What are MOOCs all about?

This is a continuation of my previous post on What theory best supports Future Education and Learning?

Here is Stephen Downes nice post on MOOC.

I found Stephen’s talk resonating, especially when he says:

I think that in the MOOCs that we’ve done, to some degree, and in the MOOCs that others have done, to a much larger degree, too much of the interactivity has been focused around the facilitators. In the Stanford AI MOOC, it’s all about the facilitators, who are famous names in Artificial Intelligence. That’s not networking. And in our MOOCs as well people line up to – well they don’t really line up – they gather in small clusters to listen to George and Dave and myself and it’s hard to get them to gather in small clusters to communicate among themselves. So it all becomes centrally focused, and if you can’t find that centre you become lost.

It is not that facilitators are not important in MOOC, what Stephen commented was that interactivity shouldn’t be just around the facilitators, but rather be around the peer-to-peer interaction, where participants form into clusters, most likely based on self-organised learning, and thus creating the networks just like the webs all around, and a part of the internet.

What is even more important is to “democratise” learning through open, distributed and diverse networks, where people could join or leave the network, based on their interests, goals, and their “sharing”, in order to further enrich their learning experience, with interaction and conversation.  Here in MOOC, everyone’s voices could be shared openly, thus starting the conversation and initiating the discourse.

In a MOOC, it is not about the content, where participants are expected to remember, as Stephen re-iterated.  Rather, it is about the “valued” connections and process where participants would interact individually and socially with learning and reflecting on the current “themes”, or that part of the content or topic in a MOOC.  So, each participant could sense and perceive the pattern out of the topics of interests, and share what they have found from  the artifacts, discuss and debate about them, and challenge one another on the assumptions, the findings, the conclusions.  They could further critically examine about the pros and cons of each of those view points, and explore about the applications and limitations of their use in real life or work settings.  To this end, artifacts created and shared are the sensemaking tools that enable participants to connect, share and cooperate, and learn in networks.

It is interesting to reflect on what the problems are with MOOCs and those possible solutions.

Now it seems obvious that facilitators have been playing a significant role in the content-rich and skills based MOOC where the outcomes of MOOCs are measured in terms of the number of passes or successful completion in MOOCs.

Here Professor Peter Norvig shares his experience:

Professor Sebastian Thrun also shares his story:

Both professors are focussing on “teaching” the content of their courses, as that is also the expectation of them to deliver the content of the course to the learners, and their institutions or providers that they be “responsible” for the outcomes of the course.  This is typical in an online course, where instructors are expected to satisfy the needs and expectations of the learners, especially for those who are looking for the learning of certain skills in these courses.

The results of teaching tens or even hundreds of thousands of students were both amazing and fascinating.  When one examines the MOOCs based on such approaches, we could see that facilitation or instruction was based principally on how the instructors would provide the content, mainly in the forms of (short videos) instruction, followed by short quiz, readings, assignments, and tests and examinations.  Students who are accustomed to the Universities teaching would surely find this quite a familiar approach to learning, as it is still premised on the model of instructional design with a taxonomy of learning outcomes.

Here Udacity is posting lots of challenges for different groups of learners – with the target of secondary school students too.  This sounds exciting as this is far reaching to the secondary schools, together with teams being encouraged to engage with the courses.

How about edX?  Here you will find the answers to FAQ in edX.

It’s too early to evaluate the successes of such initiatives, and so time will tell.  Overall, it is interesting to see different MOOCs evolving, and providing education using different strategies, pedagogies and media to reach the learners around the world.

What is interesting in these MOOCs is that they are now falling under the following patterns:

1. Those MOOCs based on a connectivist approach – with learning focusing on the learning process, with network construction and navigation,where connections, interactivity, diversity, openness, autonomy are emphasised.  Here George elaborates on the theory under our MOOCs.  Stephen explains what a MOOC does here.

2. Those MOOCs based on an instructivist – behavioral/cognitivist (blended with constructivist) approach – with learning focusing on the learning outcomes and thus are basically content based, where learners are guided by the main instructors, and are also assessed based on either the machine based assessment tools or peer assessment.

I have compared these two types of MOOCs under the assumptions about learning here.

My suggested assumptions in MOOC include:

  • people would learn in a self-directed manner
  • Knowledge is distributed
  • Knowledge is negotiated
  • Knowledge is emergent
  • Knowledge is rhizomatic (thanks to Dave’s video posted – refer to How to be successful in MOOC?)
  • Learning is capacity to construct, navigate and traverse across networks
  • personal learning networks would be a far better way for people to learn
  • people like to learn via social networks
  • people know how to connec(people have the communication, literacy and critical literacy skills)
  • people know how to use the technology to connect
  • people are self motivated (intrinsic motivation)
  • people like to accept challenges, chaos and complexity is just part of the learning process
  • people don’t need to follow a course or qualification for learning to be effective
  • Learning is emergent, and is based on connections, engagement and interactions
  • Learning is open
  • Identity in networked learning is based on individual’s “participation, interaction” in the networks, and is reflective of ones involvement in the media, it’s dynamic, adaptive
  • Individual and social learning is emphasised – cooperation
  • Sensemaking and wayfinding are important
whereas on the other hand, the more formal or traditional education/learning approach or even the online approach of:
  • people need to learn in a structured manner, in a course (face to face or online), with teacher’s instruction (zpd) zone of proximal development,
  • people construct knowledge via a constructivist pedagogy – with an expert.
  • Knowledge is acquired
  • Learning is about acquisition of knowledge, skills and experience
  • people like to learn with Learning Management Systems (LMS)
  • people prefer to learn independently (in a closed environment) (behind the walls in schools) or learn collaboratively in a group or team
  • people don’t have enough skills, knowledge and experience to use technology to connect, formal training/education is the solution
  • people don’t want chaos, complexity – don’t want to be overwhelmed with information or knowledge
  • people need to be motivated with rewards (extrinsic motivation)
  • people need to follow a course or qualification for learning to be effective
  • Learning is based on instruction by the teachers
  • Learning is closed (in a closed classroom or closed online network)
  • Identity is based on the association of oneself as a student or that of the group – it’s static
  • Group learning is emphasised – collaboration
  • Teaching and close mentoring are important

There are certainly some blurring boundaries and overlapping between the two sets of assumptions, and I don’t claim it provides a complete picture of the reality.
Finally, I think it is up to the educators and learners to consider what might be aligning most with what they perceived would be the ideal learning for them, as I have also shared them in my previous post, relating to the matching of teaching with learning – and matches of teachers and learners.
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