This tax MOOC makes you fly. But why? (part 2)


I just had a startling learning experience. Yesterday, I confess, I failed in solving a quiz question in the MOOC on international taxation. Embarrassed, I decided not to submit my answers. I was alone, I thought, no one would notice my ignorance. But then the unexpected happened …

Today, I received an email. It came from the MOOC; its comforting message went something like: “I noticed that you did not submit your answer yesterday, Come on give it another try”.

Apparently “big brother” had silently tracked each and every keystroke of me; the program’s algoritm had “interpreted” my not-submitting as embarassement and “concluded” that I could use some computer generated “encouragement”.

Welcome to legal learning in 2016! Personalised learning and learning analytics are tiptoeing into legal learning …

Coursera’s MOOC on international taxation causes a shakeup in legal learning. Let’s focus on the causes, being its distinguishing instructional qualities. Today: (1) Learning by doing and (2) Being in control of your learning.

(1) Active learning

This tax course invites learners to go beyond the usual passively following the lecturer or reading a legal text. It stimulates learners to study actively. You work onrealistic problems, you interact with peers, either online or in a cafe nearby. You interact with your lecturer. You feel challenged in a pleasant way.

This variety of learning activities generates a learning synergy. This synergy facilitates your brain’s processing the complex fiscal information. This synergy also consolidates and strengthens your new legal skills and knowledge. This results in long term competence improvement. The different perspectives allowed by you performingvarious activities achieve that you “see” the pieces fall into place. The activities ensure the new insights and skills are “engraved” in your brain, ready to be retrieved once back at your job. True job competence is created.

It is imperative to see that active learning is fundamentally different from learning in many of today’s regular legal courses:

Because what happens without active learning? Deep understanding cannot be built without extensive and varied practice by the learners. This competence buildingprocess is usually absent in conventional legal training courses. The causes are: (1) a shortage of time and (2)  a lack of instructional (design) expertise of lecturers and course designers.

As a result learning is in fact prevented from materializing during such conventional courses. Learners are merely exposed to large amounts of information that passes by quickly and is forgotten as quickly. Learners cannot process and anchor the tsunamis of information rolling towards them; their minds tend to drown in information-dense lectures and PowerPoint slides.

Consequently, learners lack the foundational knowledge base on which to develop deep and flexible understanding. This kind of understanding is necessary for building legal skills to find solutions to varying legal problem situations just as they occour in the real world. Generally learners leave such legal courses without legal expertise added. No performance improvement is available once back at work.

(2) You are at the wheel

Research has shown time and again that an important predictor to get learners engaged is the extent of control they get over their own learning.

In conventional classes learners have little control. The course is teacher-centered; the learner is expected to loyally follow the lecturer wherever he/she goes and whatever speed he/she considers appropriate. In contrast, this MOOC allows more learner-centered learning.

In this MOOC you are the navigator of your own learning. You determine what is useful for you and what is not. You decide when to study. You decide whether to read an article or to watch a video instead. You decide when to stop the video and go back for better understanding. You decide when to contact a peer on the forum. You decide when to have a cup of coffee with some peers to discuss course topic or prepare for a quiz.

In other words: You are the master of your learning universe! 

But, it is important to know that, being a learner, you have access to abundant support in the MOOC preventing you from getting lost.


In my next blog I will discuss more instructional goodies contained in this international tax MOOC: (1) assessing own learning, (2) social learning and (3) evaluating peers.

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