Friday, 3 July 2015

Massively Open Online Courses, motivation and learning styles

So I did this a while back but never posted about it (yes I am trying to be better at blogging again!) This certificate above is the results of me chucking a lot of hard work at this MOOC (Masively Open Online Course) It was a 20 week course on the MOOC platform EDx with this course being based on a module available in real life at MIT.

I've attempted 2 other MOOCs before, one on Embedded systems by University of Austin and also recently one on Engineering design, but the one above "An introduction to Aerospace Engineering Astronautics and Human Spaceflight" is the only one I stuck with and finished. I got thinking about why this might be today, as I listened to a podcast from where someone was discussing a MOOC and what motivated them.

For me, the Aerospace engineering  MOOC was the best organised and well planned MOOC I have taken part in for various reasons. It was organised into various subject areas, starting with rocket science and the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation as well as hybrid and solid fuel systems etc. It moved through ECLSS (environmental controls and life support systems) focussing on the ISS (international space station) as a fascinating example. It had a large complex section section of orbital mechanics which was in some ways the most challenging for me in terms of the maths involved. It also had sections on EVH (space walks) and had 2 large sections around control systems and systems safety which culminated in having to write and submit for peer review an Air Accident Report about a real aerospace accident.

So on reflection there was a good few reasons why I kept my motivation on this one... Firstly I went "public" with it early on.. as in I tweeted (@concreted0g) and Facebook posted and told people in real life that I was doing it.. adding possible ego crushing embarrassment if I failed/dropped out! However, linked to this, it also led me to be included in a community of learning.  I ended up conversing with 3 or 4 people directly via twitter who where working through this course at the same time as me. For me and learning I realise this inclusion in a community (virtual or other) is important. EDx also has online discussion boards and I did use these but mainly to discuss technical questions and seek clarifications. One of the nice things about my interactions with learners outside of EDx was they where less formal (there was a lot more... OMG this delta v calculation for this orbital transfer is f###ing hard!!)

I'd say the second factor that kept me going was also the pace and the structure of the course, it really suited me in terms of the units where around 2/3 weeks each and had timed assessment parts (either embedded questions in the website or as I said before peer reviewed paper) another MOOC I did was self timed in that you could do the assessed pieces at any time in course which simply doesn't work for me!

Finally.. what the MIT people did very well was they created a consistent narrative linking each unit to the previous and the next and showing as best they could real world purpose for the subject. In my work life I design and deliver various types of experiential training packages and this is something I seek to do in all my designs. One of the other MOOCS I mentioned I just plundered the sections I needed for the learning I wanted and then ignored the rest whereas as this course had a cohesive narrative that had me completely engaged. 

Last thing.. the statistics around this MOOC were amazing! I feel pretty chuffed to be in the 245 who managed to get the verified certificate out of this cohort of 12542!

  • Final enrollment: 12,542
  • Countries represented: 151 (highest enrollments in United States, India, United Kingdom, Spain)
  • Verified certificates issued: 245
  • Honor code certificates issued: 640

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