MOOCs and Mathematics Self-Learning

21 Oct

Over time, this blog has morphed from being about actuarial self-learning to being more about mathematics and statistics self learning, reflecting my personal career peregrinations. I kind of hope that such readers as there are not too turned off – to me it seems there is a lot of crossover. It also seems, at least from reading forums for actuarial learners (weak evidence, so feel free to provide your own counterpoint), that insufficient mathematics is at the root of a lot of difficulties that actuarial students discover along the way.

I intend to soon write a blog piece about my attempts to learn linear algebra and group theory via the slightly indirect route of learning about symmetry groups in crystallography, but today I just want to make a quick observation – the MOOC revolution isn’t coming, at least not yet, at least for mathematics.

2013 appeared to be the year of the MOOC. There were new MOOCs springing up all the time, in an ever wider array of subjects. Today it seems like the revolution has stalled – looking at Class Central, the MOOC aggregator, there are only six entries under the heading ‘Mathematics and Statistics’ (Recently Started or Starting Soon – there were also 17 courses in progress, of which 5 were non english, and two were kind of maths meta-courses a la ‘How to learn maths’), of which three are in Languages other than English. At one stage, MathBabe forecast that MOOC offers in the maths subjects most associated with non-mathematicians – single and multivariable calculus, elementary linear algebra mostly, probably also intro stats for non-statisticians, would put tertiary maths departments out of a job.

To me, unless there is growth in the courses offered – including at least a selection of the standard undergrad maths major subjects (so far, no English language abstract algebra or number theory), MOOCs, for better or worse, just aren’t going to take over the world of teaching, or even be a supplement for students beyond first year.


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