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My MOOC Hobby

“Median enrollment for a MOOC is 33,000 students” factoid is a statistical error. Median enrollment for a MOOC is 0 students. Natasha Georg, who lives in cave & enrolls in over 10,000 MOOCs each day, is an outlier and should not have been counted.

A MOOC is a “massively open online course.” Similar to an MMORPG, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (or as I like to call them, “Mighty Morphin’ RPGs”) only instead of coming together to kill orcs, people come together to learn.

Or something; the completion rate for MOOCs is less than 10%.

MOOCs are offered by sites like Coursera and Udacity. The courses are free, but for an additional fee, users can receive a special certificate of completion (part of that fee goes to plagiarism/cheating prevention software). The appeal is easy to understand: the courses are offered by leading universities from around the world. The online classroom is set up as an actual online classroom, with a discussion area, lectures, readings, quizzes and assignments. As long as one has internet access (and, for the most part, can read English), one can join a course and learn for free. Some herald it as the future of education, other as a harbinger of doom.

I’m in the middle of those extremes, and writing about the awesome-ness or awful-ness of MOOCs is not my goal today. No, I want to tell you about my MOOC hobby.

I have accounts with all of the major free sites: Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, Khan Academy, edX. I do, in fact, have two Coursera accounts, a personal one and a “work” one.  I mean, it’s not a huge surprise, I like learning and stuff. I’m a professor; I’ve spent my entire life at school. Why wouldn’t I spend my online life at school?

(Too bad MOOCs and Second Life missed each other. Imagine flying to your online class! Okay, it appears there are some classes that take place in Second Life? There don’t seem to be many, though.)

An avatar of Dwight from the Office as a Second Life character. A man wears a white shirt, brown pants, and flies through the air.
I could have met Dwight! Via ArsTechnica

However, I’ve never finished a course. I’ve never even really started a course. I stroll through the offerings, dreaming big dreams, thinking about all of the new information I’ll get to learn, all of the people I’ll get to meet. I sign up for courses on ethics, poetry, dinosaurs, computer science. Subjects I was too scared to take while at college, subjects I thoroughly loved in college.

My inbox is clogged with the updates I receive from the dozens and dozens of courses in which I’ve enrolled. I think “There’s still time to catch up!” I think “This course is over, but the materials are accessible, why not take it on my own?” But I never do.

I can be obsessive at times. I like to collect things. I think my mother was a hoarder and I can see those little cracks in my “normal person” façade. So I try to collect ephemera. I have a huge e-book collection, too. All of these things are mine, but they won’t topple over and squish the cat.

Each “Click to Enroll!” is a piece of a desire, a dream, a little hope. Maybe this time I will complete the coursework. I’ve signed up for the irrationality class three times and the paleontology course twice. Maybe this time I’ll pull through.

And if I don’t, that’s okay. It feels a little wasteful to just leave that knowledge sitting there (ask me how many e-books I’ve read), but it’s there if I want it, and it’s there if other people want it. Signing up isn’t using up resources. That’s the nice thing about MOOCs, no enrollment caps.

Receiving the email updates is uplifting, too. Friendly visits from another world, in between spam and student loan reminders.

For a low-cost hobby, I really recommend signing up for and then ignoring MOOCs.

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Natasha

History. Hindi cinema. Hugging cats.

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