By now it is rather well known that the introduction course to Artificial Intelligence (AI) from Stanford University has attracted an unbelievable amount of interest. As of today more than 82,000 people signed up to the free course. Time to reflect whether the recent move of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and this offering share similar features and what it all means.
Maybe it is no surprise at this point that such an offering to a world-wide public is made by the organisers of the course, but it even stunned them to see the viral response the offer received from around the world. Open Course Ware (OCW) and other open educational resources (OERs) have some decade of history behind them, and similar offers have been around for a much longer. More recently, the MOOC movement has gained some considerable momentum in the world of education with people at least in their hundreds registering, and more and more MOOCs being offered.
What is different with the Stanford AI course is that it is a traditional accredited university course that has all the hallmarks of formal education. As such, I would not call it ‘open’, but ‘free’. This is a major difference to recent MOOCs, which, appart from a rough outline syllabus, have had an open structure and very little provision, mostly in terms of moderation and fixed online presentations. In MOOCs, participants were the main movers and shakers, whereas the Stanford course has a textbook, tests, and provides real accreditation (but only to Stanford students). Here I spot the key difference. While both MOOCs and the online AI course are both free of charge and open to join for anyone, the latter I expect to be more like a broadcast experience, similar to early radio and television courses.
It still amazes why this particular subject and delivery mode would attract such a large audience, but maybe we are exaggerating the surprise factor. If we look back at the times when the BBC offered Open University courses on tv, the viewer numbers (in a single country!) may have been even bigger, despite horrible programme hours. Can 82,000 really be considered a benchmark or is it just the beginning of more and larger open education experiences?
Whatever the motivation, both for offering free worldwide online courses and for signing up to them, it has to be welcomed that education is finally opening its doors to everyone!
It probably comes as no surprise that among the 2400 participants of the current massive open online course eduMOOC a sense of confusion has spread.
Typical questions raised are “what are the learning objectives?”, “what are MOOCs about?”, or “how do I master the abundant wealth of content?” In response help arrives from veteran MOOCers. This mostly comes in form of advice for un-learning: “forget normal course structures”, “forget catching up with all postings”, “set your own objectives”, etc.
Indeed, filtering noise and identifying the threads, tools, and groupings that are relevant to you is hard work, and there is always the danger that a MOOC gets drowned in anectotes and story telling, which may pose a stumbling block to the credibility and applicability of knowledge in its creation.
However that may be, the real questions remain unanswered: “what is learning in a MOOC?”, and “how do we know that we are learning”?
Here, I think, as well as in other free unstructured learning experiences lies an unpublished secret – the fact that learning is a feeling of wellbeing!
It’s the satisfactory feeling of serendipitous discovery, enlightened clarity, and, finally, the feeling of identity through the shared knowledge and experience that connects you to others, as well as the feeling that you yourself have made a step forward in your own existence. MOOCs as well as formal forms of education need to take more care that learning can be felt – not measured! – by those who it affects, the learners.