Massification and Inspiration through online learning – Part one of two: Can you create an intimate learning environment through MOOCs?

Two weeks ago, I attended the Sloan Consortium’s 18th annual international conference for online learning in the US . Seeing that many of the over 1,500 attendees have been involved in online learning for many years, it’s not surprising that the current ‘MOOC mania,’ (massive open online courses) was viewed by many with scepticism.

Sebastian Thrun, founder of MOOC provider Udacity, had a hard pitch when he delivered the opening plenary session “Democratising Education” on day two of the conference. He is a Stanford professor and was the creator of the first MOOC. The famous A.I. open course that in September of last year attracted over 160,000 students to enrol in 7 days. “On the 8th day the University Administration asked me to drop by for a chat!” he told us. A story which won over a sizeable portion of the audience.

Thrun told us how Salman Khan’s Khan Academy had inspired him to realise that Khan was “clearly being more influential” in educational outreach than he himself, who was only teaching 200 highly privileged students a year at Stanford. He told us how 170 of the 200 Stanford students in the face to face version of his course stopped coming to class and just took the online version. He also shared moving e-mails from military personnel and others in extraordinary circumstance who by sheer determination managed to see through the entire course and emails from people saying about how much his course meant to them.

The surprising thing was the extent to which intimacy and connection were mentioned. As he characterised it, the online Udacity experience was not, ‘one class of 160,000, it was 160,000 classes of one to one.’ If you go online and take a sample Udacity taster course as I did, you can see for yourself how their learning delivery platform encourages the feeling that you are being personally tutored by a world authority on a one to one basis.

Nobody seems to know where the MOOC movement will eventually take us, but in terms of suddenly opening up free, unrestricted access to some of the worlds great authorities and teachers, it is truly inspiring.

Here’s a link to the presentation http://bit.ly/RDePCI

Nick Tellwright

Author: Nick Tellwright

Director of Online Development at INTO University Partnerships

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