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From Movies to MOOCs: Putting the Individual in Charge


• Marilyn Dwyer

I’ve been binging on Arrested Development  lately. It’s one of those guilty pleasures engaged in during down time, be it after a stressful day or a quiet Sunday evening. Thanks to Netflix, I can watch as much as I want, whenever I want, on whatever device I have at my fingertips (given I have internet access). This revolutionary approach to watching television was made possible by technology and entrepreneurship. And for $10 a month, it’s a bargain. Other apps like iTunes or Spotify do the same thing with music by making individual songs available by “unbundling” them from albums.

This is not so different from the promise that digital learning has to offer. Envision Arrested Development as a chemistry class offered as a MOOC by one of the many online providers. And I can take the class at the pace I need to in order to actually understand what “balancing equations” means. Yes, I could binge on chemistry were I so inclined. Not only could I go at the pace I need, I could re-review some of the material to be sure I actually understood the lesson. And much like Netflix, MOOC’s are not expensive. As a matter of fact, they’re free.

Many proponents of digital learning and MOOCs believe that if you are not responsible for your learning, then you’re not going to learn anything. In Sugata Mitra’s famous Ted Talk on the future of the education system, he discusses just this idea. He wishes to build a “School in the Cloud” so children can learn on their own, from each other, and through the help of computers, only using teachers when needed (something he did experimentally in India, and it worked). Wired magazine wrote a cover story with a similar story on students in the border town of Matramoros, Mexico where a teacher, Sergio Juárez Correa, asked open-ended questions and watched his students learn from each other. Although they didn’t have advanced technology, the method still worked. By the end of the year, one of his students was the top performing in the entire country. Letting children take control over their own education allowed them to move at their own pace, develop strong critical thinking skills, and become more interested in the subjects.

MOOCs have a lot to offer to the next step of education. They can help prepare students for the labor force. They offer several different mediums for learning like readings, activities, videos, and quizzes. They can help keep students engaged in learning, instead of losing students through the cracks that form when forced to move on before they’re ready. The options are almost overwhelming, but the opportunities are endless.

It’s unlikely I’ll ever be binging on chemistry. But perhaps I can find a way to get credit for my mastery of Arrested Development…


About the author


Marilyn Dwyer

marilyn@excelined.org