This is a guest post written for the Class Central blog, provided by Futurelearn, the UK-based MOOC provider, about a popular MOOC that is starting now on the topic of behavioral psychology.
(Image: Wikimedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Globe_and_high_court_(Spot_the_difference).jpg.)
Professor Chater’s MOOC, The Mind is Flat: The Shocking Shallowness of Human Psychology by the University of Warwick and offered on the Futurelearn platform, has just started its second course offering, which has already attracted over 20,000 curious learners from across the globe all keen to understand more about how their minds work.
About the course
The second run of this free online course is six weeks long and uncovers the workings of the human mind, why we make the decisions we do and whether our minds are as deep as we might like to think. Learners will discuss these topics from all corners of the world, with the UK, the U.S., India, Spain, and Australia being the top five countries by visitor numbers.
The course is led by academic professor, psychologist and regular BBC Radio contributor, Nick Chater. Other contributors to the course include: Rory Sutherland, Vice-Chairman of advertising agency Oglivy & Mather and leading advocate of the importance of behavioural science in business, and Tim Harford, the Financial Times ‘Undercover Economist’ and bestselling author. There will be a variety of opinions in the course which should inspire debate and new ways of thinking.
Thoughts from the team behind the course
The team working on the course, from the University of Warwick and Warwick Business School, took on the project as novices to the world of MOOCs (massive open online courses). They learned from their successes on the first run of the course and the large volume of feedback from the discussion threads, and are using this knowledge to make the course even better this time around.
Ray Irving, Director of eLearning at Warwick Business School, reflected on the experience of the first run of the course.
“Only one member of our team had prior experience of developing large scale-free online courses, this made the experience at first seem daunting but also exciting. At the very beginning of the project Nick Chater, did not know what the acronym ‘MOOC’ stood for. A few months later he was being celebrated by learners as a ‘MOOC Star’!“
“Building the course itself was a tremendous amount of work…but was absolutely worth it. It is amazing reading back through the discussion threads and seeing just how much participants enjoyed and gained from the course.”
“One example of a truly inspiring learner comment was: ‘A really excellent course. A lot to agree with, a lot to disagree with, both in the course material and in the accompanying discussions. Thought provoking and stimulating throughout.’
“This comment was particularly poignant for us and highlights how we wanted to create an engaging experience that truly got learners thinking and discussing.”
So what does the course involve?
For many, the course has acted as an exciting extension to university level psychology covering areas that are not often touched upon and making learners think about everyday situations in a more in-depth way.
The course is made up of short articles, videos, quizzes and experiments. Learners have been particularly impressed with the experiments which demonstrate, in an interactive and unique way, the human behaviors that the theories try to explain.
One experiment involves watching a series of two flashing images of an identical scene. One of the two images has a very subtle change from the other. The learner is timed on how long it takes to spot the difference. This activity highlighted ‘change blindness’–the idea that people can only take in a small amount of a scene at once and can only notice change if we are directly looking at it. At the end of the task, the learner is able to compare their own timings to the average, allowing their own minds to be tested with the theories discussed within the course.
Matt Walton, Head of Product at FutureLearn, describes why people find the theories in the course so amazing: “Much of what we see and hear is based on us quickly turning our vision and mind to things and unconsciously mentally filling in the gaps in order to answer questions on the fly.” A video from Horizon, which is referenced in the course, is a good example of how people identify certain sounds not by what we can hear, but by what we can see.
Matt believes that the intricate compilation of articles, videos, theories, experiments and discussions throughout the course will make learners realize that: “we [humans] are not as complicated as we like to think. Although we often like to think that we have complex minds we are, in fact, just great at improvising. We create a narrative not based on deeply held beliefs, but on things that we have learned.”
Many learners enjoy being able to fit the learning into their everyday lives – watching the videos in bed, reading the transcripts on the train, listening to audio while getting ready for work, and taking the tests on the bus. In addition, the Futurelearn platform allows learners to see other learners’ reflections, and thus provide another way to observe and discuss the theories presented in the course.
The second run of this free online course is still open for enrollment along with other courses offered on FutureLearn. You can find out more about the course by watching the trailer below and signing up for the course here.