#CFHE12 #Oped12 The Yin and Yang of MOOCs : Part 4 Digital Identity and Openness

In my last post of The Yin and Yang of MOOCs, I shared what I believe to be the Yang (bright) side of MOOCs.

This post is devoted to the Yin (dark) side of MOOCs.  I would close it with the Yang (bright) side as the Yin is always embraced under the Yang (bright side) too.

This post exposes the dark side of MOOCs.  Doug says:

Coursera and its devotees simply have it wrong. The Coursera model doesn’t create a learning community; it creates a crowd. In most cases, the crowd lacks the loyalty, initiative, and interest to advance a learning relationship beyond an informal, intermittent connection.

Why should we be impressed that an online course can reach 100,000 students at once? By celebrating massification, advocates of Coursera elevate volume as the chief objective of online learning. Is that truly our goal in academe?

Our goal should be to design a customized program that matches technology with a student’s day-to-day objectives, not just course objectives or weekly learning objectives. We need to operate on a small scale where the online course or program is calibrated to meet the need of the individual student.

There are certain assumptions that we often made that relate just to the “good” and the “bad” sides of the tools or technology, and the use of MOOCs as platforms.  This also depends on what lens we might have used in judging the appropriateness of a tool (mooc) for particular learning context, from educational, administrative or learning perspective.

We might tend to struggle with the duality of many dimensions, facets of education and learning.  These include:

  1. pedagogy – the instructivism (teaching as an emphasis) versus connectivism (learning – PLE/PLN as an emphasis, and learning as practice and reflection, teaching as demonstration and modelling (Stephen Downes), or flipped classroom versus peer-to-peer learning (peeragogy and heutagogy)
  2. teaching style versus learning style
  3. the face-to-face versus online (or blended learning)
  4. the community of practice versus the networks of practice
  5. the group (classroom) learning versus individual learners personalised learning, or social learning versus personalised and self-paced & organised learning
  6. openness versus closeness, unity versus diversity
  7. governance versus autonomy
  8. education (provided by others) versus learning (do it yourself or independent learning)
  9. prescriptive versus emergent curriculum
  10. canonical versus emergent knowledge

These different “dualities” are indeed all interwoven with each others and could most likely be illustrated as evolving Yin and Yang cycle, with the social, cognitive, and teaching presence both evolving and significantly embedded in between each others during the education and learning process.  They are the yin and yang part of the MOOCs.

Community of Inquiry framework 755-4502-1-PB

We might have to un-pack each of these “themes” and re-bundle them to see which would lead to the extreme yins and yangs as perceived by administrators, educators and learners.

I also think one of the most important “themes” that most MOOCs haven’t addressed to the full extent is digital identity, and openness.

Digital Identity

Here in a post on enacting digital identity by Catherine, she says:

“In research on social networking within education, for example, Keri Facer and Neil Selwyn (2010) found that students saw a clear divide between “social interaction” and “educational interaction” on social networking sites, based on existing educational assumptions that “learning is organised around the individual and… oriented around content rather than process”. However, this may be changing. In their review of the research, Facer and Selwyn concluded that educators might need to “pay attention to social networking sites as important for the social construction of identity, including personal, social and learner identity”.”

As I have shared above, social construction of identity would be embedded as yin and yang of personal, social and learner identity.  I have also shared my views on digital identity here.

(Slides taken from – http://www.slideshare.net/Downes/the-meaning-is-the-message)


In this post on Openness, Eric highlights the pros and cons of Open Standards, Open Content and Open to the World.  Stephen commented that “there is a sense in the new world of ‘open’ that ‘open to the world’ means broadcasting rather than interaction, hence the focus on initiatives like TED and Khan academy rather that open discussion networks and wikis.”

I found this point on openness by Stephen especially resonating, and that is why I still think there are lots of lost opportunity for connectivist and emergent knowledge and learning that could have occurred in MOOCs (especially in the instructivist xMOOCs).

To me, what distinguishes x from c MOOCs is that xMOOCs focus mainly on individual’s performance and individual professor’s teaching excellence, whereas c MOOCs focus mainly on the growth and development of learners and instructors through the co-construction of community and networks, with openness and autonomy as fundamental pillars to individual and social learning.

As conceptualised by Stephen, what is most important is the decentralized nature of distributed learning, that is both a healthy and natural growth of the MOOC, with a landscape of community of learners (including those MOOC facilitators, guest speakers, and experts) continuing to interact and explore in the emerging fields of education and learning alongside the webs and internet.

In this connection, we could all sense the continuing engagement, support and stewardship of various pioneers like Stephen Downes, George Siemens, Dave Cormier, David Wiley, Alec Couros, etc. throughout the MOOCs development and community building in the past few years.  To me, these are based on open scholarship practice, and the establishment of both individual and community identity where values are shared and exchanged through conversation, in and beyond MOOCs.

There are however also another side of openness, when it comes to the establishment of MOOCs under formal institutional environment.  Here openness would be constrained by the various legislation laid out by governments.

Most institutions are expected to uphold the key of excellence and quality in higher education, as bound by the governance of education authorities, or their own constitutions.  This would ensure their status of awarding qualifications and the accreditation of courses.   From an institutional point of view, MOOCs must be established with the grounds of reinforcing the quality of online or distance education, so as to be aligned with the institution’s vision and mission.  Otherwise, it would diminish the role of formal institutions in Higher Education.  This is perhaps the critical point in deciding whether MOOCs are sustainable in the implementation of online education.

To be continued.

19 thoughts on “#CFHE12 #Oped12 The Yin and Yang of MOOCs : Part 4 Digital Identity and Openness

  1. John, I do admire your productivity as a blogger.
    As an experiment in Mooc-ology I joined a mechanical MOOC, introduction to Python http://mechanicalmooc.wordpress.com/ . Interesting experience. The course is very not flexible and I did not feel the need to join a group or a forum. Little activity on forums in this MOOC. Just do what you are told to do and do it the way the Machine thinks fine. I did meet No crowd, no masses, just me and the MOOC-program/course/websites.
    My experience is an illustration of this post.
    Regards Jaap

  2. Hi Jaap, Thanks for your insightful sharing and kind words. I feel both honored and proud to be connected with you. Your posts are all stimulating and thoughts provoking, and that made my visit to your blog such an enjoyable experience, leading to more reflection

    Yes, I shared your thoughts on the mechanistic nature of such MOOCs, where little human-human interactions involved. They may be suitable for robots or cyborgs to learn with, but as you said, there aren’t any crowd, masses, to learn and interact with. So what makes it exciting? Where are the feedback, except the right or wrong answers prompted?
    We learn much more through our conversation, interaction and sharing of thoughts and experience.

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  8. Hi John – my experiences on xMOOCs were similar to Jaap’s. I think that xMOOCs exploit the ideas and expectations surrounding the traditional ‘course’ in order to attract large numbers of ‘ordinary’ learners – good as even the dropouts can learn something more than nothing but bad in that it reinforces old ‘sage on stage’, pass/fail mentalities rather than exploring unique aspects of networked learning like the cMOOCs seem to have done. It’s maybe not too surprising that current xMOOC formats reflect this conditioning along with employers and the powers that be in education including the venture capitalists. The first railway carriages were designed to look like stagecoaches, presumeably because this was considered a good (and profitable) match to the expectations of the travelling public of the time – maybe the same idea applies to xMOOCs !

    Season’s Greetings to all! – Gordon Lockhart

  9. I am with you Gordon. As you said, the sage on stage didactic teaching approach based on a knowledge transmission model, and a pass/fail mentalities with those xMOOCs. That is a back to basics traditional school approach focusing on known knowledge only. How could the knowledge “acquired” by participants be applied at work? How would such application at work be assessed? Would it be important to practise, reflect and share on what one has learnt throughout a MOOC (like what we normally did with our cMOOC)?

    I don’t see much emphasis on such learning practice in most of the xMOOCs, except the focus on Mastery Learning on content knowledge. May be what is expected from those MOOCs is to answer all the MC, short answer questions correctly after repeated drills. That is what one would define as excellence in achievement in the course. That may be the case if there are only one correct answer for the problem in the assignment, tests or examination, and the participants are expected to rote learn the basic fact, procedures or process routines. But is that good enough when it comes to Higher Education? May be that is what one could do and expect with hundred of thousands students participating in a MOOC.

    Thanks again Gordon for these valuable comments and insights.

  10. Jaap, I see what you mean with the python MOOC http://online.dr-chuck.com/ Can a MOOC be run entirely by technology alone? To what extent would such a MOOC be run on an AI basis?

    There are many butterflies flapping their wings, with Sebastian Thrun, Andrew Ng, Daphne Koller and Anant Agarwal, Salman Khan. So it’s no surprise about the butterfly effect that would come along with the xMOOC movement.


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