5 Reasons I Prefer Traditional Classrooms to Massive Open Online Courses

February 18, 2013

Traditional classrooms have benefits over MOOCs


Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). I’m fascinated by MOOC’s and believe they’ll shape the future of higher education. And if you couldn’t tell by this blog, I’m a proponent of online experiences.

That being said, I recently attended an intensive, classroom-based program (to get me trained on a particular vendor’s marketing software) and that experience made me further appreciate the value of the traditional (physical) classroom.

It’s All About Your Personal Learning Style

MOOC’s have the potential to reach a global audience – and for some, they’re perfect learning vehicles. Me? I’m easily distracted and inclined to multitask. When my team (the New York Giants) played in the 2012 Super Bowl, my attention was split between the larger screen (the game) and a smaller screen (the Twitter feed on my laptop).

While the shared experience of Twitter was rewarding, I knew that my attention and appreciation (in the game itself) was partially compromised. That was something I’m passionate about (sports). Now, imagine an instructional program to teach you to use software. It’s interesting, but doesn’t involve the same level of passion. Imagine the potential for distraction.

Let’s consider five ways MOOC’s may not work well with my learning style.

1) Inclination to multitask.

We all multitask online. Don't we?

Photo source: User Victor1558 on flickr.

Admit it. Whether it’s a web meeting or a webinar, you’ve often checked email, posted to Facebook or updated a spreadsheet while someone else was speaking. You’ve also been asked a question (while multitasking) and were forced to confess that you weren’t paying attention.

In my classroom training program, we performed hands-on training exercises with the software. So that meant our laptops were out, we were online and our browsers were open. So yes, I multitasked a bit, even in the traditional classroom setting.

However, the traditional setting forced me to focus, because of the other people in the room. I knew that falling off track could cause me embarrassment, while a lack of eye contact with the instructor would be rude. When you’re online, you can multitask and lose focus without much penalty or repercussion.

2) Lack of discipline and focus.

Being on the web makes it easy to multitask. And did you notice that ever since browsers introduced tabbed browsing, that multitasking within a browsing session becomes heightened? Hey, that means you! Please return from the other tab!

Beyond online or application multitasking, I also have an inclination to lose focus. If a particular learning topic doesn’t naturally engage me, I’ll start to get drowsy. Or, I’ll think about what to have for lunch. A traditional classroom setting, on the other hand, provides convenient ways to pull you back into focus.

First off, your brain tells itself, “I’m sitting in a classroom, so I’m here to learn. Let’s stay focused.” Next, you have the other folks in the room (learners and instructors), who keep you from putting your head on the table or going in the corner to read a book.

3) Multitasking beyond the computer.

If I was working from home and attending the same classroom session online, I’d be inclined to hit “pause” (if I could) and get a few things done around the house. Maybe the laundry is done and the clothes need to be put in the dryer. OK, so I’ll take my laptop with me and go do that.

Similar to tweeting during the Super Bowl, my attention has just been compromised. In a traditional classroom, there are barriers that prevent you from doing this (not to mention the fact that your laundry machine is back at home).

4) Limited “connection” with the instructor.

Some online learning modules use a PowerPoint presentation or desktop sharing (no video). Others present the instructor via webcam. Neither compare with the instructor being 10 feet in front of you. There’s no way (yet) for online learners to make eye contact with their instructor. In a traditional classroom, however, being in the same room creates a connection that helps reinforce focus and discipline.

5) Less effective for hands-on learning modules.

Instructors provide assistance in a traditional classroom setting

While online platforms are effective at assigning hands-on exercises to learners, there’s something about the classroom setting that you miss online. Our program was over 50% hands-on modules (which was great). If you had an issue with your assignment, you could raise your hand and the instructor would visit.

Often, it was a simple setting (or step) that needed to be adjusted. You could watch over your neighbor’s shoulder to understand their issue and how it was resolved. I imagine that this same sort of “instructor-led management” can be accomplished online. But being in the same room created a shared learning experience that’s hard to replicate online.


In The New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote quite eloquently about MOOCs in a column titled “Come the Revolution.” And while I just got done writing about how MOOCs may not suit my learning style, count me a big fan of their potential.

After all, my training program was highly specialized. It was far different from the college lectures that MOOCs have focused on to date. In addition, it was a regional course. An overwhelming advantage of MOOCs is their ability to support an audience of geographically dispersed learners.

So, for Physics 101, I’ll see you online. For the marketing software boot camp, I’ll see you in the classroom.

Why Second Life Passes The Milkshake Test (But Fails In Other Ways)

November 14, 2011


Chip and Dan Heath have published a new book, “The Myth of the Garage” (get it for free on Kindle at Amazon.com). In an excerpt of the book published at Slate titled “Why Second Life Failed,” the authors put Second Life to the “milkshake test.”

Adapted from Clay Christensen’s book “The Innovator’s Solution,” the milkshake test asks the question, “what job is a product designed to do?” According to the Heath brothers, “Most successful innovations perform a clear duty. When we craved on-the-go access to our music collections, we hired the iPod. When we needed quick and effective searches, we hired Google.”

The authors then conclude that Second Life failed the milkshake test:

“But what ‘job’ did Second Life perform? It was like a job candidate with a fascinating résumé — fluent in Finnish, with stints in spelunking and trapeze — but no actual labor skills.”

My Take: Second Life as Multiple Milkshakes

While I agree with the authors when they write, “today, Second Life limps along,” I disagree on the milkshake test result. In this post, I’ll highlight why Second Life passes the milkshake test, but fails in other ways.

Hired for: Escapism

Dictionary.com defines escapism as “the avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in entertainment or in an imaginative situation, activity, etc.” And this is precisely what many users loved about the service. They “hired” Second Life as a perfect way to escape from the real world.

If you’re a middle aged man with a 9-to-5 job in real life, you could be a muscle-bound, highly attractive (and young) ladies’ man in your second life. In a matter of a few hours (or less), your “new you” (an avatar representation, that is) is ready to go explore the “world.”

Downfall: Turns out most of us want the opposite of escaping. We want the real world.

The mainstream has voted with their mouse clicks and tablet swipes. Their preference is rooted more in the real world and the ability to share, connect and stay in touch with friends, family and others. Instead of spending time on 3D islands, they’re logging on to Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

Hired for: Self-Expression

It’s quite easy to “hire” Second Life for self-expression. Everything you do there can be about self-expression, from the look and appearance of your avatar, to art that you create in-world, to entire islands that you build there.

You can be a virtual DJ and spin tunes in Second Life (e.g. see Doubledown Tandino, @Ravelong on Twitter) or you can create virtual art to sell. So not only can you self-express, you can make income as well.

Downfall: With a complete free reign on self-expression, instances of prostitution, nudity, sex and lewdness drove away any chance of an ongoing presence from mainstream users.

Counter-example: IMVU is a service that allows for self-expression and is doing quite well. Interestingly, their Terms of Service do not permit you to “use explicit/obscene language or solicit/post sexually explicit images.”

Hired for: Simulation and Training

Perhaps its largest success in passing the milkshake test is in simulation and training. Several branches of the Federal Government have used Second Life for military training and combat simulations. Loyalist College in Canada used Second Life in a training program for border crossing patrol agents. And finally, Dr. Peter Yellowless at UC Davis used Second Life to teach about the experience of schizophrenia.

Downfall: Linden Lab didn’t take the necessary steps to formalize products, services and support around this particular use of Second Life.

If they “productized” a simulation and training offering (perhaps on private, self-contained islands), I think we’d be hearing about a lot more compelling case studies. And it might even place Second Life into a different product/service category.


While I agree with the Heath brothers’ characterization that Second Life is limping along, I continue to see potential in the service. Today, Second Life’s milkshakes are like Baskin Robbins (available in 31 flavors). They’d be better off going Neapolitan, with milkshakes available in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry only.

Related Links

  1.  Thoughts from New World Notes on the same Slate article.
  2. Summary of virtual worlds innovators from a Stanford Media X event.


Did you enjoy this blog posting? If so, you can subscribe to the feed here: https://allvirtual.wordpress.com/feed/

The Business Benefits Of Second Life

March 23, 2010

Veronica Butler-Borrer

The following is a guest post by Veronica Butler-Borrer, known in-world as Pooky Amsterdam (@PookyMedia).

AVATAR started off being the word of the new decade, and for good reason.  The blockbuster movie, which allows a man to take on a completely new form through a kind of mental transfer, has made hundreds of millions of dollars. It also speaks to the new decade in terms of new possibilities.

While Second Life has been part of the Internet for a while, recent changes and upgrades have made it more compelling as a business and media platform.  Recent economic conditions have also required new strategy to save money on travel costs.  And increased attention to environmental changes has required us to look more closely at green alternatives to business.  Facts and figures plus improved opportunities are now encouraging us as a business community to re-examine Second Life.

Pooky Amsterdam's Second Life avatar

What makes doing business as an avatar in Second Life a good choice?

  1. You can virtually meet people from anywhere in the world easily and inexpensively
  2. Your Avatar can be an extension of yourself and increase personal investment for you and the business community you are addressing
  3. VoIP puts you in the same room with those you need to speak with
  4. You can share any documents you need to
  5. You can work in real time on those shared documents
  6. Any 3D product or place can be re-created cost-effectively and to scale for business decision making
  7. You save on time and travel expense by just logging in from your computer
  8. You can establish a secure environment by restricting access to your location
  9. Training and Education done in virtual worlds returns great results
  10. Video created in Virtual Worlds (known as Machinima) or cinema done on machine will get your message to the public through regular distribution channels (e.g. YouTube).  In addition, it will be available as video content on your web site, plus be something you can include in your video emails

These are the main reasons to think about doing business virtually.  Let’s look into this a bit further.

Analysis: Benefits of Doing Business Virtually

That’s right, once you download the free client which is Second Life, you can enter a 3D world where you can meet by prearrangement, those whom you would like to, from anywhere in the world.  Of course this will take some organization, but that is easy to facilitate.

Your Avatar is an identity that you construct to carry out your work in a virtual world.  Allowing this creation to personify you means you invest yourself in it, and interact as well.  This is also not a bad thing, as in creating an other self which is “better, faster, stronger” will also result in your being able to transfer some of those properties to your real world person.  If you saw a digital image of yourself running on a virtual treadmill, would you feel like going to the gym? Probably so, according to a Stanford study showing that personalized avatars can motivate people to exercise and eat right.

It doesn’t yet beat Skype for number of chat minutes a month, but the VoIP technology in Second Life is excellent, and has served over a billion minutes of voice chat a month.  That means you can speak to people anywhere in the world, in the same virtual room, sharing important documents or any 3D representation for absolutely free.

Second Life Viewer 2

The latest viewer for Second Life (Viewer 2) also allows for shared media within this Virtual World and that means you can view ANY content on the web in real time with people from (or outside of) your organization.

This includes of course, Google Docs and Etherpad.  So you can make decisions together from your office, or home, without having to fly anywhere.  This is a remarkable opportunity that is afforded people who are on this site.  Plus, being able to recreate objects in 3 Dimensions means you can build anything to scale, whether it be a building or an engine, and have your people discuss this matter, again in real time and vocally.

When you have your own location, you can also set permissions to that landing point and area so you are the only ones who have access to it. This will not compromise your security at all, when you are discussing matters of confidentiality.

Second Life Case Study

Consider the case study entitled, “Virtual World Simulation Training Prepares Real Guards on the US-Canadian Border: Loyalist College in Second Life,”

The executive summary reads:

Before September 11, 2001, Customs and Immigration students at Loyalist College spent three weeks closely tailing professional border guards to experience the daily routine of their future job. In a post-911 environment however, this was no longer allowed. Training suffered until the Director of Educational Technology at Loyalist College catalyzed a virtual border crossing simulation in Second Life for Loyalist students.

The amazing results of the training and simulation program have led to significantly improved grades on students’ critical skills tests, taking scores from a 56% success in 2007, to 95% at the end of 2008 after the simulation was instituted.

This is proof positive that training in a Virtual World environment has documented benefits.

I present a video which my company made to show you some of the amazing opportunities that the Virtual World of Second Life can afford.  Video is a hallmark of professionalism, and being able to have content on your website, and/or through video email is an important way to integrate your customer base.

Before embarking on a Second Life journey, you may want to seek expert help; it will save you time and ultimately money if you begin your investment with those who are knowledgeable about the world you are about to enter for business.  Just of course if you wanted to have a meeting in Paris, you would need concierge services there.  Pookymedia can help you get started.

Please feel free to contact Pooky Amsterdam at info@pookymedia.com.

Tweet this posting:

%d bloggers like this: