Matching Content to Format

I signed up for my first MOOC this week. While I wasn’t terribly interested in the overall topic – sadly, registration for ‘The Life and Times of Porfi Altamirano’ isn’t currently being offered– I was curious about the way the instructor used various free online tools to structure the class.

(Quick aside for the 99.99% scratching your head and asking, “Who the heck is Porfi Altimarano?” Derek asked me to include a reference to an obscure baseball player in this week’s post. You can Wikipedia Porfi if you want to, but he was only really notable for his unique name)

For those of you who are not familiar with a MOOC, the acronym stands for “Massive Open Online Course.” A number of leading universities have developed these free, online courses. Companies like Khan Academy, edX, and Coursera are among the more notable providers of MOOCs. According to the initial email from my class’ professor, more than 12,000 individuals signed up for her class. Only 7-9% of enrollees typically complete a MOOC, but that is still 1,000 learners for this particular class, assuming previous study demographics hold true. Not bad.

I doubt I will be one of the 1,000, although I worked my way through a few pieces of the first week’s videos (basically, a bunch of 5-10 minute YouTube clips cut up and posted individually) and some of the homework quizzes just to see how it all worked. It was OK — not awful, not great, but OK. I find that I have a hard time sitting through a 10-minute YouTube video of someone talking to me, with or without slides. It’s just not engaging and I quickly lose focus. Kind of the same way I do in a conference room when there is a single speaker who doesn’t interact with his audience. Teach to me, not at me.

The point (and yes, there is one) is that there are some wonderful new educational tools and platforms at our disposal in the educational community, but it requires matching the right type of content to the right platform. I have been in far too many planning sessions where someone got really jazzed about some new learning platform or method, but couldn’t get past the concept that they shouldn’t simply squeeze a Powerpoint presentation into that platform.

Using new learning technologies requires creative ways of thinking about content creation and development. It can’t simply be a matter of selecting something from column A (the type of content) and something else from column B (the delivery platform) and shoehorning them together. They have to match together seamlessly so that the end user – in our case, learners – gets something out of the experience. Trying something new just to try something new is a waste of time (and often money). There have been too many times I have attended an educational session that promised an innovative educational platform, but left frustrated with how poorly they utilized the tools at their disposal.

One of the many things that has me excited about CMEpalooza Fall is that I think we are taking advantage of the Google Hangout On Air (GHOA) platform to bring everyone the right kind of education for our format. GHOA is a great platform for conversations, both among faculty and between faculty and learners. We’re giving anyone who views a session live a number of different ways to ask questions – through the GHOA plug in, through Twitter (#cmepalooza), and even through this website. While viewers of the recorded sessions on YouTube obviously won’t have this same opportunity, our hope is that quality of conversation will be enough to keep folks engaged no matter when they tune in.

Fortunately, we haven’t had to sell any of our panelists on the educational approach for CMEpalooza Fall. They seem to trust that Derek and I know what are doing (suckers). It’s not always easy or comfortable being thrown into new technology, and while the panel-based format of CMEpalooza Fall should be familiar to most of our faculty, we’re taking away PowerPoint crutches and relying on their collective brilliance to carry the day. As Derek has frequently noted in various social media forums, though, we have a great group of panelists on board and seven unique topics to chew over. We hope everyone will find something that resonates.

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