Dan Ariely on MOOCs and the future of higher education

Behavioral psychologist Dan Ariely, author of books like Predictably Irrational, speaker at TED, and professor at Duke, just kicked off a MOOC through Coursera with 144,000 participants. He talks about the experience in an insightful interview. This section on the future of higher education was particularly interesting:

I don’t think that the future of the university is doomed for a few reasons. First, having a scheduled class with obligations, deadlines, exams, real consequences and real rewards is incredibly important for human motivation and getting people to spend the necessary time and effort to really understand the material. The second reason is that the model of many universities, in which students study and live together, is a particularly helpful model for creating the environment that people need to take their education seriously. It is not just about the particular classes, but about being immersed in an academic environment for a substantial period of time.

I also think that some of the teaching in traditional colleges could be transferred to video lectures, but rather than serve as a replacement, they could be used as a supplement to free up the regular classroom to have higher level discussions and debates. This is the “flipped classroom” approach that has been getting so much hype. In essence, it could make the undergraduate college experience more similar to the graduate experience, at least in terms of the quality of the discussion.

And finally, video lectures are incredibly time-consuming to create. The team that worked on the videos for “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrationality” figured out that we spent about 150 hours on each hour of video that was produced. Of course, we could have spent much less time and effort, but then the quality would have suffered and the learning experience would have taken a toll. This initial effort was worth it to me, but I think that spending so much time revising the lectures, improving them, and creating more classes, is something that very few professors and universities will be willing to do long-term.

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Dan Ariely on MOOCs and the future of higher education

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