Johannes Cronje is a keynote speaker at the upcoming eLearning Africa Conference. As the Dean of the Faculty of Informatics and Design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, when he began teaching a MOOC he wanted to do it the right way. Not content with assuming traditional teaching methods would translate to an online platform, he went back to school: enrolling himself in several MOOCs and hoping to gain, as a student, some useful experience that would better enable him to teach. As a lecturer and supervisor who has taught more than 42 doctoral students, he can be forgiven for having fallen behind with his reading occasionally for the several MOOCs he joined: but what he gleaned from his undertaking was vital insight into how best to approach teaching a MOOC.
by Matthew Labrooy
One of the most common concerns about learning online, is the loss of the social aspect of education – a factor which some believe could eventually inhibit learning. This is untrue according to Cronje – who argues that in reality the social aspect of universities is really just a form of entertainment. “Any good university course requires students to do much more out-of-class work than in-class work. In essence, a MOOC is really just an interactive textbook… The challenge is to make learners want to learn. Much more research needs to be done on motivation – particularly motivation in online learning.”
What Cronje feels should be of concern are the frequently-noted structural problems of Online Courses – the high dropout rate, the “added problem that if a course is poorly constructed then thousands of people get poor material” – and the effect of information overload on students. He explains: “Learning on the Internet generally has become a case of too much information, rather than too little.” As a professor he has discovered that, with the advent of online learning, he has gained a new role and responsibility: to help students orient themselves within a boundless information landscape, with few road signs to help navigate it.
Cronje argues that there is, conversely, an occasional advantage in giving learners as much information as possible: for example, when having them contextualise it to their personal circumstances and tailor their learning to their situation, where the purpose of the task is to overcome the difficulty in deciding what is important, and structuring it appropriately.
Now that the education landscape has changed so dramatically, thanks to online courses and highly accessible information, Cronje is wondering why classes are still being taught the old, traditional way, where, in African as well as in European Universities, “Students sit in classes and lecturers lecture…” Though there is clearly no fondness for the old system in these words, he is also not overly-attached to the MOOC: “I believe that MOOCS have the potential of flattening the world even more, yes, but I must say that I also believe that the current popularity of MOOCS will fade. Also, as more people develop them so they will become smaller.”
What, then, does the future hold? Cronje posits that blended learning – done right – is perhaps where the two strands of education may converge. “The trick with blended learning is to do it in such a way as to maximise the learning of the students by giving them tasks (real learning tasks, as opposed to ‘busy work’) while minimising the work of the instructor through tasks such as ’self-assessing’. By self-assessing I mean that once the task has been completed, we will know that the student has achieved the learning outcome, because without that outcome having been achieved the student would not have been able to do the task.”
Cronje will speak of his experiences with MOOCs as both an educator and a student at the upcoming eLearning Africa 2013 conference in Windhoek, Namibia – where he is particularly looking forward to networking – “So many of my friends are going to be there, and I am going to make so many new friends,” he enthuses.
The eLearning Africa conference will also feature several sessions focusing on MOOC experiences, including “Mad about MOOCs? But What Makes a MOOC Good?” chaired by Gertjan van Stam, an interactive session that discusses strategies and models for good MOOC design and draws on experiences of MOOC implementation among media activists.
For more information on the conference scheduling or registration please see here.