The fine art of UNFINISHING, or why I still like MOOCs.

beach shot

St. Croix 2013, even better than it looks

I intend to run for 30 minutes today.  But it is hot and I stop at 25.
I pick up the latest issue of The Economist, drink deeply of an article on Mandela’s legacy, marvel at a stimulating reconsideration of Ozymandias, enjoy a pointed editorial welcoming Bulgarians to the UK.  And then I flip aggressively past the rest of the world.
With any luck, the rest of the world still be there next week.
Waiting for lunch, I scribble a few entries into the NYT crossword puzzle but leave it unfinished for the next diner.  Also at lunch, I order abstemiously but spear a dozen delicious French fries from my husband’s plate, which he left unfinished.  (I subscribe to the well-known theory that calories thus stolen do not count.)
I am on vacation.  Indeed, despite unexpected thunderstorms in the Caribbean, I certainly do plan to finish this vacation.
While thus pleasantly (un)occupied, I have plenty of time to think about the recent whiplash against MOOCs and their low retention rates:  What is this obsession with finishing?  In the rest of life, don’t we know that…..

Sometimes, Enough is Enough.   

Now, on this trip, I did devour every bit of Goldfinch, Americanah, and Quiet Dell, but merely skimmed The Promised Land, and threw over The Luminaries entirely after 100 pages.
In a bit of unplanned experimentation, I read Goldfinch in two ways through Amazon Whispersynch — for this joyously long book, I enjoyed going back and forth between the brilliantly narrated audiobook and e-book.  And this experience led me to some articles about some new ways to sell books, like Scribd and Smashwords and Oyster, interesting subscription models that also provide new insight into how e-readers read.
F’r instance:  through the data offered by these services, we learn that most everyone finished the bestseller What Women Want, while Arthur M Schlesinger Jr’s The Cycles of American History?   Fewer than 1 percent who started it ever got to the end.   Wonder how many of my readers finished SALA’S GIFT or LADY AT THE OK CORRAL.  And wouldn’t I really really like to know that?
And that’s what led me back to all the articles before my vacation, the ones declaiming the end of MOOCs because they are rarely finished.  Are these courses are more like races that must be completed or like books that are sampled and only completed when “completion” has some motivation.
Don’t get me wrong:  I do know that finishing can be important.  College degrees, for instance, where a credential promises an enriched life plus a bonus called a career.  But the act of completion must carry with it some reward, be it psychic, financial, spiritual, or legal.
A note to the wise and vacation-savvy:  if none of this posting makes sense to you, just chalk it up to a sun-addled brain  — and get yourself to St. Croix!

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