Mass engagement

Within just a few months, the term "Mooc" (massive open online courses) has jumped from one used by online-learning cognoscenti to the stuff of Times Higher Education opinion pieces by Alan Ryan ("Massive black mirror", 4 October) and articles by John Hennessy, president of Stanford University ("Virtually it's our best shot", THE World University Rankings 2012-13 supplement, 4 October). This shows that deep thinking about technology-enhanced learning is taking place away from the narrow field of learning technology.

Ryan is right that Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig's online computer science course of 2011 was massive, open and online, and therefore a Mooc. But he missed by far the most striking thing about the course (which I know because I spent five to 10 hours a week for 10 weeks as one of its students last year): despite its 160,000 enrolments, 50,000-plus active students and 20,000 completers, the course made us learners feel that we were receiving one-to-one instruction from Norvig and Thrun. As Rob Rambusch, a fellow student of mine, put it: "The class felt like sitting in a bar with a really smart friend who is explaining something you haven't yet grasped but are about to."

Ryan is right to suggest that Moocs, badly implemented, would be a fix that fails, eliminating the effort by learners that is a necessary but insufficient condition for learning. But Thrun and Norvig's course engendered focused and mass engagement in learning at extremely low cost. It is this success that justifies the attention that Moocs and other large-scale learning technologies are getting.

Seb Schmoller, Former chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Featured Jobs

Senior Lecturer in Electrical Power Engineering UNIVERSITY OF GREENWICH (MAIN ADDRESS)
Reader / Senior Lecturer in Civil Engineering UNIVERSITY OF GREENWICH (MAIN ADDRESS)
Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Science CURTIN UNIVERSITY SARAWAK MALAYSIA

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented

Universities to scale back liberal arts and social science courses

  • David Humphries illustration (24 September 2015)

A Russell Group tagline rap is further proof that we need to reform the academy’s approach, argues Philip Moriarty

  • World University Rankings

US continues to lose its grip as institutions in Europe up their game

  • World University Rankings 2015-2016 methodology

Change for the better: fuelled by more comprehensive data, the 2015-2016 rankings probe deeper than ever

Inspired by previous movement in 1960s, PhD students say that ‘science is not neutral’ and urge scientists to confront their assumptions