Increasing Active Learning in xMOOCs

Increasing Active Learning in xMOOCs

In the past few months, I’ve taken various Coursera, edX, and courses (all xMOOC-style courses).  The format for most of these is the same: a self-paced course using video lecture followed by a test.   They’re solid courses that are good if you want to  pick up some basic knowledge.  However, in their current format, they’re not so great for more active learning using application, analysis, and evaluation.

For example, I am in the middle of a data visualization course.  It has some excellent info, the instructors who did the lecture recordings seem quite knowledgeable, and I’m enjoying the process.  But, the lecture and test format really only prepares me to speak about principles, not apply them well.   To be fair, the course does use some peer-review activities to promote a little hands-on application.  Yet, I think that this, and similar courses, could be modified in a few simple ways that would not only provide more opportunities for application of knowledge, but also improve the peer-review process.   And, it can be done without requiring the xMOOC courses to add more teachers, graders, etc.

1: Provide more opportunities to practice applying knowledge and get feedback. Even in self-paced courses, it is possible for students to submit work and get good feedback.   In the dataviz course, for example, students could be given assignments to improve bad visualizations using whatever visualization principle they’re learning at the moment and explain their reasons for the improvements they made.  They could then submit their work and be able to download the ‘answer key’ that shows & explains what was wrong with the original and the different ways it could be improved.  The student could compare their work with the expert’s work and continue to develop their skills.

This type of activity wouldn’t require a teacher input except as it relates to creating the additional course content assignments and answer keys.  Additionally, by practicing and explaining their choices, the students will be more prepared to participate in peer-review activities.

2: Provide opportunities to analyze and evaluate others’ work and provide feedback. Applying the knowledge is just one step.  Another way to really practice is to analyze what someone else has done and evaluate it based on the principles being learned.  For example, in the dataviz course, it would have been great to see a wide variety of good, bad, and mediocre examples for each of the visualization principles and to provide feedback on those examples about why the visualization was/wasn’t good along with ideas about how each visualization could be improved.  Students could submit their work and then download answer keys which they could use to compare to their own analyses and evaluations.

This type of activity would also not require any teacher input except the initial creation of the content.  Plus, this activity more than any other, would really prepare students to do the Peer-graded activities.

3: Provide opportunities for inductive learning, please.   Telling students about a concept and having them apply it is great.  Showing them a bunch of examples and asking them to figure out the concept being demonstrated is really great – and quite a great way to encourage more active learning!

4: Create tests that require analysis and evaluation. Knowing the facts like “color is a great pre-attentive attribute” is important. Analyzing & evaluating items  regarding their application of those facts is also critical.  It is easy enough to create automatically graded quizzes that require a bit of analysis and evaluation.


I am a fan of providing multiple avenues/formats for learning.  Books, lectures, hands-on activities…  xMOOCs, cMOOCs, f2f classroom…   self-paced, group-paced…   anything that helps us help others learn is great.  But, we should be trying to figure out how to effectively develop learning opportunities within each of those formats.



Your Thoughts?

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