Passive learning online isn’t enough!

Asleep at the Wheel by Aaron Jacobs (Flickr)

Yesterday the Chronicle’s Wired Campus blog  had a post trumpeting what sounded like a pretty obvious conclusion about massive online courses: “Passive MOOC Students Don’t Retain New Knowledge, Study Finds.”

The study’s author explains:

We’ve observed that the highly structured MOOC design focuses on content provision, which the participants are very positive about.

The structure, however, does not encourage learners to actively self-regulate their learning. If anything, participants, even those with high self-regulated learning ability, tend to limit their activity to reading and interacting with course content, overlooking opportunities to use the theory they’ve learned to improve their practice.”

It seems obvious enough (that experiencing course content through osmosis doesn’t mean really learning something), but it’s a lesson we have to keep reminding ourselves of when we design online courses.

For all the time, energy, and technology that goes into making videos, web content, ebooks, and quizzes, the crucial elements of the course are the low-tech ones: discussion, collaboration, and (most important) practice with feedback.

As time passed… [students’] main concerns shifted to completing the course and getting high scores, not practicing their newly acquired skills.

“Learners focused on activities such as watching videos and taking tests, with little evidence of learners’ relating new knowledge into practice, or connecting to their peers through the discussion board,” said Colin Milligan, a research fellow at the university, in a news release.

Active learning makes courses messier—but more meaningful. A canned course that’s just videos, readings, and exams can be easier for both the instructor and the students, but it probably won’t lead to the kind of learning that students come to Ohio State to experience!

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