The value of MOOCs is not in the videos

In the article Why My MOOC is Not Built on Video, Prof. Lorena A. Barba writes:

The participants of #NumericalMOOC will have noticed that we made only one video for the course. I thought that maybe I would do a handful more. But in the end I didn’t and I don’t think it matters too much.

I haven’t been very interested in MOOCs, because I’ve seen them as a glorified collections of lecture videos. I seldom find lectures useful, and in video lectures you can’t even ask questions.

This article made me change my mind. Instead of collections of videos, I now see MOOCs as potential collections of exercises. As Prof. Barba writes:

Videos are nice, they can get you exposed to a new concept for the first time in an agreeable way, but they do not produce learning, on their own. Students need to engage with the concepts in various ways, interact with ideas and problems, work through a process of “digestion” of the learning material.

When learning a new topic by myself, one of the hard things is to find a useful progression of challenges to tackle. The challenges should be hard enough to be interesting, but easy enough to not be frustrating. For me, in the offline math courses the exercise sheets are the most valuable part of the course. MOOCs can and do provide the same value.

I do not know why I didn’t realize this earlier.


Speaking of MOOCs, if you want to learn functional programming, check out University of Helsinki’s course Functional programming with Clojure. There are no lecture videos, but there are exercises. I took the course when it was an offline course and the exercises were great.


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