Monthly Archives: July 2015

MOOCs, Barriers to learning

Do MOOCs Really Break Some Walls?

MOOCs, Barriers to learning

“Only a wall divided him from those happy young contemporaries of his with whom he shared a common mental life; men who had nothing to do from morning till night but to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. Only a wall – but what a wall!” – Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy

Do MOOCs really break those walls?

I think the Internet itself demolishes those walls to a large extent. However, how big is the blow delivered by MOOCs?


Wall 1: Access and Affordability
MOOCs definitely break this barrier for many students across the world.

Non-affiliated, Not For Profits (Like Khan Academy)

Not having a computer and Internet is where the access and affordability block begins in many countries. Several not for profit initiatives provide this basic access to students.

Well Known Universities (Ex. Coursera, EdX etc.)

Having access to good content is one of the biggest gifts of these MOOCs to students across the world.

Connective MOOCs & Task Based MOOCs

These types of MOOCs are conducted by a handful of professors currently. The subjects they cover are few. Since these MOOCs are about taking your learning in your own hands, anything learned from anywhere is a way that these MOOCs promote.


Wall 2: Value of Self-Learning

Value of self-learning* is low, and it forms a big barrier to learning. Shouldn’t the primary task of open education be to increase the value/worth of “self-learning”? (It’s like the health industry trying to make people value healthier habits.)  Let’s see how this has been done through MOOCs.

Non-affiliated, Not For Profits (Like Khan Academy)

Salman Khan of Khan Academy brought the idea of the “flipped classroom” that caught up fast. It brilliantly promotes self-learning as valuable, and reverses the role of the teacher.

Well Known Universities (Ex. Coursera, EdX etc.)

The big, well-known universities, presenting courses on Coursera etc. have not proposed any pedagogical models that promote “self-learning” as valuable.

They believe in star teachers delivering star content and learners learning sequentially following through with teachers. (teacher centric delivery)

Maybe this is one wall they don’t want to touch.

Connective MOOCs & Task Based MOOCs

Connective MOOCs are all about self-learning, learning with peers and utilizing the network.

The importance of “self-learning” is a part of the new pedagogical theories they propose and experiment with.


Wall 3: Ownership of Content
Why is ownership of content important? Because the hand that owns the content rules the learning. 

Non-affiliated, Not For Profits (Like Khan Academy)

The content in Khan Academy is open, and it runs from teacher to student.

With the flipped approach, learners decide their progress and pace, and the classroom helps them cope.

Well Known Universities (Ex. Coursera, EdX etc.)

The content is owned by the universities, and it comes with the individual brand of each professor and university.

They deliver the course, and in many cases after the course is over, the videos are pulled down till the course starts again.

How or why would anyone shut something that is online? Is it to establish ownership?

Connective MOOCs & Task Based MOOCs

The Internet, the people in the network, and the learners themselves own the content.

Learners are encouraged to create more and more content and share it with the network. Content is in the hands of the learner. Support is provided by the network.


Wall 4: World’s Perception of Students’ Learning Efforts
A great wall is other's perception of learning achieved on one’s own, outside of institutions. Most people worry whether what they’re learning on their own will have any value in the real world. Will it get them a job? Will it help them grow in their current job? Will it help them do better at school? How much do MOOCs help break this wall?

Non-affiliated, Not For Profits (Like Khan Academy)

Khan Academy provides a way to test what you have learned. You can view your ipsative scores and your progress through a series of exercises, meticulously created, backed by data and presented to you and your teachers in a gamified platform.

The “gaps in learning” are clearly visible for the student and teacher to work upon.

Well Known Universities (Ex. Coursera, EdX etc.)                     

University MOOCs seem to have the strongest wall here. The differentiation between the “real stuff”, that is, a university education and the video lectures of professors shared via MOOCs seems to amplify the wall.

A common argument given by the owners of these MOOCs is that peer/expert interaction cannot be replicated online.

Not true, if you look at how people are interacting across the Internet (or look at other MOOC types).

Assessments in these MOOCs may cost you something (which may be fair). Or they may have assessments (peer reviewed exercises and scored questions) and provide a certificate to those who complete it.

However, the bigger barrier is the value of the diploma/certificate you earn at the end of the MOOC. Is it of any value? Should this barrier always stay for universities to remain relevant?

Connective MOOCs & Task Based MOOCs

Building your digital footprint and having your efforts out there for everyone to see are the best resume you can create. The more value you generate online, the more value you develop for yourself.

These MOOCs demolish this wall for those who are truly interested.

*Self-learning means to take responsibility for your learning, learning how to learn, owning your curriculum, and owning your content. 

Are Dropout Rates a big Wall for MOOCs? Click here to read more.

Animated Movies, Life-long Learning

Life-long Learning through Four Animated War Films

“It’s only lines on paper, folks!” — R. Crumb

Here are four animated films that celebrate what it is to be human, question what we take for granted, and connect us to the larger picture of the world that we live in. These films can be a part of any grown-up’s life-long learning project.


Marjane, the child protagonist of the film grows up in a left-wing family that struggles to fight the rule of the Shah and then the Islamic revolutionaries. The film is a presentation of the dichotomy between the family’s personal beliefs and the external political environment. 

Questions the Film Evokes

  • What is our personal history? 
  • How is our life’s story, also the story of our society?

A Piece of History
A quick historical bite to put the film in context:


When the Wind Blows

A story of a loving couple that has lived through one war in childhood and prepares for another in old age. As the old couple prepares to face the brunt of the war, the movie depicts how far removed war is from the basic human need for love, comfort and peace. 

Questions the Film Evokes

  • Where does war fit in with basic human nature? 
  • What human need does war fulfil? 

A Piece of History
A picture of the health hazards of the nuclear bombing in Japan:


Waltz with Bashir

The film explores Israel’s mass amnesia (metaphorical and real) related to the 1982 Lebanese war and the massacres in Sabra and Chatila. This intense watch takes you to the minds of people who were a part of the war—and once again this film too contrasts true human compassion with the absolute terror that we’re capable of inflicting on our own species. 

Questions the Film Evokes:

  • What are the collective lies we’re hearing around us?
  • What’s behind our silence when such grave events take place? 

A Piece of History
Noam Chomsky on the Sabra and Chatila massacre:


Grave of the Fireflies

This is a grave story of innocence and resilience in the backdrop of WWII. Two war orphans seek refuge with an aunt who takes advantage of their situation and dislikes their presence. The two run away to live in an abandoned shelter. The story traces their lives of starvation and misery as the war comes to an end.

Questions the Film Evokes:
Does animation make the unbearable, almost watchable?

A Piece of History
Japan’s imperial ambitions:



Collaboration, boat race

The Worst Nightmare: Rolling out Collaboration Platforms that No One Uses

Boat_race_chundanThinking of rolling out a collaboration platform to the entire organization? Think again.

Do you really need to roll it out to everyone at one go? Do you fear that people may not use it? To reduce your risks, here are some points you could follow:

 1. Do Not Roll it Out to Everyone—Create a Plan

 As we plan the creation of a collaborating organization, it’s important to note that a company-wide implementation of a collaboration platform at one go may lead to chaos. It may intimidate users, or people may question the use of it.

Instead of rolling out the platform to the entire organization, it’s best to identify high energy teams and start on a trial and improvisation basis with them. As and when teams or communities successfully collaborate, the network of people and teams on the platform can be increased. Creative methods can be used to get people interested in the platform.

2. Share Success Stories

​If you roll out to a limited audience, there will be a buzz around your platform. Follow up on how this audience is using the platform. Improve it based on their feedback.

And remember to share the success story with the next group to who the platform will be rolled. The more convincing your success stories, the more people you’ll motivate to participate in your organization’s knowledge network.

3. Strategize, Such that People Engage With the Site in the Long Term

As Daniel Pink says, people have an internal drive to learn and to contribute. What the organization needs to provide them is a purpose and some form of autonomy. To provide autonomy, it’s best to allow the collaboration platform to be an initiative that is run by the employees.

Community leaders play a crucial role in defining the purpose, and often times they need to be trained on guiding and running a community.

4. Involve the Leaders of the Organization

As organizations spread across the world, and interaction amongst culturally diverse teams becomes indispensable, leaders need to positively promote collaboration. They can do this by setting an example and contributing regularly to the knowledge network.

5. Train to Activate the Right Brain

As Daniel Pink points out, a collaboration platform should be the right brain of an organization, promoting the capacity to, “synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair.”

It’s crucial to make people see the purpose of the platform and to help them actively understand how collaboration plays a role in their work. This can be done through training.


Image Reference: Image Reference: Challiyan at ml.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

MOOC Dropout

MOOC Dropout Rates

MOOCS are criticized for high dropout rates. Are dropout rates a barrier to learning? Should we be worried about low completion rates? We think it's incorrect to use dropout rates to gauge the success of MOOCs. We should NOT be worried about completion rates. Here’s why:


The Medium is the Message

If we take a deep, realistic look at the medium, we won’t consider dropout rates for assessing the success of MOOCs. As Marshal McLuhan tells us—"Technology shapes our behaviour." We step into the online medium (which is like an ocean with no beginning and no end) and we’re automatically drawn to what’s interesting. Our purpose is not to read the Internet or its resources like a book from beginning to end.

“People don't actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath.”  - Marshal McLuhan 
It doesn’t matter from where you enter the hot water bath or from where you exit it.

Internet Audience

We all know the 1% rule:

Isn’t that how it goes for almost everything on the Internet? We can again look at Marshal McLuhan’s thoughts on media and how it determines behaviour. 

Many MOOCs ask questions to study dropout rates. Ideally, if people go out of any MOOC knowing even a wee bit more than they came in with, the MOOC has served its purpose (even if they go out with the realization that this topic isn’t for them).

Different Strokes for Different Folks 

Many students don’t have access to great education across the world. If a student enters a MOOC with the purpose of learning those three principles of physics that s/he had problem understanding, a MOOC is helping the student. S/he need not “complete” the MOOC.

Physical world and the online world are two different spaces that evoke different behaviour and have different benefits. While completing a course book may be top priority for many students, no one bothers to read every single blogpost that even their most well-liked professor may have written. The metrics to measure success in the two media should be different.

The illusion that we ought to control learning leads us to misguided metrics like completion rates. When we let go control, this particular metric becomes meaningless.

What different success criteria can be used to study the success of online courseware? Read here.

How open is open education? Read here


References: Image 1: By Michael Kellen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Pie Chart: By Life of Riley (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons