MOOC’s and online learning

I’ve posted about this sort of thing in the past, but seeing the most recent conversation about learning and technology, I thought I’d post it up again. I’ve recently taken two online courses. I completed the Attain N3 level Japanese course from Attain through the Udemy platform, as well as the Learning How To Learn course on Coursera. Both courses were really good.

Is online learning better than attending a college lecture or a small group section?

There are advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantages to MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) are cost and convenience. The Learning How to Learn course was free, and I bought the Japanese course during a sale for $10. N3 Level Japanese is supposed to be equal to a fifth semester class in college. There is no college in the country that charges $10 for a college-level class. You can take online courses whenever you want because you’re never on someone else’s schedule–the internet runs 24-7. If you miss something during the videos, you can just play it again. If you miss it a second time, you can play it again. You can play it over and over until you understand what the instructor is saying.

The biggest disadvantages are that you’re on your own and dealing with a computer, rather than other humans. There are no other students to push you or share learning tips. It’s easy to fall into procrastination traps (although the Learning How To Learn course teaches you have to avoid these). The computer itself can be distracting; it’s hard to study on the same device that connects you to your e-mail and social media. There’s a tendency to “interact” with the computer, which often means that your mind is needlessly active with non course-related activities.

I think there are probably advantages and disadvantages for various subjects as well–certain courses of study lend themselves better to MOOC’s than others. I’ve heard that online computer courses are great, while I can’t imagine learning literature on a computer.

As for my current course of study, Japanese, I think the online course is useful for introducing new material, but not very useful in mastering new material–at least not as useful as one might think. First, there truly is no substitute for a live native speaker who can speak with you and correct you. You’ll never be able to converse at natural speed without being exposed to someone who challenges you to respond at natural speed. Second, one might think that it’s easy to memorize something with pure repetition, but I’ve found that this isn’t necessarily the case. It’s far more useful to hear words within the context of articles or media that you’re trying to understand. YouTuber Steve Kaufman has excellent advice on listening and reading in order to learn languages. I agree with everything he says: material is easy to learn if it’s interesting, and the most interesting material comes from sources that are trying to convey ideas, not teach languages. I also agree that language exchange is far more efficient than classroom practice.

Anyway, I’m still a big fan of MOOC’s and online learning. I’m planning to buy Attain’s Japanese course for the next level, and I’m hoping to take more courses in the future. Online learning is accelerating the growth of human knowledge. While I strongly believe that online material must always be combined with real world practice, it’s undeniable that the web has opened up huge avenues for busy people to continue expanding their knowledge.

5 thoughts on “MOOC’s and online learning

  1. Learning about learning, how meta! lol

    I think it depends on the type of skills you’re trying to acquire. Electronics and sciences lab cannot be substituted by online courses that’s purely concept driven.

    However, videos and apps definitely help more and are more engaging than teachers who are usually impatient and held accountable for test scores rather than understanding of knowledge and applying said knowledge to new situations.

    If it’s purely language learning, have you heard about memrise and other similar apps that can “listen” to your pronunciation of words? That’s the positive aspect of computer voice recognition: it knows what a “native speaker” sounds like and can infer how close you are to fluency and gauge your speech. And computers never get tired or impatient, etc, so for “purely conceptual” areas like humanities and even mathematics, apps and computers are much better than humans.

    Of course, classrooms are definitely still need for human interaction and socialization. Even then, it maybe that within geographic areas you’ll send gifted kids to special curriculums for summer camp type of social interaction and hands-on labs.

  2. The downside is also finding “experts” who are really experts and not just random person spouting off “fake news” and “fake knowledge. For example, right now I’m trying to review some of my past notes from STEM courses and supplementing then with youtube videos, along some others.

    Most instructors recite the textbook passages of Entropy and Enthalpy and Gibbs Free Energy as derived from classical statistical mechanics. None of them has any insights or new ways of explaining state functions from said properties other than what’s written in the textbook.

    My college professors were good, but they also didn’t go into details and understanding except to just write down the partition functions of different ensembles. It’s just fuzzy numbers without understanding the qualitative nature of “why” or even “how” these equations are derived.

  3. Does Memrise have a voice recognition function? I didn’t know about that! I know that Rosetta Stone has a voice recognition function, but I don’t know of many people who actually use it. It’s probably helpful to use, but I also imagine it’s time consuming and boring as hell compared to speaking with a live speaker. With a live speaker–assuming the live speaker is a friend or an acquaintance, and not a paid teacher who is looking to grade you–there’s emotional interaction. So it’s a lot more fun than talking to a screen.

    Actually, that’s a really good point you bring up. One thing I always hated about language classes is that the person who teaches you is the same person who makes the tests designed to mess with you. I remember language classes in school, and those were definitely not very much fun. As you said, it was all about the tests. I’m not sure if there is a good way to teach language in schools without tests, but tests definitely get in the way of having fun with the language, and languages should be fun. I don’t think I’m ever going to take a language course again for the rest of my life.

    All of the language MOOC’s I’ve used are just material, no tests.

    It’s funny that you bring up tests. I didn’t realize how much I hate tests until just now. Of course, I’m studying for a test, and I’m doing so voluntarily. I don’t hate the test that I’m studying for. But this test is just once a year. I could do without the weekly testing bullshit that we had in school. Maybe the lack of tests is another way in which MOOC’s are better than school.

    I wonder if there’s a similar test-free way to learn science. If tests got in the way of my language learning, maybe tests are getting in the way of other people’s science learning. I do believe in tests, but I think they should be done less frequently. Yeah, I know that that’s not really practical for school–you may need regular testing to make sure the kids are keeping up. But man, what a drag!

  4. I’m not exactly sure how good it is, since I only opened up the program when it’s “editor’s choice” and played for a few minutes and it said there’s voice recognition.

    I think duolingo also has it, so does other programs. But nothing beats language immersion for sure.

    Even then, what accents? The history of language has been about power if you spoke “the Queen’s English” as I’ve experienced in Hong Kong and China where they’re jealous they’re not as fluent, but still look down if you’re not upper crust BBC accented Londoner.

    The Macy’s department store accent study is well known in Linguistics 101…

    Also, there’s a movement towards “universal language” that’s most likely English in the future since our media brainwashing is influencing the whole world…

    Esperanto is heavily EU based and not other languages…

  5. aadvark the isolationist, who is Anti-White, Anti-Western, now talks about learning foreign languages spoken in the West and what was the former British Ruled HK. How lovely!

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