Choose Your Own Adventure, the Future of Online Learning

The combination of visiting 2U’s office, reading Coursera’s 5 Tips: Learn more effectively in class with Mastery Learning, and seeing ZDNet’s article Mettl bets big on MOOCs assessment in the last few weeks has led me to believe that the future of online learning lies in “customized” learning tracks.

To truly help students learn, the classes should be akin to those old Choose Your Own Adventure books. For example, the mid- and post-video quizzes typically found in most MOOCs should not only tell students whether they were right or wrong, but also lead students to different video explanations depending on their response. However, unlike the books, the videos will need to draw students back to the same/similar conclusions after branching out through different explanations. This technique would be especially beneficial for social science and humanities classes.

In my teaching experience, I’ve always avoided giving students the answer, but rather trying to lead them to at the “correct” conclusions or answers on their own. The same thing can be done by showing different response videos depending on a student’s quiz answers, rather than just “Incorrect” or “Correct” and a short explanation. Such a student experience would require vastly more effort and video from professors. But, the videos could be easily applied to classes which have persistent content by continually iterating over previous releases of the course. In addition, this technique would “lead” students to discover the answers for themselves, rather than just giving it to them, helping them truly gain mastery over a subject area.
correct2U is applying similar tactics to some of its courses, but it could be expanded to all online classes (definitely including MOOCs). I’m currently in the middle of Michael Sandel’s Justice course on edX, and its polls strive to achieve something similar, by leading each student to a different forum depending on their poll response. However, the poll forums still depend on quality responses from other students, whereas videos from the professor could give students much more guidance. (Side rant: Quality responses in Justice are not upvoted; instead there’s a cornucopia of replies, which I feel reduces overall quality and the collaborative learning opportunities.)
pollSuch techniques may not lead to exact same results that Mettl strives for, but it is a step closer to a “hands-on assessment” and it helps to nullify the need to cheat on many computer-graded assignments. It would also be more helpful in getting students to learn a topic than Coursera’s “mastery learning” which merely requires students to answer quiz questions correctly after repeated tries. Though Coursera’s system pushes a student towards getting 100% on assignments, it becomes easy to “game” the system, and students usually are not required to achieve a certain score before moving on. Thus, the onus is still on students to devote more time to learning, rather than maximizing the little time they can schedule for voluntary online courses.

Instead, to take full advantage of every moment a student dedicates to voluntary online studies, courses should lead students along individualized learning tracks, again, just like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

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