Thursday, 19 September 2013

Some Thoughts on What We Can Learn from MOOCs

I've not written about MOOCs on this blog, despite the mainstream interest over the last 18 months. I think that the problem for me has been just as I felt I was getting my head around the original connectivist 'cMOOCs', everyone started talking about the 'xMOOCs', some of which didn't seem very much different to the online courses we had for a decade.  I've struggled to see through the hype, so I'm writing this post to think through ideas about how different types of MOOC might be offering something we could benefit from.

I won't go over the history of MOOCs here, as it has been done so well before. Have a look at Daniel (2012) 'Making sense of MOOCs: Musings in a maze of myth, paradox and possibility' or Tony Bates' overview of the article if you are short of time. This article also wisely takes a look at lessons learned from the history of distance and online learning, which seem to have been ignored in many recent conversations about xMOOCs. For an overview of the peer-reviewed literature about MOOCs, Liyanagunawardena et al's 'MOOCs: A Systematic Study of the Published Literature 2008-2012' is a good starting point. I've also collected links to interesting articles on the topic over the last few years.

The cMOOCs were interesting to me as they seemed to build on the things I liked about PLEs and the benefits the web brings to learning in general. The first MOOC was a real university course which added value to the paying students by encouraging a large number of interested people into the online learning environment. I've written before that "in education we've kept students “in small groups in VLE sections, rarely connecting with other groups” which means many of the potential uses of the web are missed, and even back in 2003 Tim O’Reilly was talking about the internet as a platform to harvest collective intelligence. cMOOCs can offer a way towards major changes in learning, if that is what educators think is best for their students, although teaching this way would be very different and would in most cases require hosting outside of a institutional VLE. This way of studying seems to me to be more likely to work with Masters level students than Undergraduate students, as it helps people with niche interests find each other.

While cMOOCs offer changes to pedagogy, it could be argued that xMOOCs focus has been more on marketing (when HEIs have been involved) and disrupting the HE Industry (when private companies have been involved). I can see how the xMOOCs like those I've participated in on Coursera could act as taster courses to give potential students a chance to see if they want to study a certain course. Courses like this might also be used to help academics get a grasp of the ability of potential students, to see if they might be able to deal with degree level study, or would benefit from an access course of some kind first. The cost of creating high quality resources for these purposes could be prohibitive though, and again there might be a need to run these courses outside the institutional VLE.

I think that both types of MOOC are worth studying as they may offer ways of achieving the things mentioned above, which are things being talked about by both Learning Technologists and academics. Whether we call what we do "MOOCs" will depend perhaps on how we want to market it, but mostly on whether we can practically deal with large numbers of participants.