Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Attention splitting in MOOCs

The other day I caught a post by Lenandlar on the #Rhizo14 MOOC which is over, but we amazingly are keeping it going.  At the end of his post on motivation that I wanted to address, since they've been on my mind and they've come up a few times in the past week.

Are MOOC participants in favor of shorter or longer videos or it doesn’t matter?  

I can't speak for all MOOC participants, I can only speak for myself, and from my own experiences. I can say that video length does matter, but it's not just about the video length.  On average, I would say that you don't need a video that is longer than 20 minutes. My feeling is that if I want to watch a documentary, I will watch a documentary, not participate in a MOOC. Anything longer than 20 minutes is probably unfocused and not suitable to the medium and the goals of the course.

Of course, simply having 20 minutes to work with doesn't mean that you should take up all that time.  This goes back to figuring out what your message is, what you need to talk about, how you are going to present it, and what the ultimate goals are of the video.  I think that Grice's maxims are a perfect fit here :). If your video is 20 minutes long but is just right for what you intend to do with it, great.  If your video is 5 minutes but it failed miserably, then you wasted my time, or worse you diminished my interest in a topic I was previously interested in. At the end of the day, it's not about the length. So long as the learner knows the duration of the video, and any dependencies (i.e. do I need to watch something else before I watch this), if the video is well made, on point, and on-time, you are OK. The learner can carve out the time that they need to watch certain videos if they know the duration ahead of time.

What is the extent of discussions taking place on Forums set up for MOOCs?  
Again, this is only my experience.  I think that some forums work well, and some do not.  Forum that work as list-servs, for me, work well because I can keep an eye out on things that are happening in the forums while I commute on my smartphone, and respond accordingly.  If I have to wait to get home, after all else is done, then I am lost in a sea of posts.  This is useless, so I avoid those forums.  A good example of forums working well was mobiMOOC 2011.

There is of course another element here, and that is learner choice.  If forum discussions are created with prompts, like traditional online learning, then the forums get barraged by the 2, 3, 4, 10 ,15 possible answers and you end up having a lot of repetition.  There are countless examples of this, but one that comes to mind is the Games in Education MOOC that I did last fall.  Interesting stuff, and I did try to participate in the forums, but as soon as one person makes a post about a particular game (let's say Metal Gear Solid), then why are there six other threads with the same game?  Those should all be in one thread.

Meaningful discussion could conceivably take place in a MOOC discussion forum, but I don't think that the variables have yet been determined as to how to best setup a forum from a technological and a pedagogical end. The other thing that comes to mind is this notion (from PLENK2010 research if I remember correctly, Kop et al?) there were quite a few people who seemed to be "refugees from the forum" who started blogging. Having an alternative vehicle is great, but the thing I started pondering in Rhizo14 was how many media can a learner reasonably keep track of at any given time?  For me, in rhizo14,  the Blog and the Facebook group were primary.  P2PU secondary (check in every few days), and twitter tertiary, in other words whenever I could remember.  Two primaries and two secondaries are what I could handle (and not that well I might add).  So in MOOCs, where forums don't work well, or where forums are an option among other venues (Fb groups, G+, twitter, blogs, wikis and so on), what toll does that take on the learner?

Does course duration matter to MOOC participants? If so, what is an optimal length? What is too short? What is too long?
I will refer you back to my video answer for this one ;-). In all honesty, it depends on the subject matter at hand, and who you expect the learners/participants to be.  In some cases, like CCK, the course was structured for 13 weeks (if I remember correctly).  Perhaps this was a university requirement, since it did run for credit at the University of Manitoba, but it may just as well have been a design consideration outside of university norms.  That said, I would say, from the research I've read thus far, such as Weller's analysis of Katy Jordan's data (I think I've seen a recent article on IRRODL that I have not read yet by her) the  sweet spot seems to be six weeks for MOOCs.  Now, I think this data is based on coursera xMOOCs, so the design decisions for those MOOCs are probably affecting the appropriate length.

Going back to my earlier comment, I would say that if you think of your message, and your delivery, and your goals, you will have an idea of how long the MOOC needs to be.  I will go ahead and state that a MOOC that is less than 3 weeks is not really a MOOC. I don't know what it is, but a MOOC it ain't (assuming C = course).  It took me a couple of weeks to get acclimated to the people in Rhizo14, even if I knew some of them from before.  Depending on your participation in the MOOC, it may take you a week to get comfortable and in the head-space to be where you need to participate, or lurk/consume.  Thus, three weeks are, for me, the very minimum needed.  The max...well, current research seems to indicate six, or maybe eight, weeks, but this depends on a variety of factors.

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