My reflection on MOOCs

Here is my response to Debbie of my previous post.

Yes, there is much data. I hope more MOOC providers would share them openly, so we could manage and analyse MOOC by facts and data, not just opinions.

There are clues that many students would like to have simpler, easier means of learning, as a response to the complexity and chaotic nature of learning and information overload in MOOCs. This is why some novice students in the HE would still like to be taught by professors, and may be thinking that professors should still be sage on the stage, just like the learning situation in their high school education, especially when these students know too little about the topic.

One of the challenges of getting students to start learning more autonomously and independently seems to lie with the notion of responsibility of learning in HE. If we want to see an increase in completion rate, or an improvement in engagement and interactivity, would an emphasis on the personal goal identification, personal responsibility and action plan help, especially for those novice students, or those undergraduate students?

Otherwise, students would just continue learning with the watching of videos, reading the artifacts, and answering quizzes on “multiple choice” and “true/false” sort of passive learning (or mastery learning) by remembering the facts, the right answers to the question, or those explanations by the professors or artifacts. Does it help the students in advancing their metacognitive skills? May be, this would lead students to fall back to the same old way of learning, by rote and surface learning.

We also realize that the identification of personal goals, personal responsibility and action plan may sound complicated for many participants of MOOCs, especially for those adult educators and learners who attend MOOCs with their own particular purpose, and that there may not be a need for them to do these.  Indeed, some of the educators and professors are merely auditing or exploring what other professors are doing in xMOOCs, so they could then better understand about the merits and demerits of MOOCs and thus be able to learn through such experience.  For adult learners who are learning the MOOC out of interests or passion, there might not be any particular need for them to develop elaborate goals and plans.  What they may be looking for would be some parts of MOOCs that could interest them, and so they could interact and engage with the content or others in their learning journey.

Why would professors continue their teaching by “telling” the students what the facts are/or by the didactic lecturing and or Socratic questioning? Most professors would surely confess that: this is the most effective method to transfer and transmit information, straight from the professors to the students, so they could learn and remember by heart. This seems to be the expectations of many students who are here to learn from the best professors, by watching and listening to every moment in the lecture. Is this assumption true?

For most students who are fees paying in a formal course, the concept of students (or parents) paying fees to receive a service is still relevant. Based on the economics of education, there is a supply and demand of education, and so the students would only pay for the fees where a certain level of “service” (teaching in the case of education) may be expected. The MOOCs surely is not following such economic logic, and we need a totally different model to explain how the supply and demand works in this case of “zero fees and free education”. I would speculate this would change soon, as education could never be offered totally free, unless there is intervention and sustainable financial support from venture capitalists, charitable institutions and or governments’ support, or community support in its running etc.
I understand that we are now focusing on great and good teaching, and we need great teachers to educate our next generation. I would however think that professors could influence and inspire the students in many ways, rather than “teaching” the students the facts and information. As pointed out by many educators and professors, what’s the difference between students “googling” and wikipediaing from the information that professors are teaching in those videos? May be learning could be fun if it is learner centered, and is initiated by the learner, where the professor may act as guide on the side (as a mentor, or a personal supporter or coach), so the learner could experience and act on learning.
I would need to write another post on the economics of education.
Thanks Debbie for your sharing and insights.

Here is another response on FB:

@Yelena McManaman Yes, the current xMOOCs follow the format of the regular university courses – lectures with quizzes, homework assignments and tests etc. If that is what you want, wonderful. Where is the revolution? What is really revolutionized? Are there much changes from how we were educated? Not much. There is an assumption that the professors would teach all what they know to the students, and the students to learn them all in the video lectures. How about the actual needs, motivations and expectations of the students? Who are they? What are their background experience? How do they learn? These are all assumed to be “wonderfully” matched in a MOOC.

cMOOC is soft technology but is hard, as it requires lots of work – creation of artifacts, critical thinking and reflection and academic discourse, with PLE/PLN.

xMOOCs is based on hard technology (with automation in assessment, grading, direct teaching) and relates more to a teacher-centered approach, where you are just like watching a movie in cinema, or a movie show on TV, enjoying the rock star professors’ performance. You could learn a lot of information from such a show.

Surely, if you were the rockstar professors, you would also like to do the same, is it right?

So, it’s your choice, and your learning, and that is important.

Swarm Intelligence – its use in Networked Learning and MOOC

Swarm Intelligence has been introduced for more than a decade.  Here is my reflection of its use in networked learning and MOOC

What is Swarm Intelligence?

The emergent collective intelligence of groups of simple agents (Bonabeau et al, 1999)

What are the examples of Swarm Intelligence?

– Group foraging of social insects

– Cooperative transportation

– Division of labor

– Nest-building of social insects

– Collective sorting and clustering

How about examples of Swarm Intelligence in human beings? (My addition)

– Network, groups and collectives – foraging of human beings

– Cooperative logistics

– Division of labor

– Networks, community and society building of human beings – basis of eco-system

– Collective idea creation and generation, information sharing, distribution and aggregation, knowledge creation and building

What is self organisation?

A set of dynamical mechanism whereby structures appear at the global level of a system from interactions of its lower-level components (Bonabeau et al, in Swarm Intelligence, 1999).

This seems to be the case for cMOOC and xMOOC, whereby the MOOC movement was based on a butterfly effect (with small initial stimulus from individuals who sparked the changes), followed by interactions of the various components and networks.

I suppose the first few MOOCs – David Wiley and Alec Courus open up of their online course to the world, followed by George Siemen and Stephen Downes fully opening up their Connectivism and Connective Knowledge CCK08 for free, has led to the first wave of MOOC.  This was then followed by the second wave of various cMOOCs – including the DS106, eduMOOC, Pedagogy First MOOC, and the third wave of xMOOCs AI and Machine Learning, Udacity, Coursera and Udacity, with the fourth wave morphing towards a hybrid form of c and x MOOCs, yet to be formally identified and recognised.

What are the basis of self organisation?

– Positive feedback (amplification)

– Negative feedback (for counter-balance and stabilization)

– Amplification fluctuations (randomness, errors, random walks)

– Multiple interactions

To what extent are the above basis characteristics of MOOCs?

Positive feedback (amplification): Participants in MOOCs and interested networkers often amplify their or other ideas, opinions, artifacts and links through re-posting on blogs, re-tweeting, and curation through or, or emailing them to the news, or commenting them in various spaces.

Negative feedback: Participants and networkers often defend “destructive criticisms or flamed arguments” by diffusion, re-direction to experts for comments, or by raising critical questions to challenge the “fallacy” or inappropriate behavior – like trolling, flaming, bullying, or spamming, by discussing and establishing “ground rules” or reference to social media policy.

Amplification fluctuations: Participants and networkers often have feelings of chaos, making mistakes, trying to do too much things (failures due to multi-tasking) or information overload.  Here experimentation and exploration seems to be the key towards self-organisation, where serendipitous learning would emerge.

Multiple interactions: One of the critical success factors in MOOCs lies with the capability and capacity to interact on multiple levels, the “diversity of networking and opinions” where one solicited and tried.  This opens up opportunities to new and emerging ideas and concepts, and a transformational learning by shifting the frame of reference – based on creative thinking, critical reflection and challenging the assumptions of ones’ beliefs and knowledge held.

Human foraging

Cooperation search by “pheromone trails” – This is the basis of collective resource repository with social bookmarking, and course blog as a reflection and discussion space in various cMOOCs.  Here Curation would be done using various tools such as Delicious,,, RSS, and blogs etc.

Stigmergy in termite nest building

This is analogous to the knowledge creation and building in social networks building.  Social networking are fused in MOOCs to extend classroom interaction.  This would also enable individuals to build their own PLN and PLE, which also contribute to the Social Learning Networks (SLN) and Social Learning Environment (SLE) under a Learning eco-system.

Aren’t there common practices and philosophy between ants and human in the building of nest (networks)?

How would Connectivism and Swarm Theory provide framework on the pedagogy in cMOOCs?

In order to transfer the learning obtained from Connectivism to an institutional education and learning environment, it seems vital to shift the frame of reference and adopt those learning principles of Connectivism which are more applicable and adaptable from informal learning, social networking.  This would prevent the adoption of one size suits all sort of industrialist models of teaching and pedagogy where the only acceptable model of instructions is based on behavioral/cognitivist approach.

How could such a course design be used in those online courses (MOOC)? 

Here are some useful guidelines from the paper (Baran, 2013):

Several pedagogical decisions should be considered to create pedagogically sound practices. Instructors who intend to integrate social media tools into their educational settings may follow the recommendations that grew out of this study:

• – Analyze the affordances and limitations of each social media tool with pedagogical methods, content, and the context of the instruction.

– • Spend considerable time on planning and design of learning experiences before the course starts.

-• Allow flexibility for change and revisions as the course progresses.

•- Consider students’ levels, interests, backgrounds, and knowledge on the use of social media tools in their everyday life and educational settings.

-• Rather than using each social media tool in isolation, follow an integrated approach.

-• Communicate clearly the purpose and the usage of each social media tool with the students.

•- Review the institution’s policies on social media use, and create social media guidelines (eg. privacy, security) for the specific course. Allow student input in preparing these guidelines.

• – Integrate authentic assessment activities with social media tools into the courses.

•-  Take advantage of social media as a way of connecting the class to the experts around the world.

-• Conduct formative evaluation of the course and frequently receive feedback from the students.

•- Explore the opportunities for creating an open content with and for the students. Be familiar with the Creative Commons licenses.

-• Encourage students’ participation in creating and contributing to course content.