What are missing in MOOC research?

MOOC is here to stay!

Reference to Peter Sloep’s comments on this post on Google Plus and Scoop.it

Good reflection on MOOCs.  How about research into MOOCs?

There are missing elements – learners’ needs (and motivation), pedagogy (from both teachers and learners’ perspectives) and openness which seems fundamental and universal in most Higher Education system, but not thoroughly addressed, as most posts published in those newspapers have been written from the perspectives of news reporters, senior executives or CEO, professors, administrators and researchers, but not much by teachers and learners.

As I shared in my posts, the learners’ needs may be segmented in accordance to a few categories – (a) those who are in high school, but would like to advance their knowledge or have some remedial knowledge through KA or preliminary courses in university, (b) those who are looking for university or degree education, (c) those who are graduates, and would like to use MOOC to further their professional development, and (d) those who are interested in life-long and continuing education, and (e) those who are retired or just have an interest in the course (MOOC).  Such diverse needs would also require different pedagogies – instructivist approach for those novice of (a), (b), a mix of social constructivist and or connectivist approaches for (c), (d) and (e).  Openness could be difficult to define, though would likely be based on individual’s preference.

Unfortunately, there aren’t much research findings (from xMOOCs) published on these areas, leading to lots of posts basing only on expert’s knowledge and experience, but not much on empirical and statistical findings as evidences to support those assertions and assumptions.

I did researches on cMOOCs and published findings based on empirical data, rather than the mere use of blog posts or basic statistics as reported in blogs.  It seems that without those empirical data, we are just best speculating on the trend, but that these are not yet fully reflective of the “reality”.  Besides, if we are to ask people what serves them best, they would likely tell you what is available now for free (like instructivist approach) where the instructors might have curated all information, taught what is required for the quizzes, assignments, and examination, leaving the learners to consume what is presented.  This would surely satisfy the requirements for the course, from an institutional perspective, and all auditors’ requirements.  However, that would only cover the procedural knowledge and at best declarative knowledge which is known and could be tested and assessed by automated system.

There is not much emphasis on generative and creative knowledge, as they are not tested or assessed (or cannot be assessed), and there aren’t much progress in this area, simply because social constructivism and connectivism may only be given a light touch in those MOOCs, where the professors have no time to interact or connect with each of the participants (i.e. it is impossible with tens of thousands of students).  This is again based on the assumptions that learners would learn better using different pedagogies which may only be valid with empirical findings and validation.

Photo: Google image

research implications images


What do you think?

Future of Higher Education Part 2

Sounds like a good time to start looking at this important topic of the Future of Higher Education.

There have been lots of discussions going on, see here.

There are also low cost, online for credit courses introduced, which might soon become a common practice in lots of higher education institutions.

SAN JOSE — San Jose State University, in the heart of the Silicon Valley, is also at the heart of a big American education experiment: low-cost online classes offered for credit.

If it works, high school and college students nationwide could by this summer have access to cheap, entry-level or remedial college courses.

What would the future of education look like in 2020?



How should universities respond to MOOCs?

MOOCs were expected to be the panacea to Higher Education when they were first launched.  As predicated, it has now come back to have these MOOCs as networking in steroids.  MOOCs have now become not only an innovation or technology disruption to Higher Education, but a challenge to most of the Higher Institutions.

Aaron says:

Friedman doesn’t really seem to know what constitutes “best” in education. What makes a professor the “best” often has to do with factors that have nothing to do with how that professor may come across in an online environment where the format is something of a lecture writ large or simply recorded. In most instances, the professor is behind the scenes, setting up tasks and discussions, not really present himself of herself. More important than “best,” which cannot be defined even for MOOCs, is “different.” If the MOOC is a substantially different means of learning, and an effective one, it could very well prove evolutionary.

A thought provoking post on MOOCs – MOOCs are here. How should state universities respond?

Almost inevitably, the advent of large-enrollment, on-line college courses will put many colleges and universities out of business, and dramatically reduce the size of many others. In this new environment, there may also be opportunities for some educational institutions to offer new and valuable components to college education (even if much-reduced in scale relative to plans they have made in the past).

This is where Higher Education Institutions would need to re-think about their vision and mission at this cross-road on the Future of Higher Education, charting out emergent pathways and strategies in response to those challenges and opportunities, through conversation, research,  experimentation, and innovation with technology and pedagogy.

Photo: from other post (Google)

MOOC images (10)

The Art and Science of MOOCs

After more than a year of introduction of MOOCs (especially x MOOCs), my observation is that MOOC is treated more like an art than science, in particular when it comes to the experimental design of MOOCs and the associated emotional responses from people – educators, professors, experts, learners, students etc.

Should we treat MOOC more like an art, an entertainment business?  Here in a post relating to five reasons in support of MOOCs, Cathy says:

2. There has been much hype around the MOOC, often prompted by ‘celebrity academics’ teaching huge numbers of students. In the era of YouTube and TED, the ‘teacher as performer’ has taken root, and academics who would previously have stayed in their dusty lecture halls are now clamouring to be on stage. This has bred the era of the ‘rock star’ or ‘celebrity academic’ who measures his or her standing in YouTube or TED hits. Would it have caught on if ‘celebrity academics’, such as Sebastien Thrun and Peter Norvig, had not been involved and legitimised the method?

The rockstar phenomena have been around for years, though this is further manifested with the TED, Salman Khan, and Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller.

I think MOOCs have now become the “steroid” to higher education, and that video lectures have turned HE into a highly “educated & entertaining” business, where every educator would soon be competing for attention, by engaging and attracting the learners using every means and strategies they have, in order to stay as educators.  Is that what educators be aspiring to?  May be, those famous actors who like to work and educate would be involved in these MOOCs, as they are the best actors in the world who could keep their students in suspense, through posting of interesting lectures, exciting stories, narratives of personal anecdotes and dancing or singing through, in educating the public.

May be this shuttle boy would interest you.

I will explore MOOC as an art in subsequent posts.

Participation and engagement patterns, and Social Network Analysis in MOOCs

Fabian posted on FB:

Can you imagine a population of around 3 million students in one centralized LMS? It would be like MOOCs inside the firewall… pros and con

My response:

That could be interesting to explore. MOOCs inside a firewall is like those typical institution LMS. You could “force” lots of discussion and debates by incorporating assessment which are based on the posting of comments, number of research papers quoted, the “likes” and voting one gets from others, and the quantity and quality of responses by each students (traced through LA). If these form part or whole of the assessments, then there could be tens and hundred thousands of posts and responses. Whether the professors and TAs would be able to cope with such huge number of posts and comments are another matter. Such challenge may be overcome with the 1-9-90 rule based on the votes, so the post and comments having highest votes would be elected to be given attention, or debated upon. This has been reported in many of the xMOOCs posts and you could Google to explore them.
Is this also applicable to cMOOCs? May be. You would need lots of TAs and knowledgeable others who have expertise in studying the LA, and report on the patterns of interaction. Relating to the course nature of MOOCS, you might find that some of the MOOCs are of an advanced nature, more likely suitable for sophomore undergraduates or graduate students pursuing a Master or PhD. It is no wonder that these MOOCs have a low completion rate, as they require a strong background knowledge in a number of fields, including Statistics and Mathematical tools.
Refer to this post http://moocmoocher.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/networked-life-social-network-analysis-a-new-appreciation-for-feedback/ It is likely that these few million students in MOOC or centralized LMS would likely behave in a hub and spokes with 10 or less in the population and 80 or 90% + falling outside the core of the MOOCs. These are typically similar to most MOOCs we have studied in the past. You could even analyse those patterns of study or learning using highly sophisticated mathematical modelling – as theoretical construct to explain those behavioral patterns – on interactions, connections and the emergence, though this requires also careful and sophisticated SNA and interpretation. There may be some PhD or Postdoc studies working on this, as many PhD candidates and TAs are using XMOOC to carry out LA( Learning Analytics) and relevant theorization to support their PhDs. I learnt this through the study of those xMOOCs blog comments, but I have not seen one such research paper released.
See this post http://etcjournal.com/2013/01/14/the-mooc-an-incubator-for-great-ideas-a-personal-experience/ It is typical to have 10% or less MOOC participants active in the course. It is relatively difficult to precisely determine the exact percentage of very active, active, not so active, and no participation, but likely 1-9-90 is what happened in most MOOCs, unless you close the MOOCs and force everyone to be onboard, and count their interaction and assessment as part or full for completion requirements. It could be risky to coerce participation, though not impossible to develop a course like that. In fact there has been reports of course with blogs participation where everyone’s postings and commenting is part of the assessment for the course unit.
Treating MOOCs as experiments surely is interesting, as these lessen the accountability and responsibilities of “failures” by students (especially when they are not paying any fees to the institutions or providers) and there aren’t substantial duty of care required, mainly because drop-out is ethically acceptable, and there is no loss in finance to the providers or institutions. Would this be a critical difference between MOOCs and the formal open online courses offered in formal institutions?
Refer to this slideshare by Stephen Downes
Some other studies here:
Social Network Analysis
Photo: Credit (Anonymous) (Google)

What does it mean to learn in a cooperative manner in online courses? Part 1 Authority and Pedagogy

Cooperation is the key to learning with others under networked learning, especially if one is to acquire the social learning skills.

Here in her post Towards a Literacy of Cooperation, Jenny shared her learning relating to her participation in a course facilitated by Howard Rheingold.

There are three points that I would like to reflect on:

Linked to this recognition of needing a balance between large loose learning environments and more intimate communities, is a consideration of the balance between cooperation, collaboration and competition.

The intention is that through the use of a variety of media tools and by taking on specific roles (my role is live session note-taker) we will by the end of the course see the world in a different way through having new frameworks and lenses for looking at cooperative behaviours.

Cooperation and competition are two sides of the same coin and seem to be co-drivers of evolution.

1. How to balance between cooperation, collaboration and competition in an open learning environment?

There are research evidences that could reveal its relationship to the following factors: (a) Authority and Pedagogy, (b) Power and Relationship, (c) Autonomy and motivation, and (d) Openness and Connectivity.

I would like to reflect on my experiences below on authority and pedagogy in this post – Part 1.

(a) Authority of the course and course organisers, facilitators etc – To what extent are the organisers and facilitators experts or authority figures of the courses?  If the facilitators are leading figures or experts in the field or in the global business, would the delivery and presentation be more aligned to the connectivist, facilitative, or  instructivist approach?

This is important as each approach would likely allow and enable different degrees of cooperation, collaboration and competition in online education and learning.  This would also be a decision that the course organiser, facilitators, participants and learners would consider in the design and delivery of the course.

Connectivist approach (Connectivism)

For instance, in most of the connectivist courses (CCK08, 09, 11, 12, PLENK2010, CritLiteracy, Change 11, etc.) that I attended, I realised more cooperation, with some collaboration, but not much of competition from the peers or others emerged from the courses.  Here the authority might likely be decentralised, with a loose structure and membership developed throughout the course, where each networker might take up certain tasks or roles that would be expected in an network-group course, based on individual learners’ needs.

I have participated in these forms of networks for years, and found them pretty adaptive and agile in nature.  A learner-centred learning typically emerged from such online courses, as the feedback from participants would likely inform the course organisers how the course could be improved. This seems to be inherent in the design and delivery of most cMOOCs.  Since innovation, creativity and connectivity is encouraged in the course design and delivery, the focus would tend to be cooperation of all parties concerned, when diversity of opinion and openness is practised.  The vision may be to satisfy the learners’ achievement of goals, through the MOOCs.

Photo credit: PLENK2010 course


Facilitative approach (social constructivism)

However, when it comes to online courses where the facilitators are holding high authority, or are expecting a high respect on authority, then the group learning may be the expectation, either by influence, or to a certain degree of persuasion or coercion to conform to the rules and protocols set up by the group, and its associated group members.

Such way of forming groups are often common in Communities and Community of Practices, where small clusters or groups of educators or learners are focused to work on a particular project – like a wiki, an ebook, or an e-project required for completion in a course.

The authority may be vested from the course organiser or facilitator, but then each of the members may be required to take up certain roles and responsibilities in order to ensure the running of the course.  This seems to be inherent in the design and delivery of a hybrid of c and x MOOCs and a lot of communities of practitioners (education and learning).  The focus would likely be a balance between cooperation and collaboration, though a process based on group work is used for the evaluation of the need to re-design the course, rather than an immediate adaptive response.  The vision may be to satisfy a balance between the learners, educators and course/institution’s achievement of their goals, through the MOOCs.

Instructivist approach (behaviorism/cognitivism)

At the other end of the spectrum is where facilitators are adopting an instructivist approach, then most likely the learning strategies like mastery learning are already pre-determined and presented to learners, so all participants are expected to comply with the course requirements and the way the course is presented.

The authority figures of these courses would likely be holding the central accountability and responsibility and so they are expected to exercise certain levels of controls in the design, delivery and evaluation of the course (xMOOCs in particular).

Due to the requirements to comply with accreditation, assessment and validation of learning, authority figures are required and expected to ensure a high degree of quality in the course design, delivery and review, in order to ensure conformance to the granting of awards.  Standardisation of course structure and content is again based on the authority, where only canonical knowledge with known and reliable authoritative resources are recommended for the study.

This is why cooperation is more likely required in terms of compliance to the course requirements by the participants, rather than the creativity and innovation as is expected in a connectivist approach.  To what extent would creativity and innovation is valued in an xMOOCs is yet unknown, as there aren’t much explicit requirements of such approaches be adopted by the learners or students?

With an instructivist approach, collaboration is highly focused, with a view that the groups should and must contribute to the overall vision and design as set out by the course organiser and the institutions, with priorities set off for learners, stakeholders, community and institutions to follow.  This also explains why most institutions would like to exercise appropriate authority and controls to ensure the courses are aligned to the standards and quality requirements set out under an institutional framework.

In  summary, each of the three approaches outlined here – connectivist, facilitative and instructivist approach would impact on how cooperation, collaboration and competition is achieved.  The learner centered approaches would likely lead to more cooperation and collaboration, whilst the teacher centered approaches would likely lead to collaboration and competition among the learners and the educators.

I will continue to explore power and relationship in Part 2.

Big Data, Adaptive Learning and the Assumptions behind Part 1

This post on adaptive learning and big data sounds interesting. Thanks to Stephen Downes for the reference.

What are the significance of big data?

What is adaptive learning?

What are the assumptions behind the relationship between big data and adaptive learning?

Here is my previous post relating MOOC to adaptive system.

Before I could address the three questions above, here is my comment to my previous post:

What questions of learning would lead to a particular learning theory? If you ask me a question of learning based on behavior learning theory, surely I could gather evidences which could match your questions.
Similarly, if you ask me if instructivist approach is best for teaching, like those in xMOOCs, I could show you all the great, positive and praising and thankful responses from the learners on the professors, and course content, and the high distinctions result of the students, as evidence of great pedagogy of mastery learning, and the cognitivism/behaviorism play a major role in the whole notion of learning. Experiments and empirical researches surely have demonstrated these under classroom environments.
Would these be equally true and effective in virtual learning environment? If we are to use the assessment results like an improvement and grades or scores as evidence of learning achievement, we may likely end up with the theory that cognitivism relates to learning most directly, as the intellectual capability of a person is demonstrated through the achievement of results in test, examination or assignment. These seem certainly be the case, under a formal education system.
However, how about the social aspects of learning? Could we assume that a highly intelligent person (who is tested with high IQ or highest achiever) be socially capable in connecting with others in classroom, workplace or community? What assumptions have we made in judging the correlations between individual intellectualism and social skills and social intelligence? Would we be able to easily delineate the relationships between all these various parameters and factors? You could quote examples in real life indicating that many highly intellectual scholars won’t socialize, and these included Issac Newton, Albert Einstein, etc, but that they were highly successful in their academic achievement, and should be role models for many learners. Did this prove anything about personal learning or social learning as explained under learning theories? Again, this depends on what assumptions you have made, and what questions that you are asking in your scientific research, or inquiry in learning.

If you ask me if connectivist approach is best for learning under a complex learning environment, I could show you social network analysis, and how the 4 properties of openness, diversity, autonomy, interactivity and connectivity lead to better networked learning, under Connectivism.

In summary, it is not what I want it to be that would lead Connectivism to become a learning theory. It is what you could demonstrate and theorise that would lead one to “believe” in certain validity and reliability of a learning theory such as Connectivism.

How would I relate the big data to adaptive learning?  I would explore these in the coming posts.