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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Most Popular Online Course Teaches You to Learn

Photo: John Markoff
John Markoff, senior writer for The New York Times reports, "Critics say Massively Open Online Course, or MOOCs, are over-hyped. But defenders say they are reaching people in unexpected ways." 

The world’s most popular online course is a general introduction to the art of learning, taught jointly by an educator and a neuroscientist. “Learning 

How To Learn,” which was created by Barbara Oakley, an electrical engineer, and Terry Sejnowski, a neuroscientist, has been ranked as the leading class by enrollment in a survey of the 50 largest online courses released earlier this month by the Online Course Report website.

The course is “aimed at a broad audience of learners who wanted to improve their learning performance based on what we know about how brains learn,” said Dr. Sejnowski, the director of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif.
With 1,192,697 students enrolled since the course was created last year, “Learning How to Learn,” which is offered by the University of California through Coursera, an online learning company which has partnered with a number of universities, has narrowly edged out the more tightly focused course, “Machine Intelligence,” taught by Stanford University professor Andrew Ng, which currently has 1,122,031 students enrolled.

The similar enrollment figures are striking in part because the field of machine learning has become one of the hottest university areas of study in recent years. High technology companies are competing intensely in Silicon Valley and elsewhere for newly minted data scientists.

The enrollment figures indicate that massively open online courses, or MOOCs, which in 2012 emerged as a potentially disruptive force that some believed might threaten the modern educational system, are continuing to evolve and gaining broad acceptance as part of an increasingly diverse marketplace for online education.
The Achilles heel of the MOOC phenomena has been that while enrollments have been huge, the number of students who actually complete courses for credit has remained low. That has led traditional educators to argue that the new technology would fail because students are generally less motivated to complete coursework online.
The completion rate — or “stickiness” — of the “Learning How to Learn” course has been above 20 percent, said Dr. Sejnowski, roughly twice the average for most MOOCs. He said the course is now attracting about 2,000 new students a day from 200 countries. The course was created after the two researchers met at the National Science Foundation-financed Science of Learning Center at the University of California at San Diego, which Dr. Sejnowski directs.
Dr. Oakley, a professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan, acknowledged that although only roughly 50,000 of the more than one million enrollees in her course had actually received a certificate for the course, certification was the wrong metric to understand the impact of the new form of online education. 

Source: New York Times (blog)

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