There's a lot of hype about the potential for MOOCs (free, online college-level courses) to disrupt academia. Companies like Coursera, Udacity, and EdX are curating hundreds of course materials from big-name universities, and packaging them into an online portal full of videos, suggested readings, quizzes, and discussion boards.

This semester my finance teacher in Raikes wanted to experiment with integrating MOOCs into a formal classroom. After all, what could be better than paying university tuition for free content access to famous professors?

Here's how it worked: throughout the semester, video lectures and quizzes from 2 different Coursera MOOCs were assigned as homework. Class time would be spent going into more depth on the video topics, especially any equations that weren't fully explained or derived.

The two courses were Corporate Finance Essentials from the IESE Business School and Financial Markets from Yale. The lecture formats were very different, but I enjoyed both of them. The IESE materials were clearly filmed for online consumption: the professor was superimposed greenscreen-style over the slide deck, so that all the printed notes were always visible. The material presented was very complete and cohesive.

The videos from the Yale course were just sliced together from an actual class the professor taught, the professor wrote on a chalkboard and interacted with an unseen audience. However, the entire chalkboard was never visible at once since the professor moved around a lot. This made it more difficult to follow what was being written. In contrast to the IESE course, there were a lot of cut-screens to a different part of the lecture. I felt that I was missing a lot of information that the real course contained, and it often made the lectures hard to follow. The very first lecture of the course felt like it belonged several weeks into the semester. Since this was my first formal finance class, there were a lot of terms I had to look up on in order to fully understand. The IESE course was definitely more of an introduction to corporate finance; it might have helped if we had watched that one before the Yale lectures.

The mixed format worked best when a majority of the class had actually watched the videos and actively participated in the classroom discussion. Sometimes that happened; sometimes not so much. MOOCs generally offer forums where you can discuss the material with students around the world taking the same course. When our classroom lacked that level of interaction, the blended format often ended up feeling like a lecture hall that just had extra lectures. Classroom use of MOOCs is still pretty new to academia, so it will be interesting to see what best practices develop as they become more mainstream.