Mocking by the MOOC

MOOC, or Massive Open Online Courses, came into fashion with the cloud revolution. Unfortunately, over the years, the value of the content has diminished drastically, and the repercussions are unfolding. This article will highlight my experiences as a student and instructor on these online learning platforms. I still find the medium useful, but there is an urgent need to fix things. The last section suggests the optimal use of the platforms.

Using MOOC as a Student

Being from non-computer science background is a disadvantage in the software industry in general. The imposter syndrome is imposed from the first ever interview one faces. For some getting the first program completed is the start. You might still see traces of this complex in viral posts about “asking a fish to climb a tree.”

I use MOOCs to get an idea about the depth of the subject. Once I know all the key buzzwords, I dive into the books and certification preparation material to build the skills. Finally, I invest in skills from a 5-year perspective. There comes the first problem. The majority Instructors are just making to get monetary returns, not value.

One must understand that MOOCs are marketplaces first, just like the education system they pretend to challenge. The tools used in many courses are outdated or unnecessary. For example, one of the top Machine learning courses worldwide used software no one used in production. The obsolete software meant assignments and setups took twice as long, and some operating system compatibility bugs had to be resolved with a ticking deadline. The deadline was critical from the course payment perspective. Finish the course in a month, and you could save a lot at the cost of burnout.

The assignments are just low-hanging fruit to keep the dopamine rush going till the refund deadline passes. Students care about the certificate, assuming it will make them stand out. The recruiters value the certificate since only a few have it; hence it must be valuable. The interviewers ignore the credentials because even if they have them and know it doesn’t help in getting a new job.

So who wins in the royal rumble of apathy? The MOOC. Remember, the house always wins.

Using as an instructor

As I mentioned, MOOC is a marketplace first. It’s a software product as well. As a software professional with scars from the scrum, I can vouch for the platform’s inefficiencies and ridiculous sharing models.

Following are some of my observations

  • Like ad platforms, the platforms are vulnerable to bots and click farms.
  • Content storage is a huge problem since many instructors believe rambling till eternity counts as customer engagement.
  • The recommendation engines are as bad as movie recommendation engines. Transfer learning, I suppose.
  • Quantity is priority over quality; hence categorization is broken.
  • Once the marketplace opens to internationalization and billion-user markets, the debacle accelerates exponentially.
  • Getting students with coupons is easy. But unfortunately, the platform now ignores their ratings and lets the instructor figure it out.
  • The platforms are always trying to push the early movers as recommendations since they are driving traffic from other platforms, so keeping them happy matters more.
  • Certification scams are still rampant. For example, if a certification expires in three years, adding 3X (some cloud) means renewing the certificate twice. How is that aspirational? At least I don’t get it.
  • The brand of coding taught is not valuable for production setups. I have written a book about the problems with using such reactive learning based careers.

Tips for effective online learning

  • Define the area that will add the most value to your career. Plan your career first before jumping into any course
  • Set aside a budget for learning every year. Don’t wait for sales. Your career moves every day.
  • Don’t fall for interview portal scams and certification delusions. They will only burn you out. If employers demand it, you have to counter with time and funding.
  • MOOCs are marketplaces, and instructors are sellers. Your benefits are secondary to them. You need to decide the value of the product yourself.
  • Think long-term and invest in shorter courses. Someone typing on the screen is teaching you typing, not programming!
  • Understanding fundamentals is the goal. Don’t measure by the number of hours or projects completed. Your ability to debug proves your effectiveness as a programmer.

Despite knowing these problems, I continue to host my content on one such platform. I am looking for alternatives to make my content accessible to as many people as possible at a reasonable price. But till that happens, this will be the only way I can share my knowledge. Please check out the offerings that help your career instead of job hunting mindlessly.

You may also subscribe to my Youtube Channel, the best alternative for hosting content and communities once I cross the 1000 subscriber mark. Seems a long way as of Nov 2022. Let’s see how you can help me get there!

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