Spring Break! Halfway Through the MIT MOOC

Spring break is here, but it doesn’t really feel like spring or break.

For starters, several inches of snow fell in my location last night. Work has piled on over the last few weeks. But most importantly, spring break doesn’t mean much when you’re in a MOOC.

I wrote last month about how I signed up for my first MOOC. MIT is teaching its Learning Creative Learning class both in person and online. I was excited to expand my knowledge as a person working for a company that promotes learning, a martial arts instructor, and as someone who wants to potentially seek a master’s degree.

I’m not disappointed with the class, but my expectations were a tad off.

First of all, I was under the impression this class was going to focus on different types of learning. In other words, I thought there was going to be some major component of cognition or psychology involved in how people learn. Many of the readings have touched on the fact that the traditional education model is not suited toward every person. This supports the type of reading I’ve done for my role at work, which suggests that we learn much more in informal settings than we do in formal ones. 

Secondly, I had no idea how the concept of homework was going to work. How do you read 20,000 responses to a particular reading? As it turns out, the homework – for the online participants, at least – is pretty much optional. After all, no grades are handed out. The homework consists of things like, “Create a project in Scratch,” “Teach somebody something today,” and “Participate in this discussion.”

Speaking of Scratch, I feel like the programming software for kids has appeared too often in this class. A conspiracy theorist might argue that MIT wanted to get the word out about Scratch to a wider audience, and created this class and the associated activities to do so. I’m not denying its applications and effects. I found Hernandez’s research on remixing very enlightening about how kids remix others’ ideas and how it fits in with U.S. intellectual property law. I just wonder if MIT could point to other sources for learning computer programming.

The class discussions are great. MIT brings in thought leaders in each subject each week for an hour-long discussion. They are not scripted, and Professor Resnick and the speakers engage in a casual conversation.

As far as my involvement goes, I am doing the required readings each week. I’ll read the additional resources if they look interesting (next week has a blog post from Henry Jenkins!). I haven’t been doing all of the activities in step with the syllabus, but I have done things like, “Teach somebody something.” I get to do that each week at karate class. I also do not participate in the live sessions, but will generally find an hour to listen to the class discussions while doing something like ironing.

Outside of the class itself, I formed a Google Plus circle for the people in our sub-group. Activity has waned, but a few of us seem to be regular posters. The links they have brought to the table and the discussions we’ve had have been good. I wish I had more time to devote to reading all of their links, but it’s definitely a social space.

Overall, I’m enjoying the experience, if for nothing else that it’s something new that I wanted to try. It’s giving me a good idea of the level of effort required to complete an online degree. I may not be learning what I thought I would be, but I’m still learning nonetheless.

By Adam Bockler

Adam Bockler is a B2B marketing professional, a black belt martial arts instructor, DDP Yoga instructor, and a personal trainer.