The 2.0x MOOC and the 1.0x Audiobook

What speed do you watch and listen?

April 6, 2015
MOOCs have me worried. The ability to watch MOOC videos at 2.0x (double speed) is re-setting my brain’s expectations for information intake. I find that many conference presentations now feel unbearably slow. What my brain craves is information density. 
It is not so much that MOOCs are killing my attention span. Or that I need to be constantly entertained and stimulated.  (What everyone was worried about with video games when I was growing up, and before that pinball, and before that comic books, etc. etc.). It is more that 2.0x MOOC videos are like broadband, and information impoverished presentations are like dial-up. 
So why is it that I watch MOOC videos at double speed, but listen to audiobooks at 1.0x?  I hate audiobooks at faster than normal speed. There is something jarring and disconcerting about a book read faster than a normal speaking voice. My iPhone Audible app gives me the ability to listen at up to 3.0x normal speed. Who does that?
Maybe I’m participating in the wrong MOOCs.  Or maybe we need to do MOOCs differently.  The reason that I listen to MOOC videos as quickly as possible, and audiobooks as normally as possible, is that MOOCs and audiobooks serve different goals.  With an audiobook I’m as much savoring the experience as taking in the information.  Watching MOOC videos is all about information intake.  
Why is it that I’ll happily listen to a 10 hour book, but I’m much more likely to engage in a MOOC video if it is under 8 minutes?
Why is it that I’ll almost always finish and audiobook that I start, but will seldom finish the MOOCs in which I enroll?
Perhaps the 2.0x MOOC video, and the 1.0x audiobook, has less to do with content, and more with format. When watching a MOOC video it is possible to pick up visual cues that enable fast watching. We are looking at screen content, or animations, or something (hopefully more than a talking head) on the screen. With an audiobook, all you have is what you hear.
The visual nature of MOOCs means that they demand full attention.  The audio nature of audiobooks invites multitasking. One reason that I get so many more audiobooks read than MOOCs completed is that I can listen to audiobooks while doing other things. I listen while driving or exercising or brushing my teeth or doing the dishes or cleaning the basement or driving to work. With a MOOC, I need to sit down and do nothing else but interact with the MOOC.
What if we designed our MOOCs to be more like audiobooks?  If we assumed that MOOCs will be done while multitasking, and we separated the audio and visual channels. In this way, MOOCs would be fully accessible - while offering choice in how the MOOC content can be consumed.   
We need more experimentation in the open online learning world. Not small beer experiments, where marginally different pedagogical approaches are evaluated with classic A/B testing. We need big experiments.  
We should stop lamenting the low completion rates of MOOCs. We should stop worrying so much about the lack of viable MOOC business models. Instead, while we are able to create these things (for those able to do so), we should embrace experimentation, risk taking, and failure. 
There is great freedom that comes in doing something for free. 
If we saw MOOCs more as public art, and less as replacements for traditional courses, we might be more willing to act more like artists.
Are you also an audiobook-listening and MOOC-starting person?
What speed do you watch your MOOC videos and listen to your audiobooks?


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