Personalizing MOOCs

Peter Norvig for the Scientific American writes “How to Make Online Courses Massively Personal”:

Educators have known for 30 years that students perform better when given one-on-one tutoring and mastery learning—working on a subject until it is mastered, not just until a test is scheduled. Success also requires motivation, whether from an inner drive or from parents, mentors or peers.

Will the rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs) quash these success factors? Not at all. In fact, digital tools offer our best path to cost-effective, personalized learning.

I know because I have taught both ways. For years Sebastian Thrun and I have given artificial-intelligence courses at Stanford University and other schools; we lectured, assigned homework and gave everyone the same exam at the same time. Each semester just 5 to 10 percent of students regularly engaged in deep discussions in class or office hours; the rest were more passive. We felt there had to be a better way.

So, in the fall of 2011, we tried something new. In addition to our traditional classroom, we created a free online course open to anyone. On our first try, we attracted a city’s worth of participants—about 100,000 engaged with the course, and 23,000 finished…

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