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MITx: Focus Group of One
June 17, 2012 - 9:03pm

June 8th marked the end of the MITx free pilot course, Circuits and Electronics, which welcomed more registrants than all of MIT’s living alumni (122,000 as of January 2012).  So after all the hype, what can we learn?

I found the recent IHE article, Who Takes MOOCs?’, a great step toward understanding the MOOC's potential role in the higher ed landscape. The article summarizes survey data and insight from Coursera and Udacity, shedding light on why students enrolled in the courses.  For example, of the 14,000+ student respondents to Coursera’s survey, about 20% were graduate students and another 11.6% were undergraduates. 

MIT News wrote a great piece back in April, ‘MITx: What the Students Think,’ in which they profiled five registrants around the globe about their experience in the MITx course thus far.  Students cited their reasons for joining the course, which ranged from the desire to experience an MIT education, to the need for a more engaging experience than open courseware.

MITx will probably survey its pilot course participants on its own, but in the meantime, I tracked down one person who actually made it through to the end and passed – and decided to conduct an anonymous ‘focus group of one.’

      1. What’s your educational background?

I have three formal degrees: an undergraduate degree in Mechanical engineering and a masters degree in Aerospace Engineering, both from a Top 10 engineering school; and a masters degree in Engineering Management from a top 25 university.

This is my first MOOC.

2.  Why did you decide to take this course?

Coincidentally, my employer suggested that I learn more about Circuits to help round out my knowledge, so I was looking for different options when I heard about MITx.  I had considered open courseware, but I thought real homework, deadlines, exams, and a discussion board where I could engage with fellow students would make the experience more worthwhile. Plus, as an engineer, MIT would be on my short list.

3.  What surprised you about the MITx course experience?

It required a lot more time than I expected. Between lecture, homework, labs, exams, and reading the text, it was a serious commitment.

4.  Would you enroll in more courses like this in the future?

I certainly would, whether for personal enrichment or if I had a need to learn specific content for my career.

If this ‘focus group of one’ is any indication of the broader group of people who successfully make it to the end of MITx-like courses (and that’s only a guess at this point), what does this mean for their appeal and place in the higher ed landscape?

And does it matter if these MOOCs are noncredit if there are pathways to gain credit for them, as described in IHE’s ‘Making it Count?


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