Monday, October 7, 2013

On Online Learning

There is probably a reason why, after 10 years, I'm still a university student. I can't say what it is, but I think I may be addicted to learning. At the beginning of the year, I discovered MOOCs (massive online open courses) through an article that randomly popped up on my Facebook feed. Eight months later, I've completed two courses through edX, and am on my way to finishing two more.

The key to the success of these courses, I find, are the entry surveys that they typically ask you to complete before the first lecture. One part of most of these surveys asks you to select a response to a series of sentences. The available responses go from "Not at all confident", through "Somewhat confident", to "Extremely confident". My reaction to these sentences often runs something like this.

      "I am confident that my English skills are sufficient for this course."
Of course. No doubt there. Extremely confident.

      "I am confident I can understand the main concepts taught in this course." I'm doing a PhD in engineering. I should hope I can understand this. Extremely confident.

      "I am confident that I can handle the assignments, the quizzes and tests in this MOOC." Once again, absolutely no doubt. It couldn't be much harder than anything I've handled before. Extremely confident.

      "I am confident that I will finish the course." The slap in the face question. It gets me every time. It's like the arrogant "Oh yeah, then prove it" that I just can't back down from. Over the next few weeks, I will find myself working late on Sunday nights just to finish some assignment for a deadline the next morning, feeling like a complete undergrad, wondering why I ever signed up for this torture. Every time, I will think to myself, I could just quit. "There's no obligation to complete the course and earn a certificate", the FAQ constantly reminds me. But I don't quit, all because of that one time, right at the beginning of the course, that a survey used my ego to blackmail me into admitting that I was "somewhat confident" that I would finish the course.

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