From Best Practice to Creative, Innovative, Emergent and Novel Practice with MOOCs

I have often come across instructional designers and institutions grappling with best practice, in instructional and curriculum design.

A research on instructional design indicates the various “best practices” ranging from teacher-centered approach with LMS, to learner-centered approach with PLE/PLN.

Here in a paper on MOOC-Design-Principles.-A-Pedagogical-Approach-from-the-Learner by Lourdes GuàrdiaMarcelo MainaAlbert Sangrà:

focus on empowering learners in networked environments for fostering critical thinking and collaboration, developing competence based outcomes, encouraging peer assistance and assessment through social appraisal, providing strategies and tools for self-regulation, and finally using a variety of media and ICTs to create and publish learning resources and outputs.

These MOOC Design Principles are well argued and grounded.  In reflection, there are many useful strategies that are applicable both for the c and x MOOCS.  I would argue that these are based on emergent practice rather than best practice experience.

What sounds like best practice often doesn’t deliver to its promise, despite huge efforts in promoting and educating various designers, instructors and assessors.  Why?  The reasons lie mainly with the assumptions behind what makes best practice, especially in MOOCs.

In my previous post relating the differences between x and c MOOCs in attracting number of participants, I discuss on:

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.

I still think the notion of best practice would be applicable only to simple scenarios of the Cynefin Model as developed by Dave Snowden.  You could have good practice under complicated learning scenario.  In the case of complex learning scenario such as MOOCs (especially in cMOOCs), then it is important to realise the emergent practice which is relevant, rather than good or best practice.  In the case of chaotic learning scenario such as cMOOCs,  novel practice is required in the curriculum and instructional design.

In summary, design of curriculum and instruction for MOOCs could be based on sound design principles as the research into MOOC reveals.  It would be imperative to move from best practice to creative, innovative, emergent and novel practice in the case of MOOCs, based on the needs of the learners, and the learning context, rather than the traditional “best practice”.  One size doesn’t fit all, especially in learning in MOOCs and so it would be necessary to consider emergent design learning principles rather than the “static” instrumental didactic instructivist approach in MOOCs (such as xMOOCs).

Pictures: From Google image

Cynefin model images

Cynefin model 2 images


How to explain the current xMOOCs in terms of education model and pedagogy?

Daniel in his post of  a criticism of computer science models or modeles says:

The problem is made worse by the fact that researchers working on modèles more easily get the upper hand. They are never wrong. They can endlessly refine their modèles and re-evaluate them. As long as there is no actual problem to be solved, the modèles will tend to displace the models. Cargo cult science wins.

Of course, the reverse phenomenon may exist within industry. People working with modèles are at a disadvantage. They can’t make useful predictions. They can only explain, in retrospect, what is observed. All their sophistication fails to help them when real-world results are what matters.

I agreed with Daniel’s views.  How would this scientific model be applicable to Higher Education?  Or can we really explain the MOOCs phenomena using the scientific modelling?

May I share some ideas below, which I think is relevant to the building of models in education?

What I noted in recent years is that ideas and concepts seem to be more convincing than the empirical data and experimental proof, especially in “social science”. Why?

As Clayton Christensen mentions here, most academics are looking for data for analysis before they would make recommendations for further action in the introduction of innovation.  The first cMOOCs were run based exactly on Theory (Connectivism as a new and emerging learning theory, as proposed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes).  The xMOOCs were again run based on the Theory of Instructivism where Mastery Learning and Video based learning (coupled with flipped classroom) would work.

The current MOOCs proved that is the case, based on the assumptions that Mastery Learning and Instructivism are what drive learning to be achieved, though “peer learning” was added when researchers later found it had happened.  The video lectures were again “augmented” with the flipped classroom model, in order to explain why xMOOCs are so successful as a special pedagogy, where the whole phenomena was explained with a post-mortem basis.

There have been some researches done in explaining the cMOOCs movement from the basis of Complexity Theory and Chaos Theory, Self-organizing Theory and Theory of Emergence.  Not many people seem to have applied that in the case of xMOOCs.

Indeed, when we examine the xMOOCs pattern of education and learning, the whole notion of learning could be explained when individual learners interacted with the content and made use of the LMS as a platform for some of the information sources.  The participation and completion did fall under a similar pattern to the cMOOCs though xMOOCs are normally far “richer” in terms of the information provision and “instruction” via the video lectures.  Indeed the quizzes and examination are merely “transferred” from the typical face-to-face courses, only that they are all based on auto-grading, and thus address some of the challenges that once weren’t fully covered in cMOOCs.

So, my conclusion is that people often tried to explain a phenomena by pre-conceived and well-designed instructions and wonderful pedagogy in order to fulfill the self-fulfilling prophecy, which may unfortunately not always be representing the actual pattern of education and learning that has taken place.  The current xMOOCs can likely be explained much better through the interaction learning theory, with Complexity Theory of Education and Theory of Emergence, and Connectivism as a model of education.  There are obvious conflicts to the mission of education under an institution framework, as the low completion rate of MOOCs don’t align with original goals set off in Higher Education.   There are many major conflicts with institution mission as mentioned by Clayton Christensen in the discussion of MOOCs.

Here is how a cMOOC work, and that could explain partially why xMOOC work too.

#CFHE12 #Oped12 The emergence of MOOCs – Part 1

The current popularity of MOOCs is like the running of Olympic Games, where different MOOCs are competing with each others in a global arena of education.

What is MOOC?

The emergence of MOOCs has touched the nerves of many college and educational leaders. To some educators, professionals and learners, MOOCs seem to have become the hype of education of the year.  To others who are working as professors, educators and administrators, MOOCs have become part of their institutions’ growth and development, especially so in institutions like Coursera, Udacity and edX and the associated universities.  To some learners in the developing countries, MOOCs have afforded them with opportunities to learn from the highly prestigious institutions in the world that they couldn’t even dream of in the past.  So, MOOCs values could be viewed differently for different people.  It surely could be one of the most significant trend in this time of flux in Higher Education.

This paper aims to examine, explore and reflect on the following themes: the paradoxes, drop out problem, pedagogy, the emergence and the future of MOOCs.  I would recommend solutions to these challenges based on a mega-research of MOOCs and critical reviews into current pedagogy adopted by Higher Education institutions.  Further research into the educational values and value proposition of MOOCs is necessary to unearth its long term potential in re-creating or revolutionizing Higher Education.

What are the paradoxes in MOOCs?

In this post where two paradoxes were raised:

Paradox 1:  Most MOOCs are offered by elite institutions which don’t need to expand their student base

MOOCs, like open educational resources, provide a genuine opportunity to spread an institution’s educational mission outside the campus.

Paradox 2: Highly successful MOOCs attack the core business of those who are offering them

Elite institutions offering MOOCs will therefore never allow them to become as credible as their regular fee-incurring provision.

There are motives of elite institutions that are highly sophisticated, and that could go beyond their current missions.  One of the most important visions and missions is based on the need to maintain their global leadership position in distance, online and open education.  This could be one of the reasons why those institutions are interested in adopting the MOOC model and platform as they could reach massive number of learners and students across the globe.

The adoption of MOOCs could also be built on the imperatives that education is the foundation of a knowledge based economy in their nations.  Besides, online education is a billion dollars business.  There is also a need to explore and research on how students learn online, which will enable the institutions and teachers to enhance their teaching for their regular students.

A paradox that underlies MOOC is its value proposition to lower costs due to its Massive Open Online nature.  Whilst the buzz about MOOCs is not due to the technology’s intrinsic educational value, but due to the seductive possibilities of lower costs (Vardi, 2012).  This could also reach a massive number of potential learners, on a global basis, as a result of technology, yet it may not add substantive costs to the MOOCs, once they are created.

Another paradox lies with the degree of participation – the drop-in and drop-out in MOOCs, and how success in completing the course or learning is defined.

As Rebecca mentions here: to her, there seems to be one level of participation in most x MOOCs.   You got to register into the course before you could view the resources, or the video lectures.   For some of the x MOOCs, however, you could choose to lurk, or formally complete the course work required.

if you simply wish to lurk, or pick-and-choose how you participate, you may very likely be counted as a “drop-out” rather than someone who succeeded in the course at the level in which they committed. I think this lack of levels of participation does a disservice to the xMOOCs.

This could be a determining success factor of MOOCs, as the number and percentage of successful “graduates” or those who could complete the course by satisfying all stipulated requirements of the awarding institution or professor is critical to such courses.  These pass rates are important in deciding if it is a cost-effective model of education, as determined by the institutions.  Indeed, all institutions would need to justify their investment in education and the associated resources provided – including the professors, the administrators, the support staff like librarians, the facilities, and the technological infra-structures.  This would likely be based on the number of graduates or completion of units in the educational programs, as that could also be the basis of funding provided by the government or relevant bodies in society.

What are the most significant problems in MOOCs?  

Drop out problems with MOOCs

Dropout in online learning courses has always been a concern for both educators and learners.  This is especially so in xMOOCs, where drop outs are common.  Terry mentions here on the drop out issue:

“In a recent post Phil Hill identified four barriers that MOOCs have to overcome – one of which was high drop out rate. Daphe Koller co-founder of Coursera has argued  in an Inside Higher Ed post that “The [students] who drop out early do not add substantially to the cost of delivering the course,” she says. The most expensive students are the ones who stick around long enough to take the final, and those are the ones most likely to pay for a certificate.” So in both models of MOOC (as evidenced by the ;’massive’ in the acronym) adding a few hundred or a few thousand non participating students is easily done at extremely low cost. This does however demonstrate accomplishment or learning.”

Here are my hypothesis about the huge drop outs of MOOCs:

Hypothesis 1

Drop out due to a mismatch between the course offered and the needs and expectations of the participants.

Here I have assumed four types of participants:

Type 1: Professors and experts of the domain, educators, professionals, expert learners,

Type 2: Administrators, advanced learners, veterans, graduate students

Type 3: Undergraduate students, experienced learners

Type 4: Novices, learners with little or no experience in online learning

Hypothesis 2

Drop out due to personal reasons

Lack of time

Lack of motivation to continue with learning

Lack of skills and experience in online learning

Lack of access to internet, mobile devices, or a lack of technology

Lack of interests – overwhelming information,

Mismatch of presentation and delivery to individual’s learning style – Course presentation or video lectures not fitting into individual’s learning style

Personal or work commitment, health, family issues etc

A combination of some of the above factors

Hypothesis 3

Drop out due to lack of support as perceived by participants

Lack of social and peer support

Lack of educational support

Lack of technical support – where learners didn’t know how to perform due to a lack of technical knowledge

To what extent are these 3 hypothesis reflective of the reality in MOOCs?

Kop et al. 2010 reveals in their research that: barriers to learning include zone differences, language differences, difficulties in connecting with others in different spaces, lack of skills in the use of tools, difficulties in making connections with facilitators and/or learners, and power relations. Furthermore, a high number of participants mentioned personal reasons, such as lack of time to participate, as explanations for why they took on more of a consuming role in the course rather than an active, participative one.

These all could lead to “drop-out” at various stages of learning in MOOCs.

What could be some plausible ways to decrease the drop-out rates, and increase the level of participation in MOOCs?  These are questions which need to be addressed both at an institutional and research level.

Drop out due to non-educational reasons are naturally not easily resolved, as they may be due to personal reasons, and could hardly be addressed through education intervention.

What are the pedagogies adopted in MOOCs?

Pedagogy of MOOCs

In this post by Vardi:

It is well established that a professional soliloquy is an ineffective way of teaching.

Active and authentic learning – based on projects or problem-based learning, peer learning and flipping the lecture has been hailed as the panacea to the traditional didactic teaching, where much of the academic teaching still consists of professors monologuing to large classes.

Vardi comments: We could undoubtedly improve our teaching, but MOOCs are not the answer to our pedagogical shortcomings.


Relating to my previous post:

this comprehensive critique on MOOC entitled making sense of MOOC by John Daniel.

Relating to the paper, my comments below:

“that xMOOC learners preferred teachers to scrawl formulae on the modern equivalent of a blackboard rather than presenting them on slides.”

I doubt if xMOOC learners preferred teachers to scrawl formulae on blackboard (or that on Youtube).  What learners are looking for could be interaction with the instructors, if ever possible in those type of presentation.   Learners who are keen to learn through dialog would prefer to raise questions, when in doubt of the content or unsure about the concepts explained in the presentation.  It is a rather passive way of learning by watching the instructors “broadcasting” their short video lectures.

“I have argued that modern ICT, what my former Open University colleague Marc Eisenstadt named the ‘knowledge media’, are qualitatively different from previous technological aids to education. That is because they lend themselves naturally to the manipulation of symbols (words, numbers, formulae, image) that are the heart of education, as well as providing, through the Internet, a wonderful vehicle for the distribution and sharing of educational material at low cost.” (Daniel, 2012)

I reckon the use of ICT is just part of the solution in Higher Education, especially when the focus is shifted towards higher level, deep and meaningful learning.

“But while the potential of ICT to improve and extend education while cutting its cost is not in doubt, the results so far have generally been disappointing (Daniel, 2012b, Toyama, 2011). We should bear the reasons for these disappointments in mind in trying to ensure that MOOCs contribute to these goals for improving education and are not just another flash in educational technology’s pan.”

ICT should and would enable learners to have a meaningful experience if they are incorporated into the learning platform based on teaching, social and cognitive presence.  This aligned with:”The central core of an education experience, or learning experience is deep, thoughtful, and reflective study and engagement with a body of knowledge in a multiplicity of forms – facts, techniques, algorithms and practices, analytical frameworks, evidence.  (Open Education Chapter 7)

The story as told by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman in this Networked The New Social Operating System well illustrates that:

The networked operating system gives people new ways to solve problems and meet social needs.

Whether MOOCs could heighten learners to such a level of networked learning is still mooted.

I would however, think there are still lots of positives and potentials in the MOOCs, as I have shared them in the past posts.

Though there are lots of criticisms on x MOOCs, I think institutions are using these opportunities to steer the changes needed in Higher Education.

This is perhaps a time of huge change for Higher Education that would leave a huge footprint in its landscape.  There is simply NO RETURN.

I have made some proposition about the MOOCs here.

What would emerge out of the MOOCs?

I suppose there are 3 types of MOOCs that are emerging in Higher Education:

The x MOOCs

Those MOOCs which could leverage technologies, automate the whole educational process of teaching, assessment and certification, and those which are operating under a sustainable business model – with a continuous stream of revenues and profits to support the design and running of the MOOC.  The focus would likely still be on the business, with technology enhanced learning as the way to educate and learn, supported by the super professors, with videos-based teaching, and flipped classroom.   This seems to fall in line with the current x MOOCs where huge enrollments –  million with Coursera, and hundreds of thousands with Udacity and edX.

The c MOOCs

The second type of MOOC are those which focus principally on the learners’ preferences and thus be based on learner-centred model of teaching and learning.  Here the professors would negotiate the teaching with learners with networked based learning.  The focus would likely be on the education and learning process, with distributed learning and technology as an enabler, with a connectivist approach towards learning and crowd sourcing as a means to aggregate the distributed learning.  This could be the current model of c MOOC, based on emergent learning.

The x and c MOOCs

The third type of MOOCs are those which would re-brand themselves, attract and sustain more educators and learners to be on board of the bandwagon of MOOCs, where an educational model is blended into the business model.  Here the super professors and educators would re-reconfigure the teaching to “teach the world”, and support learners in grouped or networked based learning.  The focus would likely be on the education process, with technology and social media/networks as an enabler.  This could be a hybrid structure of x MOOC and c MOOC.

Finally, what would be the model that emerge?

Here the models are represented by:

What would be the future of MOOCs?

As discussed, the three sorts of MOOCs would serve different types of learners differently based on what the institutions would offer and what the learners might need and expect.

There are no clear crystal balls in accurately predicting what would emerge out of these winners, though it is for sure that the ultimate model of Higher Education would likely go with xMOOCs within the coming decade, as the demand for qualifications, formal teacher-based education is still the norm.

There is a possibility of having institutions adopting a hybrid approach in blending educational model with a strong business model in order to sustain in the long run.  This means that more emerging technologies would be adopted to replace the current teacher-based model of teaching, where the core business of education is more widely adopted not only in higher education, but also being adopted in the wider community and networks.  Here the c and x MOOCs would likely be the ones who could embrace both entrepreneurial and educational models in their MOOCs, in the delivery of pragmatic results and tangible outcomes.  This may however, mean that they could have the most disruptive effect on the current Higher Education, as they might transform the nature of business of education.

There are however, certain institutions who would embrace the learners as center of education model, which in fact mimic the adoption of internet and web-based learning, with a Constructivist and Connectivist approaches towards education, where teachers, social and personal learning networks, artifacts and internet based open-resources and open learning are used in the MOOCs’ platforms, as a basis to truly transform both the institutions, and the nature of education and learning.  These require a systemic change in the way learning is considered, that is in keeping pace with the rapid changes in society and needs of learners, with an emergence model of education.

Recommendations for future research

There  is an urgent need to conduct mega-research of MOOCs and critical reviews into current pedagogy adopted by Higher Education institutions.  Further research into the educational values and value proposition of MOOCs is necessary to unearth its long term potential in re-creating or revolutionizing Higher Education.

What are some of the possible remedies and solutions to the challenges to MOOCs?  These would be examined and explored in future papers – Part 2.

Will educational policy necessitates, such as opening universities, turning to new groups of students and supporting the concept of autonomous learning, not be bogged down by traditional structures?  (The transformation of the University into an institution of independent learning, p 242)