MORKs and Mindys: how to stem the MOOC dropout rate


Nearly every article written about educational technology these days is about the proliferation of MOOCs — massive open online courses.  With the skyrocketing costs of formal higher education and the dwindling bank accounts of anyone south of the upper class, it is no wonder that MOOCs have taken off.

Hand-in-hand with MOOC adoption is the alarming MOOC dropout rate.  We’ve all heard it:  the 85 to 95% dropout rates of some of these online courses.   As fast as those startling numbers appear, the bloggers spinning reasons and rationales for these metrics come howling out of the woodwork.  After all, in this age of the “Internet solves all,” and with considerable investment poured into some of these MOOC sites, the phenomenon is likely here to stay.

What gets lost in the shuffle is the simple fact that MOOCs have been with us for a long long time.  Well, they weren’t known as MOOCs in the good old days.  Some called them MORKs:  Massive Open Real-World Knowledge-base — otherwise known as LIBRARIES — something that’s been around since 2600 BC in Sumer.  Because essentially, MOOCs and MORK/Libraries are knowledge bases available to all.

Mesopotamian clay tablet with pictographs (replica)

Sumer cuneiform tablet from the Smithsonian

Then why, you ask, throughout history, has there not been widespread wisdom and enlightenment up and down the population.  Total literacy, in other words.  Well, the Sumerian libraries, among other issues, had the same phenomenon as we do now with Internet MOOCs — a hefty dropout rate.

Ask any educated, enlightened individual about what flipped the switch “on” for them, and more often than not, it was a mentor.  It could have been a teacher, an expert, a caring guide in the form of a relative or friend, who mentored and inspired that individual to make it through the “knowledge base” and build the necessary skills that led to enlightenment or mastery.

In short, you can’t have an effective MORK or even a MOOC without a Mindy.


Remember that TV sitcom from the late 1970s, Mork & Mindy?  The show charted the adventures of an alien named Mork played by Robin Williams, who crash-landed on Earth with zero understanding of human culture, therefore requiring the mentorship of the ever-patient earthling, Mindy.  Without Mindy, Mork would never have survived life on Earth.  Without mentors like Mindy, MORKs and MOOCs will fail more often than not.

Let’s face it:  Knowledge-base does not guarantee knowledge.

It’s no wonder that brilliant teachers often are leery of MOOCs.  A good mentor has a secret sauce that is layered over the knowledge base they’re delivering — making their course exciting, engaging and long-lasting.  Unfortunately, that secret sauce is hard to bottle, and does not translate well to video.  A lot of it has to do with true and authentic connection between the mentor and learner — not between the learner and a technology.

This is why Nuvana recognizes the importance of teachers and mentors in the learning process.  We do everything we can to make their lives easier, and their efforts more effective.  We do our best to connect the mentor to learner in authentic, personalized ways.

We also recognize the importance of MOOCs — and much of our work these days involves attaching to existing MOOCs and making them more effective and engaging — thereby elevating their completion rate.  Essentially, teachers and peers use the Nuvana platform to stay connected and guide themselves through the MOOC journey, otherwise called learning, thereby resulting in greater engagement and fewer dropouts.

Without doubt, we at Nuvana are less concerned with high tech than we are with high touch.

In the meantime, if you really want to know what a MOOC is — well, one of the greatest storytellers of all time was using the term long before anyone in edtech was — and to much greater effect (WARNING: expletive uttered — but remember, this is from the great Martin Scorcese!):

So be careful who or what you call a MOOC.  More importantly, remember to connect with the right “Mindy” to get you through it.


Especially if s/he uses Nuvana to connect with you on your learning journey.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 — JvK

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