Hold the R-word

Distance learning is nothing new, e-learning is nothing new, free online learning materials are nothing new, and yet there is a lot of talk about the Massive Open Online Course bringing revolution, if not, forcing Higher Education to evolve.

There is a lot of venture capital going to educational technology. That means that a  lot of people have an interest in talking about a revolution. But what can we learn from the success of massive free courses and from the way they are being discussed?

Some universities are producing young people with debt (see: Clay Shirky), rather than with degrees. When free courses by big name institutions come along, that seems really promising, but which part of higher education can a MOOC replace? And why has this happened, in the USA (other countries have other Higher Ed models)?

There is a huge audience “yearning” for higher learning. This might not be the people who we normally conceive of as “students” in higher education.

In some course designs peer-to-peer organization of Q&A is seen as the solution for the fact that the teacher can’t be everywhere, and in some set-ups, this “peeragogy” (See Howard Rheingold and colleagues) is a central value. Anyhow, the question as to whether this interaction between participants leads anywhere remotely similar to a guided conversation with an “expert”, is being debated –especially by people coming from the Humanities. Tip: blogs by faculty members actually enrolling in a MOOC are good reads.

Some voices say that the evolution to watch in relation with MOOCs, takes place in the publishing sector.

This post is a short write-up of a few themes that I just have to get rid of before the new #edcmooc weekly topic rolls around. Some sloppy referencing and half ideas. So sorry.


The chance to have your work viewed, your institution to be known as having influential people in it, could increasingly be a matter of whether your material is used in a MOOC.

Dave Cormier, inventor of the term “MOOC”, on the importance of the academic (institution)’s brand in the MOOC. 

Dave Cormier, Will MOOC as curation kill the paid journal? 3 February 2013

The chance to h…

Sorting out “MOOCs”

It is a good season for “MOOCs”, Massive Open Online Courses, and you can spot several of them in full action. But the term “MOOC” has come to cover a range of wildly different  kinds of ehm… learning events. Indeed, for some of these, “course”, might be the wrong word.

It will probably not be long before we will start to use different words for different kinds of MOOCs.

In 2008, the term MOOC was coined to describe courses that were experimenting with the connectivist take on learning.

Later, the term was applied to free courses that were instuctor-led and structured around canned lectures and one course platform, but the need was felt to distinguish between the merely “free” courses and the courses with distributed contents, and matching leaner-centered approaches to the organization of the course. In came the distinction between cMOOC and xMOOC. But that good vs. bad model is not very useful to describe the range of approaches that exists.

Lisa Lane came up with three kinds of MOOCs, which are loosely divided by the dominant goal (they all have networks task and content).

  • Network based (the connectivist approach with a big role for community and content created by the learners, for instance CCK12)
  • Task based (developing a skill by doing, like the digital literacies course DS106)
  • Content based (instructor-led content acquisition, typical for the high-profile for-profit initiatives)

The content based kind of MOOC, is less about exploring new pedagogies and more about exploring new business models for higher education. Lisa Lane puts the big course platforms (Coursera, Udacity, edX) squarely in the content based category. And she laments the way “MOOC” has become a label for straightforward up-scaled instructivist courses. (http://lisahistory.net/wordpress/2012/11/five-short-years-to-mooc-corruption/)

But with EDCMOOC, the E-Learning and Digital Cultures course run by the University of Edinburgh on Coursera, you get a hybrid kind of MOOC with a big learning community that has organized itself outside of the course platform, months before the MOOC-part of the course had even started. Students are free to use the course platform for discussions, or to use their own choice of social platform. The only assignment is a peer reviewed final digital artefact. The content of the MOOC is also encouraging dialogue and reflecting on the affordances of online education, in the best of the connectivist tradition.

On the other hand, it does latch on to a course taught in Edinburgh, it is not a coreless MOOC (how Alex Couros planned the Educational Technology MOOC, ETMOOC).

It is not the course platform that determines the type of MOOC , it is the “design” or set-up of the MOOC and the organisation of its contents and interactions.

I am still looking for a better way to describe the different kinds of MOOC. If I find one, I’ll post it here, promise. The kinds of online learning events or sites that are being called a “MOOC” are so different, that we really need a new set of labels. Right now, we have one big term for things that resemble online unconferences and game-ified language learning programs. “MOOC” is such a catchy name that the press is slapping it on every big and free online course, but we need a better definition based on a set of attributes that goes beyond goals. And I don’t think a MOOC typology based on business models is what I’m looking for… Some elements that can lead to a better “grid” of MOOCs are:

  • Is there a strong core, a simultaneous for-credit course, for instance, or is it a donut-shaped cloud of dots (sorry, but you get my drift)?
  • Is it a learning event with a start date for interactions between a group of people who follow the same “course”, or can a learner start a sequence of learning packages anytime (Like Duolingo or hackdesign.org)?
  • What is the rythm of the introduction of new subject matter? (2 weeks in etmooc, which is nice)
  • Are there different paths possible: strong engagement/weak engagement?
  • Rock star tutors/teachers/leaders or peeragogy?
  • What is being measured, registered, penalized in terms of course analytics?

Sci-Fi. MOOCs. Visual Artifact. Done with homework.


Mashup by me.

Week 1. Would this representation qualify as utopian or dystopian? Please discuss.


Based on the following images:

Science Wonder stories cover
downloaded from x-ray delta one on Flickr

A Mirror for Observers, (Nov 1958, Edgar Pangborn) Cover art by Richard Powers

CC: Attribution – Noncommercial – Share alike

Carving out a piece of cloud #EDCMOOC

Ever since the course on Coursera officially started, the Google+ and Facebook groups have been hit by a tidal wave of new members. It’s more important now than ever to make decisions about my own focus and filters.

I would really like to find a cluster of like-minded souls in the #EDCMOOC cloud! Do give me a shout in the comments, Google+ or on Twitter.

My learning goals:

  • Use a set of interesting tools and theories surrounding digital culture(s)
  • Be part of a sustainable learning community
  • Learn about learning
  • Figure out the principles at work in MOOC

My interests, as far as MOOCs are concerned:

  • Learning design, instructional design, MOOC design
  • Connectivism, connected learning, learning communities
  • Digital Humanities
  • Higher Education
  • State of affairs in the big European e-learning projects and in particular in Belgium, France and The Netherlands
  • Digital literacy

My contribution:

  • Creating images and mash-ups
  • Layout
  • HTML and CSS
  • Figuring out blogs, feeds and Twitter
  • Languages: Dutch, French, English, in no particular order
  • Historical perspective (check out my “about” page)

Currently, I’m keeping track of #EDCMOOC through:

  • Coursera
  • Google+
  • a blog post here and there (Hoping to narrow it down to a personal selection matching my interests)
    For instance, Chris Swift’s Blog is interesting to keep up with the EDCMOOCcommunity: http://mybackyard78.blogspot.co.uk/
  • #edcmooc on Twitter

Placing their xMOOCs in the public domain for a worldwide audience will oblige institutions to do more than pay lip service to importance of teaching and put it at the core their
missions. This is the real revolution of MOOCs.

Making Sense of MOOCs, Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility, by Sir John Daniel, Sept. 2012 

Placing their x…

The Connectivist MOOC. The MOOC for MOOC’s sake.

Some MOOCs are wonders of instructional design scaled to a massive audience. They are open as in “free to join”. A good example is Duolingo, originally a Carnegie Mellon University project for language learning.

In this article about Measuring the Success of Online Education, on the NY Times blog “Bits”, Duolingo is cited, and the numbers are indeed impressive. A bookkeepers dream.
And of course, as prof. Cathy Davidson says in this lecture on Youtube, if teachers can be replaced by computers, they should. IF.

Other MOOCs, are open in an “open source” kind of way. The workings of the course are out in the open. Course materials are out on the Internet. Participants are a diverse mix of subject matter experts, intermediates and beginners, and they can participate as much or little as they want, tune in and out at will. People are encouraged to define their own course objectives, and to link up and cluster off with people with the same interests. Feed aggregators serve to mash up an overview. There is a DIY, peer-to-peer, festival kind of vibe to it.

This is a set of guidelines to make a MOOC like that work. Gleaned from the Peeragogy Handbook, Chapter 11. (free PDF http://peeragogy.net/peeragogy-handbook-v1.pdf )
1. Participants should discuss internal aspects: Discuss goals, self-motivation, intended outcomes.
2. Prepare by acquiring the necessary digital skills.
3. The distributed and varied nature of discussion and course material, is in itself content/a learning adventure.
4. Weekly heads-up through synchronous sessions.
5. Overview of the proceedings, like a daily newsletter. Important: the course-specific hashtag to keep everything findable.

Examples of this kind of MOOC, the connectivist ones, the ones happy to explore what MOOC means, are MOOCMOOC, by Hybrid Pedagogy (see their Canvas site: https://learn.canvas.net/courses/27/), and DS106 (Digital Storytelling, University of Mary Washington and throughout the Internet, various times a year).