Tag Archives: Khan Academy

MOOC History…or Lack Thereof – Excerpts from MOOC Research

Note: I will use this space over the next month to share excerpts from my dissertation The Evolution & Impact of the Massive Open Online Course. The research was a Delphi study bringing together 20 MOOC experts to discuss the MOOC in educational, political, and sociocultural terms (slides from the oral presentation can be seen here). Upon library clearance, the entire document will be available through a Creative Commons license. The following is from Chapter 2, the literature review. This excerpt looks at the history of the MOOC as defined by MOOC providers and developers such as Coursera, edX and Udacity.

MOOC history and MOOC influences.  The linking of MOOCs to historical precedents and influences is found wonting in both academic and popular literature.  Part of this is due to the relative newness of the MOOC, a phenomenon that caught fire at the end of 2011, but it must be noted that, when speaking about MOOCs, developers consistently fail to link the learning model to existing research, trends or prior histories (Bady, 2013b).  Rather, developers have discussed their work in the context of random opportunity meeting individual exceptionalism, a identifying it as a bold experiment (Rodriguez, 2012) rather than denoting or clarifying the role of prior experiments. According to the existing literature, if MOOC developers were influenced by prior efforts in online learning, distance education, and/or educational theory, those influences were tacit (Waldrop, 2013).

This is not to say that developers have not linked their learning model to other thinkers or models.  MOOC developers such as Sebastian Thrun (2012) and Andrew Ng (2013), along with the developers for former open-source MOOC platform Class2Go (Wan, 2012), have noted the influence of Salman Khan, a hedge fund analyst who left business to focus his energies on the development of a platform for sharing academic tutorial videos he created for a relative (Khan, 2012).  His enterprise, Khan Academy, is an educational website that aggregates short video tutorials based around common academic subjects.  Recent efforts to expand the scope and abilities of Khan Academy have focused on adding assessment tools as well as data collection for teachers to utilize in their own classrooms (Walsh, 2012).

Khan himself does not link his influences in the development of Khan Academy to historical precedents or educational theories, rather noting that much of his inspiration was based on practice and intuition rather than academic research:

Every time I put a YouTube video up, I look at the comments — at least the first 20, 30, 40 comments that go up — and I can normally see a theme… I think it’s nice to look at some of the research, but I don’t think we would… and I think in general, people would be doing a disservice if they trump what one research study does and there’s a million variables there (Weber, 2011).

The research Khan does cite comes from cognitive science, a psychological field dedicated to interpreting how the brain interprets information via thought (Khan, 2012). Within education, cognitive theory seeks to utilize the nature of the brain’s ability to store memory and utilize prior knowledge in undertaking complex or multi-step problems (Bruning, Shaw & Norby, 2010).  While important to the development of learning theory over the past 40 years, its current place in the canon of educational theory is as a stepping-stone to more modern theories, an important step in the development of learning theory but not the destination (Fosnot, 1996).  However, focus on memory, recall and learning styles inherent to cognitive learning theories are similar to the personalized aspects of MOOC technologies afforded to students (Siemens, 2013a).

It is similar cognitive research that Anant Agarwal, the director of MOOC organization edX, heralded as a “must-read” (Rivard, 2013a) for anyone involved in higher education instruction.  The paper Agarwal heralded was a 1972 review of existing memory-based research and a proposal for unique methods to consider information processing in context to memory (Craik & Lockhart, 1972).  Similar to Khan, Agarwal noted how his scholarship and methodology toward MOOC pedagogical practices was similar in scope to the study prior to reading this research, saying, “If we followed [this research], it was completely by accident” (Rivard, 2013a).

Non-Web Citations:

Bruning, R., Schraw, G. & Norby, M. (2010).  Cognitive psychology and instruction. New York:  Pearson.
Craik, F. & Lockhart, R. (1972).  Levels of processing:  A framework for memory research.  Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior, 11(1), 671-684.
Fosnot, C. (1996). Constructivism: A psychological theory of learning. In C. T. Fosnot (Ed.), Constructivism: Theory, perspectives, and practice (pp. 8-33). New York: Teachers College Press.
Khan, S. (2012).  The one-world schoolhouse:  Education reimagined.  New York:

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Research in a World of Constant Connection – #AERA13

Research plays an integral part in the archetype of a college professor.  At state and select private universities (often known as Research I schools), a professor’s research record is as important as their teaching and service records, often more so.  At mid-major and liberal arts colleges, research may not be as integral but it is still important and relevant.  The ability for a professor to conduct topical and relevant research from implementation to publication is considered vital to the growth of the specific discipline as well as academia at large.

This is evident at a conference like the American Educational Research Association’s Annual Meeting, happening right now in San Francisco, where thousands of educators are presenting their research findings to thousands of attendees.  The sheer volume of papers and presentations on topical issues across the various strata of education is overwhelming, and AERA has worked diligently to divide their membership mass into divisions and special interest groups so that individuals can find field-specific topics to utilize for their scholarship or to share their scholarship.

I want to ask the question but does it matter? and then cut to the page break, being all provocative and such.  That’s not the right question, because it does matter.  It matters a lot.  But how much of a difference is it truly making?  Continue reading

A Critical Review of Andrew Ng’s “Learning from MOOCs”

My research and scholarship revolves around how learning technology (specifically recent explosions in distance and online learning technologies such as Khan Academy, cMOOCs and xMOOCs) affects the teaching profession.  There is great scholarship on the difficulties of distance instruction, and a whole host of people writing about educational technology while showing concern to stakeholders existing in academics.  There is not a lot of research writing on MOOCs as of yet, and very little on the xMOOC so commonly considered when discussing MOOCs.  And there is even less MOOC writing that focuses on instructors, or on the teaching profession, and how MOOCs work with/affect it.  Andrew Ng, one of the co-founders of Coursera, has an essay in today’s Inside Higher Education where he looks specifically at the relationship between MOOC and instructor.  In reading MOOC literature (and the subsequent comments), I find a great deal of how one interprets the writing depends a great deal on that individual’s prior inferences and assumptions.  This is nothing new — perhaps it just seems new and loud in a world of quick publishing — but it bears mention, especially when it is easy to consider any writing to be Fact.  There are multiple ways to read a text; I am taken back to Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding and his ideas of dominant, oppositional and resistance readings.  In the spirit of this article, I am going to tackle it from the theoretical standpoint of critical pedagogy. Continue reading

Khan and Papert: Transformational Computers vs. Transformational Computing

In doing some MOOC reading I again got into the comments section to find a difference of opinion, this time on Khan Academy, a content delivery system many xMOOCs herald as inspiration for their wares. I evoked Seymour Papert’s 1991 book The Children’s Machine, specifically his kitchen math discussion, in an attempt to look at why a lecture-based mathematics instruction often doesn’t translate into understanding math for application in life. Another commenter provided this Papert quote in saying that Khan and Papert would agree on the benefit of Khan Academy:

“There won’t be schools in the future…. I think the computer will blow up the school. That is, the school defined as something where there are classes, teachers running exams, people structured in groups by age, following a curriculum-all of that. The whole system is based on a set of structural concepts that are incompatible with the presence of the computer. …But this will happen only in communities of children who have access to computers on a sufficient scale.

My response: Continue reading

Which Educators are Changing Higher Education?

I came across a piece from Smithsonian Magazine profiling Sebastian Thrun, the man behind the xMOOC prototype via Stanford’s Intro to AI course (the research community needs a shorthand for this) as well as Udacity.  Thrun won the Smithsonian’s American Ingenuity Award for Education based off his work in the MOOC world, and the magazine’s piece about him starts off as most smartly written puff pieces do:  a description of the location, the unique idiosynchracies of Thrun as he and the writer meet, a tangential topic that will show its relevance later…boilerplate journalism.  The article was passed along via Cathy Davidson of HASTAC, whose work I admire and appreciate, so I didn’t want to cast the article out as more meaningless hype about how the world of education is undergoing immense change and these MOOC things are going to save everyone and everything.  So I kept reading.

If you are a follower of this blog, you know my interest is on finding the theoretical underpinnings of the xMOOC movement.  If you were to look at the media narrative, the xMOOC just showed up one day and was the way to save education…that is disingenuous to learning theory, teaching pedagogy and the history of education, online/distance or otherwise.  I have had a great deal of difficulty finding theoretical ground on which the xMOOC developers stand…the discussion usually focuses on economics, global access, disruptive technology, parallels to the dot.com era, or heartwarming student anecdotes.  This article goes in a different direction, as Thrun opens up a bit on his education views. Continue reading

MOOCs – Sliced Bread, or the Ron Popeil Bread Slicer?

There’s a lot of hype about MOOCs (and when I put hype and MOOC together, I mean xMOOC), and with the hype comes a resistance from ed tech folks.  The arguments go something like this:  hype machine says MOOCs are the next big thing and the best thing to happen in ages, and resistance says MOOCs aren’t great, aren’t new, and aren’t making things better.  A prime example comes from some hype dished up by the MIT Technology Review entitled The Most Important Education Technology in 200 Years, countered by D’Arcy Norman’s terse reply whose tag line involves fertilizer.  What we forget when we enter a point-counterpoint frame of mind is that both points of view come from ideologies and histories that result in the digital artifacts I have linked to.  Studying those artifacts to find the encampment inferences and foundations can help us see the positives and negatives of both sides rather than following one full throttle. Continue reading

Third-Party MOOCs

Defining the MOOC phenomenon from an educational perspective starts with theoretical foundation, and in order to build a theoretical foundation, one must look at the history of a movement.  This develops over a course of weeks and months of reading articles, fishing out noteworthy citations, reading those articles, and over time finding a path to various historical movement, seminal authors, and moments in time considered relevant by the community crowd.  Over the past two months, this journey started with MOOC, dove into aiMOOC and urMOOC, and started to gel around cMOOC and xMOOC as the two primary MOOC formats, with a collection of similarities but a wealth of differences.  Comparison study on historical, theoretical and pedagogical levels is my attempt to work on defining what MOOCs are and (perhaps more importantly) why they arrived and where we are going because of this moment in time.

The MOOC movement has exploded over the past nine months, and my assumption was that the media narrative of MOOC was too clean for the explosion happening, that we needed to start to delineate between xMOOC and cMOOC, and perhaps MOOC was the wrong monicker.  However, it was naive of me to think that the explosion would be so clean that it would fit under xMOOC and cMOOC.   Continue reading