EdX IMF Course Financial Programming and Policies: Macroeconomic Accounts & Analysis: Final Notes

mooc_cartoonEdX is a non-profit MOOC platform provider, started up by Harvard University and MIT.  Its platform is used by a variety of universities and a few international organisations such as the World Bank and the IMF for delivering free on-line courses, inappropriately called MOOCs.   This course took place over 8 weeks and contained 6 modules.


1.  The Content

The main sectors of a country’s economy were discussed. The pedagogy was based on the usual behaviourist EdX model: lectures of approx. 10 minutes, followed by short practice questions and occasionally interspersed with a little reading or MS Excel exercise.  Content was challenging (for me, as a non-economist), with a clear progression from basic principles over simple applications to more advanced scenarios and case-studies. Ideas encountered earlier in the course were regularly revisited.  The bulk of the course consisted of explaining the main macro-economic balances (real sector, financial sector, external sector…).  The most interesting parts of the course were when these balances were related to real world examples (using thinly disguised pseudonyms such as ‘fiscalia’).  Part 2 of the course will hopefully continue with this more applied approach.

2. The exercises

Exercises were generally of an appropriate level. Some multiple choice questions required combining several concepts and revisiting the content from earlier weeks. There was an overall

imf1In order to remain eligible for a certificate of completion a weekly minimum score of 50% was required. Apart from multiple choice questions, the weekly assignment also contained an exercise, made extremely simple because of video tutorials explaining in detail how to do the exercise. I assume this aimed at allowing as many learners as possible to proceed to the next level.

Every week, learners were asked to analyse sector data for their country and publish this in the forum. This should have been the most interesting part of the course. Looking at how the monetary or government balances of various countries illustrated the effect of global evolutions or national policies. Unfortunately, very few learners engaged in this activity (me neither, I admit). I believe the main reason is time. The envisioned time per week was approx. 10 hours, leaving many people with little time left to do this exercise and explore others’ postings. Spreading the course over more weeks, or even allowing a separate week for this kind of exercises would be a solution. Also, in a more open and connectivist spirit, encouraging learners to post their writings on their websites or blogs would have allowed outsiders to read and comment. This may also have allowed bringing in some counterweights to the procedures and analyses of the IMF.

3. The Pedagogy

The forum was clearly the problem child of the course. Most interaction was limited to learners asking questions (duly answered by IMF staff). There was little discussion; in particular during the second half of the course. Given the international origin of participants (given introductions in week 1) this was a missed chance. Activities actively fostering discussion could help, as well as IMF staff taking a more tutoring rather than teaching approach.

It’s rather baffling how these courses still largely ignore what decades of experience and research on on-line learning have found. Salmon’s e-tivity model could be used to design on-line activity sequences, insights on communities of practice could be used to foster on-line collaboration and link course content to participants’ contexts. Web 2.0 tools could be used to let participants engage with course content and re-create materials, such as concept maps, blog posts, podcasts etc.   This neglect of existing expertise raises questions about the real intentions of the course.

These xMOOCs are quite far away from the original cMOOCs as they were introduced by Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier, George Siemens and others in 2008.  In fact, based on content and pedagogy, this MOOC could aptly be described as a ‘textbook with ambition’.  Moreover, these MOOCs are only open in the sense that they are free, not in the sense that their materials can be re-used or adapted.  Such a version of openness can hardly claim to be a social justice endeavour, as these MOOCs often claim to be.

4. Final verdict

A positive final verdict though. Unlike other MOOCs from the EdX/ Coursera/ Futurelearn school, this course offered more than a mere taster. It was a thorough and intensive introduction to the analysis of macro-economic accounts. However, I felt disappointed that the pedagogy still hasn’t improved since the last time I completed a xMOOC.  The IMF plans a few other courses on EdX. I’ll certainly give them a try.