MOOCs are an amazing gift to everyone around the world who takes advantage of them. It’s not easy to stay motivated to a course that offers little more than a real education if you keep up with the work. If you do not pay for the certificate then all you have is the letter grade of completion but no official word that you took the course and met the requirements.
Going to School Online
You hear advertisements all the time now about how you can go back to school on your own time by signing up for online courses that fit your schedule. Many people will look at these advertisements against their own schedule and think that they can fit in an hour or two here and there and get an education at the same time. Unfortunately it does not work like that. The drop out rate for online courses is very high and the reason for that is that most people are just not used to thinking like a student anymore.
Signing up for a course online that only has one or two hourly sessions may not seem like much in the beginning but you have to remember you still need to study the material from the book and understand it. That takes planning and time in order to pass the material, and if you do not understand what you are reading, then who do you turn to for help? It’s one thing if you have a support system in place where you are taking the course with someone else to help keep you motivated but it’s another if you do not. When you have the right support structure in place, MOOCs are pure gold.
In a place where most kids play at home, in an area that is mostly rural, lives a boy who has managed to catch the eye of M.I.T. for the work he has done on his own, but with the help of some amazing resources. His name is Battushig Myanganbayar and he passed Circuits and Electronics from one of M.I.T.s online courses with a perfect score, something only 350 students were able to do out of 150,000 who registered in the beginning. Oh, and he was only 15 at the time.
The course was free and open to anyone with an internet connection that was interested in learning more about the topic. M.I.T. lists many of their courses online but by doing so they are also fishing for new talent to bring to their campus. This was rightly so when they came upon this teenager who lived in Mongolia where most of the people there are nomads and electronic parts are scarce.
So what was the secret to his success, when the dropout rate is more than half for all online courses? There were two actually, one was his principal of his school, Enkhmunkh Zurgaanjinwho was a M.I.T. alum, and a friend of the principal, Tony Kim, who was a Ph.D student at Stanford who was studying electrical engineering at the time. These two people are the reason for his success. Mr. Zurgaanjinwho wanted his students to enroll in the course and watch it at home, since the course was not approved by the ministry of education in the country, and in order to help the students keep up, he asked his friend to provide a lab so they can follow with the coursework. Kim brought over electronic parts for the kids to use and understand. Kim agreed to visit for 10 weeks and teach the students as they were learning the material online.
It’s important to understand here that the M.I.T. course was taught in English so not only was Battushig trying to learn the material but he also was learning it as a second language. Then he did something that many successful people do if they really want to learn something, they go out and teach it. In that respect, he created online youtube videos for his other classmates who didn’t speak English and translated the material that way. This is an old secret for learning new material fast, if you want to learn something right away then the best thing for you to do is once you go over the material is to go right out and teach it to someone. That action right there is what helped Battushig to learn how to process and understand the material. He learned along the way how to teach something to someone if you do not have a firm grip on things. Well, as you are processing the material to teach you run across gaps in your knowledge, this requires the teacher to go back and look for the answer, especially when the students are asking question that require you to think differently about the material as well. This helped Battushig to really understand the material if he was going to help his friends learn it, it required more of him to understand the material.
Success from MOOCs
While he was teaching his friends, making online translation videos, and doing very well in the course, M.I.T. was watching. They were curious to understand how he was able to pass a course without any of the prerequisites which require higher levels of math than he was already used to. His answer was that he scoured the web to find those materials online for free and supplement it that way and because he was just a teenager without any responsibilities that older adults have (job, paying bills, kids, social life, etc) he had all the time in the world to making his time a success.
These are important factors to consider when thinking about taking any kind of MOOC – what support structure will you have, who will be there to answer questions, and do you know where to find supplemental materials online? M.I.T. was very impressed with how he created those online videos using just his iPhone camera. He would walk students through problems with the phone above the sheet of paper so they can watch all the while speaking in his native language as he did the problems.
The work he has done impressed them so much that M.I.T. wanted to hire him to come and work on their online courses but because of the issue with his visa they realized it wasn’t going to happen right away. At the suggestion of his high school principal he said that Battushig should apply as a student and then he would be able to work there so M.I.T. told him to apply, which he was accepted, and in return he took a student job working on their MOOCs. At 17 he started as a freshman at M.I.T. in the fall of 2013 and he has since been teaching everyone there the question they all wanted answered, how did a Mongolian teenager master all the course work for a sophomore level M.I.T. course all by himself? That’s what he teaches now for his student job, while most regular student jobs are in the library or as student assistants, he is teaching people how to learn from online courses using free resources.
Putting it into Perspective
Well, now you know the secret to how he did it, the question now becomes, if a teenager in a third-world country, with internet speeds slower than those in the US, can master an online course and get into one of the top Math and Science universities in the world with no background on the material, then what’s your excuse?
You can read more about him from these online articles.