Once a student, always a student!

In the last three years, I attended to several online classes (MOOCs = Massive Online Open Courses). Some of the motivational reasons were certainly the courses, the various disciplines and knew knowledge I was able to collect so far. There was, most of the time not to say always, another interesting matter that added to my motivation, the students’ behaviour. A MOOC grabs people (learners) from almost everywhere, the common prerequisites are minimal, access to a connected computer and the will to attend classes. If the course is oriented to your professional discipline, you are part of a group of thousands of registered participants.

If MOOCs have succeeded to something more than providing courses, it is definitely the social gathering, not from a single city, state, province or country, they have extended the limits of a campus to the entire planet (at least where a connection to the web is possible). From a restricted microcosm (students who pay their tuition and who register to attend to a physical campus) to the extend pool of people regardless of their origins.

Virtual students
Image credits: International Student News

Human behaviour can be specific to the cultural and social inheritance from traditions, family, religion and many more, but there is still one trait that will change so little: how do people behave in class (real or virtual).

When I joined my first MOOC in 2011, I did care only for the lectures, the readings ad of course the assignments. I rarely contributed to the social activities via social medias, discussion boards, etc. Although I gained a rewarding experience I felt I did miss something beyond the class itself, noting I did not “meet” (Virtually) any other student and after the course ended, I returned to my daily activities. If a MOOC objective was to put me in contact with other people, well I did not meet the expectation. The next courses, I got involved contributing and following some of the most interesting threads and discussions. This is when and where I discovered the unchanged realities of students’ behaviours. People who were anxious to cover all the material, worrying if the notes they took were complete, asking questions that any student would ask, commenting on how simple or, of course how complicated these lectures were, etc. Inevitably there were also the technical (logistics) questions, people who could not download a lecture, others who could not print a document, etc. All these little events made me smile remembering the days I went to college, the very same things happening but in a virtual realm.

In conclusion, I think that if virtual education is meant to bring a new schooling life-style, the rules and regulations need to upgrade to that level of social life too. I know some organizations are trying very hard and very diligently to bring that change in their online courses. During one the MOOCs I attended the approach was built around the theme of change, using a more adapted pedagogical philosophy. This also made me struggle with the new proposed way. The teaching board did a tremendous job, however the thing they did miss somehow, was to prepare students that they could walk into their course in a very different way from the traditional one. Many people dropped class, as I did too.

A few months later, I went back to the same class, and got myself prepared and aware to the new methodology, my course went ways better. Since I long this new learning method as not all online courses are tailored in the same new fashion.

The success of virtual education is not only the content teachers and professors provide, nor social tools or adopting trendy technologies, it is a matter of people talking to people regardless of the channels or tools.

I think if virtual learning will ever succeed to embrace real education, it has also to adapt to people’s realities and needs. The top bottom way to educated people does not necessarily work in virtual world, maybe it is about time to look at the bottom (people) to top approach. Teachers and professors becoming real coaches to students (people) who, through their motivational engagement, will seek guidance and help from the experts. The role of teaching is shifting to a more humanized way, teachers have many more years ahead to get involved and not look at virtual learning as their direct competitor for their jobs!

Michel – September 23, 2014