Confessions of an Adult Learner: I Took a MOOC (Almost)
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Confessions of an Adult Learner: I Took a MOOC (Almost)

MOOCs have been the darling of higher education for the past year for their capacity to make personal and professional development accessible, but the reality of enrolling in one is not so clear-cut.


Time is the challenge of the busy professional. If you’re like me, with a to-do list that’s longer than your arm and never enough time to put a dent in it, you know exactly what I mean. I frequently tell myself that life used to be slower and simpler. And while technology has certainly changed the world of work, let’s face it; we’ve always been too busy.

One of the things on that lengthy to-do list is my own professional development. I’m in the lifelong learning business, right? So shouldn’t I be living the dream and expanding my horizons? It’s difficult enough to make time to read the journals, online trade magazines and other things that bombard us every day, much less keep up with the latest “must read” books (isn’t that what nights and weekends are for?) Oh sure, occasionally I sneak away to a conference to catch up with old friends and see what’s new, but real continuing education — I’m talking about getting to work on that MBA I always wanted to do, or even just taking a class — has eluded me for many years.

I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever get around to it.

When Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) came out a few years ago, I initially ignored them and then started following them very closely as they gained more and more press. I read all of the articles and even had the chance to meet the founder of one of the larger companies. Interesting idea, MOOCs: I can take a class from a top-tier institution for little or no cost, it’s not my institution so I don’t have to worry about being embarrassed if I bomb the class and nobody even needs to know I’m taking the class in the first place. With this logic, I decided to take a MOOC.

Now, I suspect if you’re still reading this you’re like me and, once you decide to do something, you jump right in to get it done. So I did just that, researching first the MOOC providers and then the courses to see what might fit the bill. All of this took a few weeks and was exhausting itself. I’m not very interested in computer programming, although that class I took in my senior year of college was kind of fun.

For the sake of adventure I decided to try something entirely out of my field. Something to expand my horizons and make me a more well-rounded person. After reading countless course descriptions in all sorts of disciplines I came across the perfect solution: Buddhism.

After signing up, I noticed the class didn’t start for another two months. I was ready to start right away, and finally had time, but I guess I needed to understand this online experience isn’t driven by my needs. Besides, it’s not like I was paying anything for the course, so decided I would just have to be patient. I put it on my calendar and decided to carve out some time each week to study, because that would make me a better person, right?

Fast-forward two months and up pops the notification on my computer telling me class will be starting in 10 days. Oh yeah, I had forgotten about that class. I’ve gotten a little busy lately … I wonder what I was thinking when I chose Buddhism, anyway? Of course, some of my best friends are Buddhist, so I might as well find out what that’s all about, and it is going to make me a better person, right? But I have that new project with a hard deadline next month. For three days I go back and forth, trying to decide if I can really fit this into my schedule, and just as I decide taking the course is the right thing to do, a message arrives in my inbox:

Dear Participant,

We are shifting the start date of this course from March 17th of 2014 to January 19th of 2015 …

I just hope my Buddhist friends don’t think I’m trying to avoid the sound of one hand clapping.

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3 Responses to Confessions of an Adult Learner: I Took a MOOC (Almost)

  1. Charlene L Reply

    2014/04/17 at 11:13 am

    Hilarious story. I had the same experience enrolling in a MOOC I never ended up completing. I understand that it’s self-directed learning, and definitely catered to those who have a passion for the subject they willingly enrol in, but I wonder if these MOOC providers couldn’t provide more of an incentive for us to complete the courses? It would likely help develop their credibility to have higher completion rates.

    • Zandra Thomas Reply

      2014/04/17 at 2:25 pm

      If the majority of students are like Rawls, I can see the hype around MOOCs dying down quickly.

      And as for the above commenter, I would say the best incentive for finishing a course is having paid x dollars to take it. It’s a tried-and-true method institutions have been using for decades.

  2. D. Terry Rawls Reply

    2014/04/24 at 9:37 am

    Thanks for the comments! Completion is always an issue, particularly in online education. In my experience if an online course is meaningful and engaging the completion rates go up. Having paid is also very important, but students walk away from courses all the time without regard for the costs. In the case of my Buddhism class, I suspect the instructors realized that it needed some work to meet the “engaging” criteria. That’s admirable, I suppose, although getting it right the first time would have been a better idea. I’d love to know how many who were enrolled for this spring actually show up next year. . .

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