News: AAAS 2013 Annual Meeting News
Online Classes Spark Motivation to Learn
On the similarities between his Topical Lecture at the AAAS Annual Meeting and classes throughout the centuries, Peter Norvig joked. “We have the sage on the stage lecturing, the textbook he’s lecturing from and the sleeping guy in the back.”
The technology of teaching hasn’t changed since the 14th century, according to Norvig, who is the director of Research Google, Inc. But, that is about to change, with the growing popularity of Massive Online Open Classes, or “MOOCs.”
A number of online lecture platforms have emerged recently, such as Coursera, Khan Academy and Google Online Courses. Most of these programs provide a video lecture, and at the end students are prompted to interact in some way, achieving a feeling of community. Much of the buzz about MOOCs arose after Norvig and Google colleague Sebastian Thrun taught an online course on artificial intelligence through Stanford University, attracting over 100,000 registrants.
Peter Norvig. Courtesy of Peter Norvig.
The personal aspect of one-on-one tutoring enhances the way a student learns, said Norvig who himself was motivated to learn by his mother sitting with him as a child. MOOCs strive to bring the one-on-one learning experience to students via a computer.
Currently, there is around a 10% completion rate for online courses, according to Norvig. Although that percentage may sound low, he compared it to Stanford, which rejects 90% of the students that apply. That leaves 10% that are completing the courses. MOOCs allow students to decide for themselves if they want to take a course, and students typically sign up for many classes and shop around for the one they will complete.
About one third of online students are from North America, one third are from Europe and the rest are from other parts of the world, according to Norvig. Connectivity issues are still a challenge in the developing world, and some countries, like China, block certain video platforms such as YouTube.
Access isn’t the biggest hurdle, however. “Information is not the problem, motivation is really the problem. The hard part is to get the student motivated,” Norvig said.
Eighty percent of the online students already have college degrees. The majority of people taking the online courses are probably coming back to further their careers or looking to try something new.
In an effort to discover what it means to learn, Norvig ended up reversing everything he knew about the role of the teacher. “It’s the students’ job to learn, and the teacher is there to facilitate that,” he said. “It’s important for students to make predictions. If they have the wrong answer somewhere in their head, the right answer won’t sink in.”
Principles of software engineering lend themselves to this type of learning process, via MOOCs, according to Norvig. The idea of “Test-Driven Development,” for example, is that programmers initially write the tests a program has to pass, and then write the software so that the program can pass all the tests. This approach can also apply to human learning, he said.
There are other advantages to online courses, Norvig explained. Students can replay the videos, unlike in-person lectures, and they don’t have to feel embarrassed about asking a professor or a tutor to repeat information. Online courses also promote discussions and feedback from peers, he said.
Online courses should be designed according to four main tenets, Norvig concluded. They should mimic one-on-one tutoring; have a sense of community; be a high-quality resource for education; and use machine learning classification techniques to gather data and make improvements. Applying these ideas, he said, helps motivate people to learn.
All rights reserved.
|Annual Meeting News|