berkleyThe moment I posted my status about attending classes at The Berklee School of Music on Facebook, a few of my friends wondered what was up? Most questioned whether or not the reset button was pushed and my bags were packed on the way to Boston to pursue a music degree.

Not really, but the thought of absorbing anything from Berklee is intriguing. After all – as a musician – this is one of the top schools in the nation. The fact it was a deep dive into eight weeks of music studies – left me no choice. Besides, I might come out on the other end a little better at my craft and naturalized for higher education in the connected age.

Over the past several months, I’ve been watching with great interest the free classes offered by from Coursera.org and others. When Berklee announced they were offering music classes, it seemed like the perfect obligation to redirect my obsessions and introduce me to something new to explore.

The courses promised six weeks of instruction for music production and songwriting and all for free. All I had to invest was 8 to 10 hours per week and take advantage of world class instruction. Little did I know I would be walking into another torrent of information – but I’m glad I did.

Mooc stands for “massive open online courses.” All across the world, universities and other startups are offering free online education to anyone with an interest in learning.

Coursera is one of largest and continues to grow in popularity. They currently offer more than 370 from over 69 universities across the planet. There mission statement “We believe in connecting people to a great education so that anyone around the world can learn without limits.”

First all, let’s get this out in the open. I’m addicted to learning.

Somewhere along the way the quote “the meaning of life is to learn” stuck with me. Learning something new is both a strength and weakness. In fact, life is discouraging unless there’s something new on my work bench.

Fortunately, Coursera was offering classes on two topics of interest. The first was a music production class to teach instruction on using desktop audio software. The second was an course on songwriting and both were led be some of their best professors.

When the classes began, everything seemed to be going great. The video lectures were produced with the best tools and they were easy to follow. Then the flood gates opened.

One of the attributes about an online course is the use of discussion forums forfellow students who were also taking the classes online. This past Spring, over 60,000 students were taking the classes I’d signed up for. When you open up a forum with email notifications, the cacophony of online communication was simply overwhelming.

Although I began to get involved and signed up for email notifications from the discussions – I quickly realized there was little time in my life to pay attention to literally thousands of email and at times trivial conversations that gushed from these interactive social environments.

Don’t misunderstand me. There’s plenty of assets in those forums and if you have a question or want to interact with other students – it’s all there. However, like all web assets, it’s another fire hydrant that will flood your inbox – so tread carefully if you decide to participate in a MOOC.

There’s plenty of benefit from paying attention to the videos produced from the course lectures. You’ll find excellent online quizes that give you multiple attempts to improve your grade and most MOOCs lean heavy on peer reviews to represent the majority of your overall grade.

The Music Production course with Loudon Sterns covered audio production techniques using Digital Audio Workstation software. My particular interest was learning how to use Logic Pro Software.

Screen Shot 2013-05-08 at 11.36.21 PMLoudon was an excellent instructor. I’m certain he’s probably one of the most progressive of the instructors in the music department. Not only did he have a high degree of comfort teaching the online classes, but he clearly understood the concepts of digital audio recording and presented it a concise, informative and at times challenging framework.

Classes open up on a particular date and from that point, you are guided through weekly topics.

On day one, Sterns shared his belief that the best way to learn a topic was to “teach a topic.”

That meant, each week during the six-week course, each studio would absorb the material via video, complete online quizes and then produce, present and record a video describing a choice of one of the topics.

At first, many of the students were critical of his approach. Students from all over the world cited language barriers and personal fears of recording a video or audio of themselves teaching.

Despite my own reservations and introverted tendencies to make a YouTube video – I threw in the towel. After getting my recording studio setup, it proved helpful and truly was a good way to learn the course material. Besides, it was easy when I accepted the fact that I looked like a dope!

My second class that I signed up for was a songwriting course offered by Pat Patterson.

Although I had serious problems keeping up with the pace of his peer assignments, Patterson is wonderful professor to search something as subjective and at times abstract – the art of songwriting.

He was enjoyable to watch, humorous and filled the program with philosophical and practical techniques for writing good songs. Some of his techniques included a “box” method for framing song ideas and the use of various rhyme schemes and other tools for practicing the craft. His primary take-away will help all songwriters focus on creating stable and unstable verse and I’m sure his techniques will echo in my mind for the rest of my life.

The courses as advertised suggested each would require 8 to 10 hours of work each week. For me personally, this was a conservative estimate. My efforts were consuming perhaps 15 hours each week. This might have been different for others, but there was quite a number of videos offered for both classes. Adding the layer of reading, note taking, quizes, forums and producing peer assignments each week – these MOOCs were hardly a crip course.

Nevertheless, I learned a lot. My colleagues who were forced to hear the lessons each week and were probably wondering why one would traverse this path. I argue that it’s better than reality television and the desire to break aware and culture my musical interests is good for the soul.

How did I do?

I got two “Certificates of Completion.”

That’s where the disconnect occurs with online MOOCs.

At present, it would probably be tough to convince an employer a free course on the Internet is validation for a career position. With regard to academic currency, the “degree” still trumps an Internet education. Even classes from Phoenix and other bonafide universities are subject to sneers in professional circles.

There are still some who seem puzzled at the thought of “free classes” from universities, but the message is self-evident. At the end of each of my classes, the instructors are clear to promote the full course offerings of the university. Offered as a “freemium” the MOOC is a loss leader to encourage students to pursue in-depth degrees.

Even if the future continues to progress toward this type of learning it’s easy to do the math.

A traditional classroom at Berklee may offer a course that holds 100 students. Given a 3 hour credit course may cost up to $1300 per credit hour. A traditional three-credit class may cost close to $5,000. A hundred students would generate $500,000 in revenue.

Even if online learning via classes like the ones offered at Coursera would charge $200 per class – a online registration with 50,000 students would generate $1,000,000 in revenue. Certainly a more efficient way to conduct business on both sides of the traditional classroom.

studentPatternsInMoocs2There are some interesting data points coming forth from MOOCs as they continue generate interest for students all across the world. As you might expect, students start out quite active and drop off over time.

I’ll come clean too.

My first experience online was overwhelming indeed. I learned a lot, spent a lot of time staring into my computer and email in-box. I made a 94 in my Music Production class, but my Songwriting class was a bit too demanding. I missed the last peer review because of work obligations and even though I still passed (with a C), it was well worth the effort and I’m already signed up for another.

As for cable television – I think your days are numbered. There’s too much learning to sit idle for Network programming.

See you next semester for Music Improvisation.