Too many MOOCs… Too little time

Not really a criticism of MOOCs (massively open online courses) of course, but at the moment there are just too many MOOCS that I want to take part in – and nothing like enough time.

For starters, I’m dropping out of the OLDS-MOOC on Learning Design.

I started a few days late, and found navigating round the pages outlining what to do and where to do it a little confusing. There was potential to meet up with some old online friends and work on a virtual worlds project, but I rapidly fell behind in the activities and still have marking to catch up on… Offhand, the use of Cloudworks and Google Groups was interesting, and interesting to see how a MOOC could run on mostly free cloud services, but I definitely found it more challenging to navigate and follow that the relatively clean interface of Coursera/Udacity MOOCs. This may be an inevitable effect of it being a MOOC more focussed on student activity and collaboration than on following a lecturer.

I had originally signed up for the E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC, but withdrew before it started, recognising that it clashed with the (more relevant to me) OLDS-MOOC and I’d likely struggle to keep up.

I was also going to do one on Programming Languages, some revision there and another attempt to strengthen my understanding of basic principles and non-OO programming languages. Maybe one day I’ll have time to watch the videos…

Then there is the OER-MOOC being offered by SUNY on Blackboard’s Coursesites. I’ve looked at this page a few times, and still can’t work out when it is likely to start. As I’m already a producer and user of MOOCs, I’m not sure if I’m really the target audience for this one though.

While it is a class I teach, I think I’d still benefit from taking the (much more formal) EDx Computer Graphics class in March… though this one has run already, and a complete set of videos and materials already exist online. So whether or not I actually enroll, I’ll certainly be using the materials.

But I have to say that this class about the Ancient Greek Hero also sounds good…

To date the only MOOC I’ve managed to complete was a very introductory level one on a topic I already know well – I was really learning about MOOC delivery on Coursera rather than anything else. I was able to get a 100% pass on one hour a week – but anything more demanding I haven’t yet been able to fit into my life. While MOOCs are more structured and regimented than the plain old ‘OpenCourseWare‘ , where resources and guides were simply put out there on the internet for people to complete in their own time, I’m finding that the time limits imposed by MOOCs are actually preventing me from getting more than a few hours into them – simply because I cannot make the regular time commitment required.

5 thoughts on “Too many MOOCs… Too little time

  1. Gia

    Or is the real issue that most of the current MOOCs on offer don’t seem to have handle on their audience (yet)? It strikes me that a lot of the course creators seem to have no real understanding of how busy the majority of their “students” are: two hours (or more) of video content per week, plus additional reading/digesting, plus quizzes and/or projects is not something that most of us can manage to cram in. And so even the most enthusiastic, curious learners (like me) drop out.

    Having said that, I have managed to complete five (out of eight) MOOCs in the past year – different topics, different providers. The best (best = most memorable and most engaging) courses I took were CS101 (Coursera, Nick Parlante), Power Searching (Google, Dan Russell) and Crash Course on Creativity (VentureLab, Tina Seelig). These all have one thing in common: very few/short videos per week and lots of practical activities to play with.

    One thing I have learnt is that any video exceeding 8 minutes is just not going to work for my … oooh look shiny over there!! ;)

  2. Daniel Post author

    Shiny distractions and the internet are largely synonymous in my experience :-)

    With 5 MOOCs completed, I think you are doing better than most folk. The Nick Parlante course was the one I completed too – short videos, easy to fit in.

    Other than that, the courses I have made most progress with have been OpenCourseWare via institutional sites, YouTube and/or iTunesU.

    With the iTunes U app in particular you get the materials in a very organised manner – and no deadline. So even if a video is an hour long, you can watch it over a whole month if you want… and you can always go back to a course after dropping it for a few weeks when life gets busy. No certificate at the end though.

  3. Peter Whitton (@pete_wh)

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m currently signed up for the January start of the Edinburgh E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC, but there were at least 3 others with similar start times including my colleagues Flexible and Distance Learning #FDOL131 mini MOOC (an oxymoron I know).

    I have heaps of other free CPD stuff to wade through too mainly through iTunes U – which might – as you suggest – have more chance of completion.

  4. Rob

    “I’m finding that the time limits imposed by MOOCs are actually preventing me from getting more than a few hours into them…”

    “It strikes me that a lot of the course creators seem to have no real understanding of how busy the majority of their “students” are…”

    I think that these are both good points. Most of the MOOCs I’ve looked at have deadlines a week after each set of video lectures is made available. This sort of schedule is much more suitable for full-time students, and gives little opportunity to catch up if you get behind (or if you arrive late).

    A course I’ve just completed successfully, Stanford Cryptography I on (, still had weekly deadlines, but set three weeks after the relevant lectures were released – a much better way of doing it, IMHO.

    1. Gia

      @Dan I’ve tried to do a couple of the iTunes and MIT OCW ones in the past, but I found that it was too easy to slip into “oh I’m too tired, I’ll do that tomorrow” mode – it seems I need some kind of deadline useful to keep me on track.

      It’s not the deadlines per se that are causing me to abandon a course. There are three reasons why I’ve dropped out of MOOCs:
      1) the videos are too dull and impersonal
      2) the ratio between course content and my available lunch/commute time is all wrong
      3) the mindset of a perfectionist (“I’ll do this properly and hit all the deadlines or I won’t do it all”)

      For me the biggest course killer are needlessly monotonous talking head videos. Seriously, there’s absolutely nothing enjoyable or memorable about them. One week blends seamlessly into the next. And before you know it, you have no idea what week you’re even on. Yawn.

      One of the nice bits of CS101 was that the videos were unpolished and simply recorded around the Stanford campus with a laptop cam and a podcast mic. Those videos weren’t about a big name prof looking good on camera; they were about conveying a passion for the subject of the course. I really appreciated that.

      Workload was a huge issue during the Creativity course, and on top there were heaps of technical and usability issues around VentureLabs’s course platform; nevertheless, the course activities were so much fun that dropping out of that course was never an option for me. It’s odd that the most technically frustrating course ended up being the one I found most rewarding.

      Meanwhile, on the currently running “Think again” MOOC, I’m watching the list of unconsumed videos grow week after week. I’m at least 3 weeks behind, and it’s depressing: the realisation that I’ll never be able to catch up with it before the official end of the course has completely killed it for me. Such a shame as it’s obvious that the profs are passionate about their topic, and they are really trying to engage learners, too, via weekly emails and hangouts and whatnot.

      But then there’s the Edinburgh MOOC starting next week and the Berkley Songwriting course starts in March and … oh look! New shiny over there!!

      I don’t know about everyone else but being able to bounce around from course to course like a flea on too much caffeine is all part of the fun. Long live the short attention span! :D


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