are better ways to learn than lectures. Video lectures are the Internet version of lectures. Lectures have survived the birth of Islam, two World Wars, Cold War and wireless Internet. Well, so have crocodiles.

I am not looking for something that works well. I am looking for something great. A learning approach or medium which gives me the best return on time (and mental energy) investment even 6 months later. Something which can reach data poor people.

This is why I am asking again: Can we think beyond video lectures?


Let’s meet again tomorrow. Will we? Drop your email here so that I can reach you tomorrow.


This post is part 2 of the #ImperfectionChallenge, where we ship imperfect content and products — such as this ;)

You can find the first part here: Can we think beyond video lectures?

Like what you read? Give Nirant Kasliwal a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.