Weekend Reading: John Cassidy's Interview with James Heckman: Selections
Noted for Your Lunchtime Procrastination for January 3, 2015

What Are the Experiences That MOOCs Need to Replicate?: Early (Monday) DeLong Smackdown Watch

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Maynard Handley: [on Duncan Black: Does Anybody Remember MOOCs?(http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2014/12/morning-must-read-duncan-black-does-anybody-remember-moocs.html?cid=6a00e551f08003883401b7c72bfd81970b#comment-6a00e551f08003883401b7c72bfd81970b): "'So we should be able to build experience machines...

...that will push that 1% up to 20% or so and that 10% up to 70% or so' What do you think these experiences ARE, Brad, that the experience machine needs to deliver?

If the experiences are things like:

  • compelled daily structure--you are expected to wake up at this time, go to classes at this time, spend this time reading

  • social pressure--everyone around you is behaving the same way. And while some frats at some party schools may be truly atrocious, one hopes that at most schools, most of the time, the expected norm is that you will be spending a limited amount of time watching TV, getting drunk, and chasing tail; and deviating too far from that norm will get people to look down on you and scorn you.

It seems unlikely that any MOOC can enforce either of these very well...

You could, perhaps, force that lectures are live-streamed at a particular time, and if you miss that, you've missed that class. But people will obviously aggressively rebel against that. And even then, all you've captured is the class-time element of structure, not the larger studying-time element.

As for the social pressure, MOOCs seem to think this is all about "class participation" and attempt to replicate that. I don't see (and can't imagine a very effective form of) what I consider even more important, which is the implicit threat of sanctions against "not behaving like a serious student".

We are perfectly aware, in other social disciplines, of the importance of the social and physical environment for conditioning behavior. A big part of preventing recidivism in crime, or preventing relapse into addictive behavior, is getting people into different physical and social environments, because their existing environments send a (hard to resist) set of behavioral cues. But MOOCs seem utterly uninterested in this fact.

Believing that the primary learning facilitation college provides is the lecturer, the study group discussion, the exams; and that replicating those will replicate college is as naive as believing that the only reason to choose Harvard over State U is because Harvard is closer to home (no network and old boy effects here, no sirree) or that the only purpose of credentials is to prove that you have learned a particular set of facts and techniques.

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