What was the difference? Two things: one, in the classroom, if you don't do the task, you just sit there waiting for the others to finish -- you don't actually get the time back; two, normally your work will be examined by someone else -- either the teacher or a classmate, and if someone reads or hears your work, it has a purpose. Even if only half of your classwork is ever read or heard, it at least provides some kind of motivation.
But when the book I was reading on my told me to write 200 words on my opinion of the treatment of minority languages in Spain, I knew I could be doing something else with my time, and I couldn't be bothered sitting down and writing something no-one else would ever read.
MOOCs, they would have us believe, address this, by making sure you have peers available at all times to read and comment. Sadly, there's no guarantees, with some postings to group forums getting lots of views and/or comments, and some getting none at all. The act of writing becomes an act of uncertainty -- it's like talking to the darkness without knowing whether or not there's actually anyone there.
I don't know about you, but this doesn't really motivate me to write much. The latest task description:
Before we examine MOOCs in more detail, briefly consider if the MOOC approach could be adopted in your own area of education or training. Post your thoughts in your blog and then read and comment on your peers’ postings.Well... who am I writing it to? Who's going to read it? Is anyone actually going to see it before it rolls off the bottom of the monolithic, uncategorised course blog aggregator?
Looking at the writing style of many of my peers, I'm not the only one with these doubts. More than a few of the blog posts barely classify as prose, instead being little more than the writer's personal lecture notes.
This creates something of a death-spiral. Because some of the blog posts don't lend themselves to reading, people don't read them, and don't comment on them. This discourages them from viewing the blog aggregator, which means they don't see and don't comment on the genuinely readable posts, leading authors to become despondent about the lack of views, leading them to write without the expectation of gaining a readership, which leads to them not putting the effort in to make their posts readable, so people don't read them....
And yet, when we eventually tire of this and give up, the guys behind the MOOC don't view it as a pedagogical failure -- they shrug their shoulders and talk about learning choice and learner independence, and say that by leaving the course we're exercising those characteristics they want most to instill in us.
But I don't take courses to learn learner independence. I take courses to get expert guidance to aid me in the acquisition of new domain knowledge, because while I can operate adequately as an independent learner, expert guidance gets me there quicker.