Wednesday, October 23, 2013

TftD #20

I am not worried if scientists go and explain everything. This is for a very simple reason: an impala sprinting across the Savannah can be reduced to biomechanics, and Bach can be reduced to counterpoint, yet that does not decrease one iota our ability to shiver as we experience impalas leaping or Bach thundering. We can only gain and grow with each discovery that there is structure underlying the most accessible levels of things that fill us with awe.

But there is an even stronger reason why I am not afraid that scientists will inadvertently go and explain everything — it will never happen. While in certain realms, it may prove to be the case that science can explain anything, it will never explain everything. As should be obvious after all these pages, as part of the scientific process, for every question answered, a dozen newer ones are generated. And they are usually far more puzzling, more challenging than the prior problems. This was stated wonderfully in a quote by a geneticist named Haldane earlier in the century: ‘Life is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.’ We will never have our flames extinguished by knowledge.

The purpose of science is not to cure us of our sense of mystery and wonder, but to constantly reinvent and reinvigorate it.

-- Robert Sapolsky, The Trouble with Testosterone: And Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament (1998)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Idea: MOOC's Completion Problem and Loss Aversion

A few days ago, in the Instructional Design group on LinkedIn, Franciso Costa posted a thread about an upcoming MOOC on The Future of Storytelling. In a skimming rush, I misread the meaning behind the title, but it resulted in a 'happy accident' that triggered an idea....

One of the common criticisms of MOOCs is their generally low completion rate (most people who start a course do not finish it). Although it's arguable whether or not this actually IS a negative (different students have different goals, after all), if some future MOOC host does have the explicit goal of maximizing completion rates, I wonder if there might be an angle to play by exploiting most people's feelings about money and loss?

I'd originally misread the thread's title ("This course is for FREE with certificate") to mean that "if you complete the course and receive a certificate, it'll be free. Otherwise, (if you sign up but do NOT complete it), it'll cost you $X." 


This is clearly a knee-jerk idea that blossomed out of my reading haste and, thus, probably has some holes in it, but maybe there is something here.... Would this be a viable alternative approach to addressing the "completion problem" that might provide the extra 'umph' some learners need to stick with the course and see it through? Maybe it could be a sliding scale concept, where learners receive progressively larger discounts (starting at 0% and running up to 100%) with the number of sessions/modules/units they complete?

Does the whole psychological principle of "loss aversion" apply here?  Perhaps people will be more interested in NOT losing money than they are about gaining the (free!) knowledge/skills associated with the course's content (as sad a commentary as that may be)?

Thoughts? Thanks!