What I learned after all those online courses

Listening to Stephen Downes discussing Massive Open Online Courses (see previous post) I felt the need to make an overview of the online courses I participated in during these last few years. Downes inspires me a lot and I fundamentally agree with the discintions he makes between connectivist MOOCs which are more community-driven and so-called xMOOCs which are more institutional.

However, this won’t stop me from participating in all kinds of online learning, whether the teaching is in a top-down institutional style or rather in a more freewheeling learner-centered style.

Here is am incomplete list of what I tried out since 2008:
– CCK08 as mentioned in the previous post. This first experience in 2008 was the most impressive one and determined my attitude toward online learning.  The course was very learner-centered but also overwhelming and completely different from traditional education.
These days I’m attending on an irregular basis ConnectedCourses which is another connectivist course.
– Awakening the Digital Imagination (2011): A Networked Faculty-Staff Development Seminar coordinated by Professor Gardner Campbell, Virginia Tech. This was a great experience, I participated as a member of a small cohort in Second Life. We used the MIT textbook The New Media Reader and read texts such as the famous “As We May Think“ by Vannevar Bush. This course was not massive but very open with a small group of highly motivated and kind people. Just learning to know these folks in itself was very enriching.

– Coursera-courses: Professor Cathy N. Davidson of Duke University recently taught History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, while being very critical about xMOOC-like features such as multiple choice questions. She also incited the students to reflect in a free way and to share their insights also outside the boundaries of the Coursera universe. I paid for a certificate. It was a way to motivate myself to complete the course – and yes I finished the course. You can read my final assignment here on MixedRealities.

Other more ‘typical’, institutional courses at Coursera I completed were Gamification by Professor Kevin Werbach of Wharton, University of Pennsylvania and a Computer Science 101 course by Professor Nick Parlante of Stanford. Stuff I looked into seriously were Buddhism and Modern Psychology by Professor Robert Wright of Princeton University and Understanding Media by Understanding Google by Professor Owen R. Youngman of Northwestern University.

On the Canvas Network I tried another approach. Various experts taught in a more classical xMOOC style about Doing Journalism with Data, but I gathered a small group of fellow journalists to have weekly discussions about the course (at my newspaper, during lunch hour). I blended online learning with meetings in the physical space (I don’t see much difference).  I guess I invested more time and effort in the course than I would have done without the meetings, but I can’t say I really completed it.

–  Introduction to computer science and programming: this is an MIT open courseware which I started in 2011 but I never got very far. Why did I fail? Maybe because I was trying to do it alone, or because I was trying out too many courses at once. The abundance of free courses of high quality makes me feel like a child in a candy store, and I underestimate systematically the real cost of these courses, which is time.

– Howard Rheingold courses: Howard is the guy who invented the notion “virtual community”, a writer about digital culture and digital literacies, an artist, a community builder and a teacher. I learned about him in Second Life – I guess it must have been in 2008 – and I participated in various courses of his Rheingold U community. The courses included Toward a Literacy of Cooperation: Introduction to Cooperation Theory, Think-Know Tools and Introduction to Mind Amplifiers. In these courses we used asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter.

The courses were neither free nor massive: about thirty people worked together and had intense interactions, culminating in a last session which was self-organized by the co-learners. I finished almost all those courses (I even took several courses more than once). The Rheingold-courses are very interesting: they are community-driven and try to emancipate the learners while at the same time Howard is being much more than ‘just a facilitator’.

– Project based learning: contributing to an actual digital artefact is a great way to learn. In yet another group facilitated and inspired by Howard Rheingold, I contributed to an online Peeragogy Handbook (Peeragogy as in how to learn peer-to-peer).

– Miscellaneous online courses: I’ve quite a history of learning how to code online. I tried Codecademy dabbling in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery and PHP. I like Codecademy, but it’s very different from the other courses I mentioned here – what seems to lack is a real sense of connection to other participants (even though there are learner forums which are very active). Treehouse is another great, video-based and interactive place to learn coding, but again not much of a community.

The more expensive and intense option was the O’Reilly School of Technology where you get feedback by a tutor (again not really community driven). Even though I’ve a good insight now in the very basics of web design, I cannot consider myself as being a web designer or developer. In order to achieve that, I would have to actively build something of my own – and I lack time and motivation to do so.

So, what did I learn?

I’m 55 now and I’ve a more than fulltime job. I also was deeply influenced by the connectivist MOOC in 2008. So what I learned was to put myself in the center as a learner and to have my own objectives, while reaching out to others who I assume have different objectives and perspectives.

Mostly my objective was to learn new concepts and ways of thinking in order to look at the world in a different way. For instance, I learned that computers and networks can amplify our brains. I discovered that people can learn a lot outside of the traditional institutions: fan communities learning Japanese in order to immerse themselves in the world of manga culture, people who learn scripting and 3D-building as ‘residents’ of virtual worlds, or youngsters learning everything about video as part of some YouTube subculture.

Often these informal ‘educations’ are far more efficient than the programs prepared and implemented by professional educators. It reminds me of Ivan Illich and his book Deschooling Society, but then again I must admit I went to college myself were I graduated in applied economics and philosophy. I still feel very grateful for that ‘institutional’ education.

 

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About rolandlegrand

I'm social media manager at Mediafin, the publisher of Belgium's leading business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. I have a special interest in the intersection of immersive media, business and philosophy.
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2 Responses to What I learned after all those online courses

  1. I enjoy your posts a lot, and you reply to a question I did not ask from the previous post 🙂
    I am late to the MOOC party, so it’s great to have an account from a participant from the most interesting earlier MOOCs…
    Would you have a MOOC to recommend for someone interested in data journalism, who has the chops on the data side?

  2. Glad you like it. In this post I talked a lot about myself, but then again I’m preparing a presentation about my MOOC-experiences. MOOCs about data journalism: I’m afraid I’m only familiar with https://www.canvas.net/courses/doing-journalism-with-data – but then again, the teachers are among the very best.

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