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What are the implications for learners of Massive Open Distance Courses?

Daphne Koller in her TED talk describes what she sees as the potential of her new initiative, Coursera, which provides courses from a host of major universities, free of charge, to anyone with a computer and interest in learning. Harvard and MIT followed suit with a similar initiative, edX, which does the same. Most major universities in the United States seem to be commited to one collaboration or the other.

At this point there are two big differences between these massive courses and courses in traditional settings. One is that active online interactions among students replace in-person interactions among those who attend a course in the classroom. Another is that students have no actual contact with or feedback from teaching staff, either to answer questions or to provide expert feedback on assignments. Students instead get feedback from peers, which I believe follows a point rubric rather than being narrative, but I am not sure how much variation there is in the style of feedback.

What will these MODCs mean for learners? Thoughts from those actually taking courses through Coursera, edX, or other distance learning initiatives are particularly welcome here!

If you would never contemplate taking such a course, why not?

Topics: education

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    Oct 30 2012: College was a while back, but I don't remember any face time with the profs. They gave the page numbers to be read before the next class and then skimmed over what was contained in the page numbers they gave us in the previous class. After a few cycles of that regimen they administered a test to determine if we remembered (not learned, but remembered) a prescribed minimum of the information on those hundreds of pages. I don't see how online learning could be any less efficient, so why not?
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      Oct 30 2012: For me, the face time really varied, but typically these days if a prof is not available to students, graduate student teaching assistants are. For example, daughter number two of mine spends ten or more hours each week working hard with two groups of 12-20 college sophomores to make sure they understand what is going on in physics.
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        Oct 30 2012: Hurrah! A sign of improvement. If today's students are used to having access to, at least, a T.A. for resolution of difficulties I suppose they would feel quite lost without that access. That seems to be a critical issue which could very likely prove to be non-workable.

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