Thursday, January 02, 2014

MOOCs: what can we learn from baseball scouts?

It turns out that one of the biggest problems with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) is low completion rate. Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Udacity, decided to "pivot" away from MOOCs because on average only 4 percent of participants completed courses offered by his company. Although the courses reach hundreds of thousands of people, the end result is nowhere near inflated expectations about a revolution in education.

Motivation to learn seems to be the key to succeed online. I think MOOCs will become an effective tool for finding talented and motivated individuals, rather than educating masses around the world. Ideally, MOOCs should replace rote tests like SATs because to a prospective educator and/or employer a successfully completed online course provides a strong indicator of the student's intellectual and social skills, especially when creativity and entrepreneurship are required.

From this perspective, I find Nate Silver's chapter (The Signal and the Noise. 2013) about baseball scouting particularly insightful. Here's a list of five abilities that predict success at the major-league level:

1. Preparedness and Work Ethic. Baseball is unlike almost all other professional sports in that games are played six or seven times a week. A baseball player has to be ready to perform at a professional level every day.
2. Concentration and Focus. this category specifically concerns the manner in which a player conducts himself during the course of the game.
3. Competitiveness and Self-Confidence. “Is there a desire to succeed to the degree that there’s a failure mechanism kicking in? Is there a fear of failure? Is the desire to succeed significant enough to overcome the fear of failure?”
4. Stress Management and Humility. In baseball even the best hitters fail a majority of the time. The ability to cope with this failure requires a short memory and a certain sense of humor.
5. Adaptiveness and Learning Ability. How successfully is the player able to process new information during a game? Listen to advice from his coaches? How does he adapt when his life situation changes?

I wonder if we can create scouting reports on entrepreneurs, e.g. by using Angel List or other new social media tools. Like major league baseball, innovation and entrepreneurship is a high-stake game played every day. Creating a winning team is one of the most important tasks for a startup CEO and people who fund his/her company.

tags: innovation, education, detection, control, synthesis, system

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