You can’t do science experiments online. And one-on-one learning—you don’t get that in a MOOC. Right? Not so fast.
Like pretty much every other reason that has been given for MOOCs being inferior to traditional forms of learning, the ideas that MOOCs are only good for declarative knowledge (i.e., fact-based knowledge that can be tested, albeit poorly, using multiple-choice questions) and that massive always means an instructor-student ratio of 100,000 to 1 are quickly being toppled.
First up, science experiments.
Online labs got their start a few decades ago, but until now the technology was not available to make these labs effective. Today, iLabs are gaining more interest, thanks in part to funding by the National Science Foundation, and remote labs are now available in subjects including physics, biology, chemistry, and math. Other remote labs are being built. For example, Lambertus Hesselink, a Stanford engineering professor, has been working on an optics diffraction experiment that will be publicly available this year.
Okay, that one was easy. Now what about personalized, one-on-one learning?
Here’s another place where technology is making inroads. While it is true that MOOCs will (probably) never be able to match professors to students on a one-on-one basis, that doesn’t mean that personalized tutoring isn’t possible. Marcel Salathe believes that MOOC 2.0 will focus on scaling face-to-face learning through a widely used technology that is already available: video chat. As he writes in an article for Wired, “a quick web search for face-to-face learning paints a clear picture of the status quo: it’s face-to-face learning versus online learning. Is it not obvious that face-to-face learning can occur online as well?” He believes that as far as online learning is concerned, 2015 will be the “year of the TA.”
To make this happen, Salathe has founded a Teeays, a platform that links online students to on-demand TAs. When MOOC students have a question, they can go to this site and request a TA who can help. Anyone can sign up to be a TA for a particular course (the site doesn’t specify if or how TAs are vetted), and it isn’t free (learners are charged, and TAs are paid, by the minute), but it is still certainly one way to approach the scaling problem.
When MOOCs first came out, their critics came up with a long list of things the courses couldn’t do. But one by one, education and technology innovators have been proving them wrong. And you know what they say: “Those who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it.”