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The best learning of my life

I’m currently involved in three open online courses: Change, CCK12, and LAK12. Altogether, I’ve facilitated about a dozen of these courses, with about 15,000 participants being involved in various ways. Some participants, such as in the current CCK12 iteration, take the courses for credit. The vast majority do so for other reasons (and I’m not sure what those are – personal interest? desire to connect with others? general curiosity?).

Participation varies significantly. The Change MOOC has about 2400 participants, yet we get typically get about 40 participants per live sessions, 5-10 blog posts a day, and 20+ daily tweets related to the course. Some are active throughout the course (though when I did an analysis on CCK08, only a few of the most active participants in week 1 were still in the top ten by week 12), some have spurts of activity, and others subscribe to the daily but don’t engage in ways that are visible to us as facilitators. Consistently, as the course progresses, active participation declines.

This isn’t unique to our courses. Even the current darling of open courses – Udacity – suffers from this. Their course on “building a search engine” had 2303 views for the introduction video and only 486 views for one of the last lecture videos of week 1. Video counts are a great way to track what people are actually doing in a course as creating something (artifact, blog post) is done less frequently in open courses than listening/reading. Wonder how long until companies like Udacity move away from YouTube to keep hit counts on videos in-house.

While active participation in our courses declines as the course progresses, subscribers to the Daily increase. I’m not sure what to make of that. If I was getting five emails a week on something I wasn’t interested in, I would unsubscribe. Does that mean we can view Daily subscribers as a) people are still engaged, b) people can’t find the unsubscribe link, or c) that we’ve subjected over 15,000 people to guilt about not being active in MOOCs?

While I’m not sure of the impact of open courses, I can state I’ve absolutely loved the learning experience of open courses since 2007. I enjoyed reading Laura McInerney’s post on the best learning of my life:

In the last few weeks I have experienced some of the best learning of my life…But even more amazing for me was that as the presentation was going on I could check information online, pull research articles as they were mentioned, broadcast ideas I had to twitter and get feedback from teacher colleagues here in the UK who were sat in their hous watching tv quite unaware of what I was listening in to. There was just so. much. learning. And it was awesome in the literal sense of the word – for the entire hour I was in awe of how much information I was able to take in and make sense of in so many different ways.


  1. Jim Groom wrote:

    Video counts are a great way to track what people are actually doing in a course as creating something (artifact, blog post) is done less frequently in open courses than listening/reading. Wonder how long until companies like Udacity move away from YouTube to keep hit counts on videos in-house.

    How can video counts be a form of creating something? Seems to me that writing about it, reflecting on it, amking avisual, short film, etc. is creating something. Watching it is consuming it, and while I believe that act of reading, watching, etc. are complex, dynamic acts—not simply consumption—I don;t equate them to creating unless their is something that manifests itself from the experience that others can share. And that has been the great wasteland of most of these open courses, quite frankly, the lack of that manifestation. video counts, page views, and other analytics tell us next to nothing save that something might be popular, or massive. If anything I have not been in love with the online, open courses, especially ds106, because it can still all be done so much better. Whether or not people take it for their own reasons, I would have to save that there is still so much left to be desired in the process thus far. The drop-off rate is terrible, the mechanisms for monitoring engagement crude, syndication burdensome, what to measure vague, etc. It brings me back to an interesting point George Kroner raised today about a post back in 2007 inspired by you viz-a-viz Brian Lamb in the comments here:
    This framework can change the dynamic of learning in ways that can still be very personal and intimate and be imagined within the brick and mortar institution. University networks can evolve without suggested Udacity and the like have imagined something that is far worse than what students experience in an excellent face-to-face classroom as things stand right now. We have so much to do to make this better.

    Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Permalink
  2. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi Jim – my inner incomprehensible self wrote that sentence. What I *meant* to say is that not everyone creates things in open courses. Many more people view/read (i.e. consume) than create.

    Any traces of learning – clicks, views, social network analysis, artifacts produced are only partial means of understanding something as complex as learning. Video counts and other crude metrics do more than just indicate popularity and provide a (weak) metric for determining persistence in a course. They are obviously not as effective as determining engagement as when a learner creates artifacts. Since CCK08, artifact creation has been a central activity for how learners communicate personal sensemaking to others.

    The drop off rate *is* terrible in open courses. I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing always – this type of thinking is still in the framework of courses – i.e. we start at the same time and we all finish. By this logic anyone who doesn’t finish a course has failed in some capacity. Open courses aren’t linear and success isn’t prescribed on the condition of completion only. Of course, the Udacity and Coursera model doesn’t allow this – they are linear and highly structured.

    I completely agree with your argument that things can be done better – far better. I like the grsshopper model that Stephen has developed. But it is challenging for first time learners – the conceptual and technical barrier is significant. I imagine you have the same with radio DS106 – those who have grown with it understand it and those who are new face substantial barriers for entry. We’re at a crappy place right now – we are growing in our recognition of what isn’t working in education, but we have only a faint sense of what an alternative might look like. I feel like I’m suffering from severe vision fatigue, seeing only a glimmer of what learning could be and recognizing that the system I’m in constrains my ability for fresh thinking.

    Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Permalink
  3. Concerning UDACITY video views, a bit of care is needed. I wrongly made a similar point during the predecessor AI course – see paragraph 7 in Someone helpfully explained that YouTube does not normally count views from videos that are in embedded to autoplay in web pages. This is to stop someone falsely boosting viewing figures by embedding a video in a page and then getting some kind of “bot” to hit the page with the embedded video in it.


    Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 1:37 am | Permalink
  4. Dino A wrote:

    Video counts are definitely crude metrics. What defines a “view”? In most cases, it’s merely clicking a link to access a video? But is that enough?

    Sure, 2303 clicked a link to launch the video, but maybe only 486 found it valuable enough to watch past the first 30 seconds and continue on with the course. A better metric would be the ratio of clicks to access the vs. the “hits” to the last slide/frame of the video.

    Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink
  5. Jim Groom wrote:


    I understand that idea of vision fatigue, but I guess a recent post I wrote on the bava suggests that your vision has been instrumental in bringing a lot of this to the point it has arrived currently. And while I know it is far fro perfect, I feel like the last two or three years have witnessed pretty amazing strides towards seeing some real possibilities for a technical and conceptual shift that can and will happen in institutions.

    I read your last post and have some small glimmer of what you must be going through and your exhaustion within the confines of higher ed, but I wonder if it is really more liberating in the market, start-up world of teaching and learning. I have yet to see a compelling example of how more formalized learning (with full recognition that people learn on the web all the time and it is the notion of education that wants to quantify and qualify that process) is superior in these startups.

    I guess I don;t see the institutions as chains a much as a I see them as a public good for experimentation and a space free, or as much as it can be sheltered, from the very real and direct demands of capital and profit seeking business practices for an end result.

    Maybe I am crazy, but I feel liberated inside an institution like i can think freely and still find support, unding, and a modest paycheck. That works for me, but the idea of accumulation, competitition and the like in the market seems like anotehr animal all together. More importantly, it seems like your own theorizing around Connectivism was born of your time at a university in which you have been able to effect massive change on a global level with your ideas, that is no small thing. In fact, it is far more impressive than the rather crude notion of celebrity professors in venture rich startups. To quote the greatly under appreciated version of the Hulk by Ang Lee, wherein Bruce Banner says “We’re doing the basic science…” “

    Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Permalink
  6. Jon K. wrote:

    An aside to this, as I’m working through the Udacity course, it’s essentially a one on one tutorial – beyond this course I’ll have some skills, but no sense of community or connection (which DS106, CCK08 and other iterations have). That’s OK for me, and I’m sure that my experience may not be one that is shared by others. I think there’s a fundamental approach that’s different between engineering/compsci people and the higher literacy issues that CCK or DS106 raises. I don’t necessarily think that one’s better, but it’s clear that Udacity is after something that the others MOOCs do not seek.

    Also, the first video might be artificially inflated due to it being almost a promo piece cut by the profs – it’s probably gotten way more press than the second video, or third. The second one, the first part of the first week’s work, will probably be a better starting point.

    Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink
  7. brainysmurf wrote:

    I am really struggling along with you all in terms of quantifying or measuring what happens in a mooc. My gut reaction is that I don’t want to measure it but I have the luxury of not being accountable to anyone other than myself for proving that the model works or doesn’t.

    The uptake in The Daily subscriptions as time goes in is curious. I wonder if folks simply enjoy the excellent aggregation that gRSShopper provides and that keeps them plenty busy enough with following leads to other interesting tidbits? What they go on to do with those leads remains a mystery we may never solve.

    For example, I could read a great blog post in The Daily. I could take a quote from it and email it to my friends and colleagues or post it on an internal SharePoint and there would be no way of counting that against the stats for the course. Yet, I have consumed the information and shared it with other networks and groups.

    Similarly, I often apply what I learn from moocs in my daily work, whether I openly acknowledge the sources or not. If I don’t report back on that with the right hashtags through a public blog or similar, you have no way of knowing how much I have gone on to create with my mooc learning. And I have created a great deal in the last couple of years that has been inspired by innumerable sources in moocs! No matter how busy I get, I always make time for some or all of The Daily as a stepping stone to fantastic resources and ideas.

    Please keep up the great work on this front. I can’t imagine a richer way to learn, no matter how imperfect it might feel to the organizers at times. :)

    Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink
  8. What you mention on the decrease of participants in Udacity courses is not correct.
    The Udacity courses CS101 and CS373(still in progress) have very big number of participants. I believe they will be similar to the Stanford-AI class, but the course has to develop further so as to be able to extract definite quantities.

    Sunday, March 4, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink