3 myths about online education

Three myths about online education

After spending two years working in online education Startups, I wanted to share some of my experiences. First of all, I’d like to elaborate on the myths of online education, as well as the trends that — in my opinion — won’t stick around for much longer.

Myth No.1. “Online education” means “video courses”

This may be the most widespread myth regarding online education. Quite a few people believe that online education is nothing more than a couple of videos. The truth, however, is that video is no more than a tool intended to increase engagement in comparison to books. Moreover, it doesn’t directly rely on the online technologies and it could be delivered even offline via CDs for example. .

Are video courses more effective than books? Sometimes. The truth is, that structure and quality of the material are what really matter. In fact, they are the bottleneck of most online courses, and one thing’s certain: a good video course can only be produced by a person who can write a good book.

One more question on the subject: what kind of problems are solved by videos that can’t be solved by books? Engagement? Effectiveness of learning? Neither of these parameters are terrible when it comes to books, either. So they may be enhanced a little bit in substituting books with videos, but it wouldn’t be a dramatic change.

There are some drawbacks of videos, though. While people can read at their own pace, a video can be a little trickier to slow things down — plus students may have a tougher time searching for specific material. Most platforms offer some solutions for these issues, like video speed multipliers and bookmarks. But they do not solve these problems completely.

Despite the current trends, I believe in the power of books. In my opinion, books will be back in new formats. They should contain interactive elements and even short videos when needed — but the text should still remain the most central part of the material.

Myth No. 2. Gamification is the key to success.

Another popular trend is gamification. A lot of people are aware that keeping students motivated remains one of the major problems of online education, as very few of people complete their courses. Gamification, however, could solve this problem — at least according to some.

Well, I don’t think that gamification is a bad thing. But if it becomes the main motivator, gamification will go against the very purpose of education. People ought to learn for themselves, and when they don’t feel motivated, no sort of gamification will help.

But when we provide certificates that amount to nothing, we tell students something along the lines of “as our course is a bullshit, the only thing we can do for you is to give you some nice pictures to look at if you watch it”. Well, hearing this, some students think “Hmm. if I watch this course, I can put this nice picture in my resume”. Even when the knowledge in the course is essential when it comes to reaching professional goals, students will continue to think about this certificate.

In contrast to the previous chapter, the real problem exists here: students are unmotivated. The solution to this is to focus on their achievements. While gamification can speed up the process, it shouldn’t be used blindly.

Myth No. 3. The best online courses should be translated.

All MOOCs cater to the global markets. However, most online courses are only available in English. What can we do with that? We could create more courses in other languages, or even translate English courses.The thing is, I disagree with this.

Here’s the thing — there are no technical problems that offer courses in different languages. The vast majority of the material among MOOCs is in English. I suggest looking at this situation as a fact. In other words, it is unlikely that it’ll change anytime soon. English has simply become the standard for education. New developments — no matter where they may be — will often be immediately translated into English, especially when the material affects the global community. And afterward, typically further discussion goes on in English, too.

When we translate courses into other languages, we only translate the material. It is the same as translating the book — often, information is translated, but the tone is lost. If we were to translate online education programs, students risk losing the same kinds of interactions with their instructors.

So what can we do for foreign students? I think we ought to encourage them to learn English. And I strongly believe that such an approach won’t likely harm the local languages in an absolute way. Similarly, if students can  get a high-quality education locally by using online technologies, talented people will stay in these local communities, which will help to develop a local culture.

In conclusion

I think there are a lot of ideas that may add some value to online education. But if we want to find the way to bring it to the next level, we should focus not on the tools, but on the problems that online solutions intend to solve. Flexibility and accessibility are the two key examples of the problems that couldn’t be solved effectively offline – but where online technologies could help dramatically.


(image source: http://pixabay.com/ru/человек-студент-колледж-школы-213725/ )

Andriy Radich

Entrepreneur, 15 years experience in IT, believe that innovations in education can lead to the most significant changes for the humanity. Connect with him on LinkedIn.