Why I Dropped Out of My First MOOC

I am in the midst of final edits for my first eBook, to be released on July 31. After sending these to my editor, I realized that lately I have not completed any work for this Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) I enrolled in this summer. The topic of learning was teaching and assessment in the 21st century.

So why didn’t I complete it?

It was a lot of sit and get.

There were a series of videos for each of the five weeks (I got through the first three weeks). Each video ranged from seven to twenty minutes long, with five or more videos each week. While the content being shared was fine, I had a problem with the way it was delivered. It was just the two main professors, speaking to the text that was shown on the screen. I was wondering how this is any different that sitting in a lecture hall. This is not how I would choose to spend my summer.

The content lacked context.

This is unfortunate, because I felt the people who developed this course have some interesting thoughts on the topic of 21st century instruction. However, not at one time did we see a piece of student work nor students actually working. The best that was shared was listening to two high school students trying to collaboratively solve a computer-based story problem, which leads me to my next concern…

I felt there was an agenda.

I cannot verify this. But there were too many examples that led me to believe that a large standardized assessment organization was involved in this MOOC. The company’s name was referenced more than once. In addition, the collaborative problem solving example just mentioned distinctly resembled how new computer-based tests might look like next year. There was a whole lot of talk about assessment, but very little about teaching. The title of the course was misleading.

It lacked relevance.

I went back and forth about whether I should continue to stay active with this MOOC. What would I miss that others might gain? Would I be seen as another “MOOC dropout”? In the end, it came down to how ready I was (or wasn’t) to absorb this information, in addition to applying it to my current school context. I can see how collaborative problem solving in online spaces might be a part of the future of assessment. But we are not there yet. Are you?

This topic is not being discussed within my personal learning network.

I consider the educators I follow and connect with to be the most up-to-date learners. To my knowledge, they are not discussing on Twitter or Google+ how to best assess students as they collaborate with peers to solve contrived story problems with computer access only. My PLN is like a bellweather for me when it comes to issues I need to develop more awareness of.

So what has been your experience with MOOCs? Is it similar or different than mine? Should I give MOOCs another shot in the future? Feel free to share your thinking in the comments.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

5 thoughts on “Why I Dropped Out of My First MOOC”

  1. Congratulations on dropping out of a MOOC that did not meet your learning needs! How wonderful that you were able to exert that control over your own learning program. How differently would teachers teach if students were able to make similar choices about classes that did not interest them or meet their needs.
    I find your reasons fascinating and quite familiar too. I think it is very important for instruction to model the methods being advocated. This was obviously not done in the course you were doing. I experienced a similar situation years ago when participating in a seminar about learning styles and group work. Really I shouldn’t use the word ‘participating’ as we weren’t. We were being barked at. Instead of using the proposed methods to engage us and assist us learn by doing, we were simply told what to do. It was boring, unconvincing and, disappointingly, a great waste of time.
    I have not tried a MOOC but have contemplated it. I haven’t yet found something that appealed. I had thought that being able to work at one’s own pace and choose which parts to concentrate on and which to ignore may be useful, but your experience is not a recommendation. Maybe it is a poor example and there are other better ones out there?
    I hate the thought of it promoting a marketer’s agenda. The effect of programs such as this can be quite insidious and requires a bit of counter-subversion to combat that. You have begun that quite well through the raising of your concerns.


      1. Hi Matt, No I hadn’t seen the article but it is very interesting. Thank you for drawing my attention to it. I was particularly interested in some of the conclusions:
        “These failed examples reinforce two well-worn lessons: Venture philanthropy cannot work unless students’ needs come first, and how you use technology is more important than the technology itself.”
        “If only certain types of learners can thrive under MOOCs, the innovation will have failed as a 21st-century technology and education platform. Its success, therefore, depends on the developers’ ability to address inequality; ”
        There is a lot there to challenge educators to improve how they reach, and meet the needs of, students. It seems you weren’t the only dissatisfied customer!
        I’ve been very time poor recently so have a few weeks of your posts to catch up on. I haven’t forgotten. I always learn so much. I’ll get there when I can. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve had the very same experience and applaud you for outlining the obstacles so clearly! I was most turned off by “there was an agenda” aspect of my MOOC. Throughout my MOOC, a company’s name and its resources were mentioned frequently; I felt I was being manipulated, as there was also a misleading title and was irrelevant to my classroom/professional growth. I’m noticing this as a trend, in general, and I worry about it.


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