In praise of long tail learning

Here at OCW, we are as excited as anyone about the potential of MOOCs to teach tens of thousands at a time. On the other hand, we recognize that not every subject taught would make a good MOOC. While it would be wonderful to see, it’s unlikely for instance that you could get 150,000 people to sign up at one time to study the grammar of the language Zazaki.

And yet, it is exactly this kind of course that demonstrates the richness, depth and variety of the MIT curriculum. These courses have the power to help preserve threatened domains of knowledge such as endangered languages. And they have the power to connect the small communities of academics working around the world on these very specific areas of study.

While this course doesn’t get the level of traffic that some of the other courses on the OCW site get, it does get visited. And appreciated, as indicated by this e-mail we received about the course:

I was quite pleased to see the coursework on Zazaki. I have researched the northern dialect of this language. My husband and I were heavily involved with mother-tongue intellectuals interested in developing the written form of their language. Our research includes a complete phonology of the northern dialect as well as an MA thesis on Discourse Analysis (based primarily on folktales). We also produced various materials to aid in transitional literacy and orthography/writing.

So while we celebrate the ability of sophisticated offerings like MOOCs to educate large numbers of people, we are also keeping our focus on the immense power of the simple act of sharing academic resources in less complex ways such as OpenCourseWare.

Note: A previous version of this post misidentified Zazaki as a Turkish dialect. Thanks to haperdashery for pointing out the error.

3 thoughts on “In praise of long tail learning

  1. As far as I have known and taught, Zazaki is not a Turkish dialect,it is an indo-european language and totally different from Turkish. As a Turkish native speaker, I cannot understand one single word in Zazaki, I cannot even tell it is Zazaki (which was forbidden for many years).
    How come MIT OCW can make such a mistake? It is a very contorversial issue in Turkey, thusands of people have died or killed or been killed for many years for this reason (language and identity). When we click on the link above, we are told that it is one of Kurdish languages, as it should be. It is really important to correct the mistake above.


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