Blended learning? I do that all the time!

19 Jan

Or: what I learned about MOOCs by doing yoga

I tend to like new technologies and mostly see the positive in them. Of course, I know that new technologies can bring harm too, but my initial feelings about new stuff are usually positive. In line with this I love the idea of MOOCs (massive open online courses). 100,000 people learning python from some of the best computer science teachers in the world. Isn’t that awesome? (I wrote about this earlier here)

Not all that glitters …

Although I think there is lots of awesome about MOOCs, it is clear that there is also some less awesome. I was reminded of this by my friend Yuri Matteman who wrote a short essay about the risks of MOOCs (the essay is in Dutch and published in this nice book). In his essay, Yuri explains that most of the 100,000 people who enroll in a MOOC will never finish the course. In fact, as many as 90,000 will likely not finish. And therefore, we should think about what the MOOC does to those people. I think that a substantial number of these 90,000 “MOOC drop-outs” will walk away thinking that python (or another topic) is just too hard for them, which is sad because it is probably not true.

For me, the Python MOOC worked (link), but I already knew how to program in C++ and R, so the course was relatively easy for me. In many other cases, I would likely be amongst like the 90,000 MOOC drop-outs.

In his essay, Yuri argues that MOOCs can be extremely useful if they are combined with real teachers and real classrooms, something that is often referred to as “blended learning”. Real teachers in a classroom can help and motivate the students in a way that no online course can ever do.

We use more “blended learning” than you may think

How can real life teachers and real classrooms be combined with online courses? I think this is easier than you may think, and I think it already happens a lot in informal settings. Personally, I use a combination of online and real life classes every week, as a yoga student.

There are more online yoga classes on YouTube than I could ever do in my life. However, when I wanted to start yoga last year, these online classes were mostly useless to me. I was a complete beginner and I wasn’t sure that I would be able to do yoga, and I needed a real teacher and a real classroom.

Here are some of the reasons why I needed the real life classes:

1. I needed reassurance: I thought that I was too stiff for yoga, but the teacher told me that my range of motion was perfectly normal. Also it was also good to see that some of the other students were not that flexible either.
2. I got useful feedback from my teacher, such as: “bend your left knee a little more,” something that usually doesn’t happen with online courses (although it can be done).
3. Knowing the teacher personally helped me to stick to my plans. When I promised the teacher that I would come to class, I actually went. In addition, with the real teacher, I always finish the whole hour of the class, whereas I often stop after half an hour if the teacher is in a YouTube video.
4. Finally, it was fun to get to know the teacher and the other students, and that motivates me go back to the classes every week.

Later, the YouTube videos became useful

After a few months, I really started to like yoga, but I couldn’t always make it to class. Plus, I occasionally wanted to do different exercises than the ones my teacher did. Now the millions of YouTube videos suddenly became useful for me! With a few months of yoga practice under my belt, the videos were a great resource, and I started to follow different teachers online in addition to my real teacher. This week my teacher is on holidays, but I now know enough yoga to find the videos that are good for me and that keep my practice going when she is not here.

I practice blended learning all the time. And it is great! But all the YouTube videos will never make the real yoga teachers obsolete. Just like the MOOCs will not make teachers and professors obsolete. There is no risk in the MOOCs, the risk is in people who think that MOOCs can replace teachers. 

My yoga teachers:

Jen Hilman
Erin Motz
Real Life Yoga Teacher: Gloria Tan 

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