My MOOC experiments – Udemy’s disappointment

Inspired by Daphe Koller‘s talk about the experience of running Coursera – the Stanford’s MOOC initiative – I have decided to more seriously dip my toe in this latest high-ed craze.

I was already a ‘student’ on one of the free Udemy ‘courses’ – quotation marks indicating that it has not been what I would call quite call a satisfying educational experience – or even an educational experience for that matter. Very much like impulse-buying one of these ‘for dummies’ book offerings (“Oh – I always wanted to learn how to crochet a hyperbolic plane”) and leaving it to gather dust on the shelf for the lack of motivation.  Motivation usually provided by human interaction, and yes, the ability to be tested, given feedback as well as getting some kind of a certificate of achievement. The latter preferably with some weight – not a completion certificate equivalent of a well done star we may receive from a pre-school teacher. Even motivation induced by some kind of a looming deadline.

Of course, Udemy makes a gesture towards interaction via discussion boards. But you can hardly call a collection of random comments on a lecture – half of which were unanswered questions about technical issues – a rewarding experience. As some of them were quite dated – there was also very little prospect of a true exchange, connecting with people and discussion. And certainly no real indication of which comments were valid and which erroneous via some kind of input from the instructor – a real issue with crowd sourcing your support!

As so much online learning – it looks very much like an online video textbook throwing content at people.

Video viewing experience was also a bit glitchy within Udemy – and as the same videos were available directly in YouTube I saw even less reason to access them via this educational portal.

OK – perhaps I am a tad negative here – it may be that Udemy and me were just not a good match. After all Udemy is only a platform to be used by others to create their offerings and should not itself be blamed for the failings of the educators using it. Also – Udemy has updated its interface since I looked at it last. It allows you to monitor your progress/completion (saving the last spot you were at), handily shows comments directly next to the relevant material and lets you take notes in parallel to watching the lecture (not sure though who would want to do that if there is no export option – ideally together with the lecture transcript/printout). But all of these are just cosmetic additions to what is basically the same old model of teaching at people.

Serendipitously, just after Daphne’s talk, I heard about Power Searching with Google MOOC experiment. It looked a bit more promising than Udemy – the session was scheduled within a two-week period, with timed material release, to give students a chance to interact more-or-less synchronously. Oh – and there was a certificate. So my toe-tipping commenced in earnest last week…but I will have to save reporting on this for the next time.


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