What should I expect from a typical MOOC course?

I should expect to access a carefully organized content, but I shouldn’t expect to become an expert in the field.

In a typical MOOC course, there is a schedule (syllabus), video lectures with subtitles, a board for discussions, a folder with readings and assignments. Weekly videos are meticulously chunked into smaller pieces (usually from 4 to 19 minutes). Depending on the course, overall there is some 1.5 hrs per week of video content-filled lectures. A course can be up to 12 weeks long. Perfect, isn’t it? It actually is. I think of it this way: A professor filtered through zillion of books and academic articles to provide the gist of what should be known to students. It’s a fantastic job. Because the material is chunked, you can watch the minilectures at your own pace throughout the week, without forcing yourself to watch everything in one sitting. This is why I love courses on MOOCs, especially the introductory ones. They simply explain everything in the most general yet clear language so that you can take it you from the course and explore on your own.

The downside to it would be the trap of thinking of the course as the basics that make you a professional. It sounds like an oxymoron, but it is how it functions: “Oh, I suddenly know so much as compared to what I knew previously. I am so smart that I can act as though I’m experienced in the field.” Not only is this counterproductive but useless. The reason being, by watching & listening to an expert does not make the listener an expert. Even by doing certain assignments (which on MOOCs are not all that complicated, to be honest) one cannot claim anything. Content and knowledge are important. But an erudite is not an expert if s/he cannot apply the knowledge to produce another piece of knowledge. Knowledge should circulate and transform in order to be meaningful. I think about this in terms of my family. All my knowledge/ certificates/ degrees mean nothing to them. Potential employer? S/he can be impressed by my encyclopedic knowledge, if I happen to make such an impression, but eventually it all boils down to what I can produce on my own.

What I’m saying is, knowledge is power. MOOCs are fantastic in the sense that they allow to access the content and get great ideas out of them. But acting the knowledge out is what makes one an expert. The highest art is to pretend that your expertise was always there and you exert it without too much effort. In this respect, I want to finish with words ascribed to a famous Ancient Greek orator, Lysias, who claimed that the greatest art is the art concealed. Professors make it seem that what they do and teach is simple, understandable by everyone, and fun. But that’s the art they produce without us noticing it. Behind them is years of practice, reading, working, etc.


2 thoughts on “What should I expect from a typical MOOC course?

  1. I have never taken an MOOC, but they sound similar to online courses. I think the idea that a person can go through the lectures at his/her pace is great for someone who has a busy schedule. Also, it seems as though people can learn enough knowledge about a topic so they take something away from it, but there is still a lot to learn. I am finding it very interesting to learn about MOOC’s as I have never heard of them before. Although there are some downsides, it seems as though the positives outweigh the negatives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rachel, you are right: I am happy to have taken a few online courses, because they gave me so much. I didn’t use that knowledge (so, behaviorists will be mad), but knowing some great stuff (such as Greek mythology and literature) gives me tools to deal with everyday life. Moral dilemmas are all over the place, and–in tune with social learning theory–I’m vicariously reinforced to choose the lesser of the two evils. MOOCs have many more positive aspects rather than negative.


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