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MOOCS, motivation, and presentation styles

I’ve taken a few different MOOCs lately.

Moodle MOOC.

I signed up for the Moodle run MOOC, on Moodle. A potentially valuable-to-me course of instruction. I dropped it after the first session. I had no immediate use for it, and too many other immediately useful claims on my time. So the trade-off was never going to work for me.

In addition, the interface I found, well, complex. In an already marginal context, investing time and effort in learning the interface for learning was never going to work. Badging had not quite, but almost zero effect. The fact that badges were given for everything was also problematic. It’s difficult to attribute value to a reward stem when clicking with a mouse is rewarded. There’s a lesson here, but I need to contextualise it further, but it has a lot to do with getting your participants to value a meaningful rewards system. Rewards for everything feels a little “lollipops and electric shocks” to me. I’m an adult, engaged, already motivated and (as many sudents are) sophisiticated learner. Badges don;t feel a good fit for that profile. Additionally, I went to a Christian Brother’s school. If Behaviourism worked on me for things of that complexity, I’d be a priest by now. I’m not.

So, I dropped, rapidly, off the radar and became another of the non-completing horde.

The takeaways here are: keep your interface clear, easy to use, and simple. It should be intuitive. A good usability stress test is a must. Stress the utility of the course to emphasise it to your marginal students. Be careful with your rewards system. It has to be meaningful. A good rule of thumb is, if it doesn;t fit with Nielsen’s heuristics, it won’t fit with a learning context either.

What did work well on Moodle MOOC, for me, was the idea of intro videos. The MOOC instructors did their own lecture videos, but in the first one, they set aside time for the development team to intro themselves, from their workspaces. It was, at times, a little awkward and stilted, but good.

Foundations of Virtual Instruction, Coursera.

I signed up for Foundations of Virtual instruction with Coursera. A standard style xMOOC. Recorded presentations. Multiple Choice Questions. Transmission teaching with automated testing. I consciously dropped off the radar here. Again, utility was an issue. It’s US focused on k-12 teaching, and it’s quite specific to that context. For no particular reason. The course could very easily avoid that. Knowing about charter schools will not really help me get to grips with the design basics for Virtual Instruction. The course was too basic. The presentation and MCQ peppered seminars are unwieldy, awkward, and frankly, wooden.

Attention was tested, during lectires, with MCQ’s on in lecture facts and data. MCQ’s need to be well designed to work. They should, rarely, be without useful feedback. Here, the feedback was either not present, or broken. The delivery and content was wooden, so attention was difficult to maintain. It was difficult to escape the idea that the MCQ’s were there because the content was unengaging 0 the designer was actively afraid of disengagement. Additionally, what was being tested was information that I had no interest in, and gave me no insight at all into the foundations of virtual instruction.

All in all, a course I want to revisit, and look at so,me more, because, well, frankly, I can learn a lot from something I condisre is badly designed. Working out how to fix a thing, and why it doesn;t work is valuable.

Coursera Video Games and Learning.

Coursera’svideo games and Learning, from University of Wisconsin Madison, has me gripped. Initially at least. The utility to me is fairly clear. And, though not immediate – gbl is down the line for me – is clear enough for me to want to invest now for that long term payoff despite my short term , and insanely demanding, commitments. That’s a pretty good bargain to wring out of your online student. Amd it’;s worth considering how they managed to get me to commit.

Clear utility – even though it’s a long term aim and goal – is enough to get me to reshuffle my current, significant, commitments. I know why I should do this course, what I’m going to get out oif it, and why that’s good.

The course level works for me. I’m not a total newbie, but I’m sufficiently ignorant so that it genuinely enlightens me. The course appears level tolerant to a degree. It feels like it might have a reasonably broad appeal.

Presentation style has been key too. The presenters come across as enthusiastic, competent, prestigious, and engaged. The lectures are not slideshows, read from a card or screen. They are shot so that the viewer has a students eye view, they are of classrooms, and they follow a particular pattern. Shots of the screen/slides in classroom are short, with only necessary detail, and are jumping off points for watching polished and prepared individuals speak. The lectirer is the focus. Hands wave, lecturers move around the room, shift their gaze, and speak to the room, and not the screen. In short, it’s an engaging presence, alive, and communicative. And that works.

There are some issues with presentation. Some lectures have upbeat muzak in the background, which is bad design. It’s distracting, and we know from Cognitive Load that if you distract students with music, they will learn less. Certainly, the lectures with music were ones that I retained less information from. Can the music, and trust your lecturers to engage, evoke emotion where they need to, and be as good as they are.

Other lectures had cute, cool, funny animations. Again, we kow that such sewductive details, as the Cogntivists call them, detract from your ability to follow what’s being said. Animations that are on task are useful, especially for things like processes. But where they are off task, they detract from the amount of attention you give to what’s being said. The coller the animation, the more it detracts. Once again, you;ve gone to the effort to find good, engaging, subject competent lecturers. Trust them to be engaging without gimmicks. Because they are.

NO MCQ’S. This was so joy inducing. I doidn;t have to rpove I was paying attention by remembering one random fact from a ten minute lecture. I don’t have to fail mid lecture at something.

Lesson learned: establish your presence, mnake it communicative and engaged, use your slides, but sparingly, and for very specific purposes – ideally flash them up with a short piece of text that the core and then switch back to the on task speaker who elaborates on them. Be passionate in what you say, how you say it, and setup your shots so that can be heard and seen. Think carefully about what you want your students to see, and shoot that, when you want them to see it. Construct your virtual lecture so that you know you have your students attention. so that they want to listen. MCQ’s will not shock your students into remembering. They are no replacement for carefully conceived insructional design, the power of the presenter, and carefull attention to motivation, cognitive load, and utility.  Talk about the things that matter to your audience, and don;t penalise them for not remembering the things that profoundly don;t matter.


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