Why c and x MOOCs are attracting different number of participants?

Here is a post on FB on a discussion on the question:

Why are xMOOCs attracting tens or hundred thousands of students?

Thanks to Ana and Steve for their comments and conversation.

Here are my reflections on why some moocs attracted hundreds, tens of thousands of learners (xMOOCs), whilst others attracted a few hundreds or a few thousands of learners (cMOOCs).

In summary, the key reasons include: 1. branding and affiliation with elite institutions and professors, 2. well established courses with rich support on resources and assessment (grading/peer assessment), 3. granting of certificates of achievement or statements of attainment (in recognition), 4. degrees of difficulties – xMOOCs are much easier compared to cMOOCs, 5. perceptions of learners – xMOOCs are based on 1,2,3 above, and 4 – learners – cMOOCs would have to curate resources and create blog posts/join forums, 6. pedagogy, 7. assessment.

1. Branding and affiliation with elite institutions and professors.

Branding, is the new name of the game, under a MOOC arena.

Sounds too good for us.

Branding within institutions have been based on the Open Educational resources (OER) movement for more than a decade.  The introduction of xMOOCs last year has shifted the attention from OER to MOOCs for many institutions.

The success of xMOOCs could also be attributed to the branding of many elite institutions – as ones who would provide MOOCs, that are believed to be able to transform education, and revolutionize Online and Higher Education.

Lead the change, with branding seems to be the way to go, with lots of higher education institutions, together with the MOOC providers.

Here in my previous post on assumptions and challenges:  Assumption 2: MOOCs attract students as the MOOC providers carry the big “brand” together with the “super-professors”.  I reckon this assumption is very true, especially when nearly everyone said that this is true.  Most learners would prefer to learn with the prestigious institutions and famous and super-rock star professors.

2. Well established courses with rich support on resources and assessment (grading/peer assessment).  Both c and x MOOCs are structured courses, though cMOOCs have been based principally on a decentralised system with input and contribution from the participants whilst xMOOCs have been based principally on the curation of the organisers (course designers and instructors).


cMOOCs are grounded as shown, on emergent learning and self-organised learning:

xMOOCs are grounded on prescribed content, and group learning:

flipped-classroom (1)

3. Granting of certificates of achievement or statements of attainment (in recognition of the learning and achievement).  This is especially the case for x MOOCs which could attract learners to attend the course, especially as they are still free.

4. Degrees of difficulties – xMOOCs are much easier compared to cMOOCs.  This is grounded on that in xMOOCs, the instructors would have done most, if not all of the ground work necessary for teaching and learning for the learners.  What the learners are normally expected to do would be to consume the knowledge transmitted or broadcasted to them, and to confirm their understanding of the concepts through repeated quizzes or assignments.  This requires certain perseverance from the learners, though it is possible to achieve a high or perfect score in test, assignments and examinations through drills, repeated practice, as is common in a rote learning scenario.   The use of standard answers in the case of multiple choices, true/false, or short case scenarios, could all be checked with automated grading or assessment software.  For peer assessment, these are done in a closed manner, with the merits of “protecting” the learners from being “criticised” in public, but the demerits of being critiqued by only a few participants (4-5 other peers) in the whole evaluation.  Nevertheless, this seems to be well accepted as a way to assessment in the xMOOCs, as that might be the only feasible and reliable way to assess students in an institutional environment, without overly involving the professors in the assessment.

On the other hand, cMOOCs are much more difficult in terms of the wide array of skills and capabilities – such as a thorough understanding of the various artifacts posted, an evaluation of the artifacts, an aggregation of information, and the re-mixing, re-purposing or re-creating of posts that are based on knowledge creation and re-creation.  These artifacts or posts are also publicly available for assessment by peers and other educators, leading to further critique and discourse.  The main assessment has still been based on the feedback of the instructors, in the case of for-credit participants, though the assessment for non-credit participants are based on an optional basis, without any particular feedback report from the instructors (as this is not possible for the instructors to deal with massive number of participants).

5. Perceptions of learners – xMOOCs are based on 1,2,3 above, and 4 – learners – cMOOCs would have to curate resources and create blog posts/join forums.  The centralised platform (LMS) typically employed in the xMOOCs may be much simpler than the blogs and Personal Learning Environment/Network (PLE/N) as used in cMOOCs.

6. Pedagogy – xMOOCs employ a familiar pedagogy – mastery learning based on an instructivist approach (behavioral/cognitivist strategy) and peer assessment, whilst cMOOCs employ a relatively demanding pedagogy – social constructivist/connectivist approach which could sound chaotic at first sight.

xMOOCs rely principally on video lectures, resources posted on the LMS/main course website,  followed by questions, quizzes, some forum discussions, assignments, tests and examination.

cMOOCs rely principally on the connectivist principles as proposed by George and Stephen, with networked learning and connectivist knowledge based on aggregating, re-mixing, re-purposing and feed-forwarding of information.  As I have suggested here.

7. Assessment – xMOOCs are based principally on structured, formal testing, examination, or peer assessment, which align principally with the course goals and objectives, whilst cMOOCs are based on assessment with projects or assignments, whilst these align principally with individual goals and objectives.

In conclusion, people are “buying” in with the xMOOCs for reasons as simple as: branding and easier to learn (as all information are already curated for them), and that a strong belief still with the instructivist approach reigns best, at least, that is what institutions want to see – a complete control under an institutional framework of education. Is that xMOOC sustainable? From a historical perspective, this fate would be like cMOOCs being “decimated” and “replaced” by xMOOCs (to some extent).

But then this trend would appear in the K-12 sector soon, when automation of education and gamification, mobile learning takes their foothold in changing the education arena into “commercial minefield”. Mobile technology could and would help in improving digital literacy, though it might not be reflected easily in improving the basic literacy on Science, Maths, Reading and Writing in the K-12. As I have shared, we are now in the Lord of the Ring game, where those who win takes all. Education is now a game, not as much as the once enlightenment or passion sort of education vision, but a pragmatic sort of education of whether one could get a job after taking a course of study, or getting famous through “educating” others in MOOCs. It is the media that would likely determine who is the winner, not the test anymore, as no one could objectively test or examine what is really “competent” or “capable” under those framework, mainly because they are producer driven, not user driven. John


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