My reflection on MOOCs

Here is a collection of my comments and reflection on FB group.

MOOCs as learning opportunity and connections

We are born to learn, and when we were babies, did we stop learning? From our dad, mum, brothers, sisters, before institutions. I see all learning as a continuum, once we are born, till we “die”. Institutions do play a role, and so do educators, peer learners, and many of our “friends” and “relatives” in our early growth. Even when we have left schools (or institutions), we are still experimenting our learning with others, our environment, with trial and errors, and our wisdom. Aren’t MOOCs there just to bring people “closer” together, irrespective of the status, qualifications, background, or skills level. What makes education (someone teaching us, or the teaching on us)? It is the care and support, the encouragement and inspiration which makes us feel important, in learning. When we failed, that may be the opportunity for us to learn best, where we realized that we are in need of perceiving things differently to better understand ourselves, in terms of strengths and areas of development. That is where MOOCs might be exploited as a window of opportunity, where we connect to share our understanding of each others, and how we perceive things from different angles, and see our differences in a different light.

MOOCs for the development of vocational and management skills and life-long learning

If education is designed to prepare people for developing skills for work, or to improve their existing knowledge and skills (competency), then surely xMOOCs might fulfill some of the aspirations from a provider point of view. How would these vision and mission of providers be matched with those of the learners? What are the assumptions behind the creation, design and delivery of MOOCs (both xMOOCs & cMOOCs)?  Have we asked and learnt what, how and why they are for?  We all hope cMOOCs could remain a neutral ground supportive of education.  That may both be an Utopian education model and a realistic one, depending again on what you (or we) want to achieve.

There are lots of MOOCs focusing on the training of skills based on Vocational Education and Training and computer programming, which seem to be quite easy to learn, providing you follow the procedures, and work out some of the exercises, answer the quizzes and tests etc. That is based on the knowledge transmission model, where the students would be expected to demonstrate the achievement of learning or performance outcomes by understanding the knowledge and applying them in specific ways. These sort of knowledge and skills could more easily be translated into OER and put into use in MOOCs, even without much intervention by teachers or professors. If we take a look at the programs available from the Youtube and various education programs (like the Yale, MIT, Stanford OERs), we would soon find that we have such an abundance of information and OERs that we just haven’t exploited them in MOOCs (due partly to the copyright, and the inability to customize them for our needs). Indeed, there are still lots of participants of MOOCs who have already got their Bachelors or Masters/PhDs. So, MOOCs seem to be filling the gap of life-long learning, rather than those who haven’t got the chance to attend universities, at the moment. Besides, there is a famous motto: You don’t need a butcher’s knife to butcher a chicken. This means that having professors teaching in MOOCs may be great so far if the “students” are “really” learning a lot from the teaching, and that those students really understand the “advanced concepts and knowledge” normally delivered at a University level course – at undergraduate or graduate level. May be, graduate students – Masters and PhDs have already mastered most of the skills necessary to conduct independent researches or to teach others using effective strategies. Would most professors still like to conduct researches, apart from teaching?

MOOCs and Assessment

Do these look familiar to you?

“Are we going to have a test on this next week? Which part of this lesson would be tested? What sort of questions would appear in our test? What are the answers to those questions?” Do these sound familiar in typical lessons? Are these typical questions from students who wish to get high grades in their examinations? Weren’t those the days when “we” as students want to learn more effectively and have a great learning experience? What percentage of students would get an overall A’s? Less than 5%, or 2%? Yes, with xMOOCs, students could try and get As by repeating the quizzes, assignments until “perfection”, etc. Isn’t that perfect? May be, but in a business setting, would that be the case? Do things right the first time – and this would result in no defects, less re-work, at work and in study! Do xMOOCs address these basic problems of learning?

Multiple choice (MC) questions have been a quick & easy way to assess a huge population of students. Even IQ test, GMAT, SAT and certain advanced or professional examinations have been using MC to screen, and grade students. The current xMOOCs have largely relied on MC/T/F and peer assessment to ensure its certificate is “validated” and accredited, when the persons taking the “exam” or “tests” are identifiable. However, this is still a problem when students use various means to “cheat” the MOOCs system.  How to prevent cheating and plagiarism in MOOCs?

What does it mean to cooperate and or collaborate in #Change11 MOOC?

Thanks Frances for bringing this to the table through her post on Orienting to MOOC. Glad also to learn about Jeffrey, Jenny, Matthias, Markuos and Heli’s views.  Stephen mentions in comments here:

MOOCs and the connectivist approach to learning, as I have argued elsewhere, is by contrast ‘cooperative’. There is no presumption of unity, order, shared goals or coherence. There’s no sense of being ‘in the group’ or its opposite. If teams or groups form, they are tangential to the course, and not the core or essence of it.

So, if you are discussing ‘Collaborative Open Online Learning’, you are not discussing MOOCs. Perhaps you are discussing things like WikiEducator or OERu, where everybody is pulling the same way. I don’t know.

Stephen has also elaborated on collaboration and cooperation here. I had composed a response post here.

Collaboration versus cooperation is nuanced to me.  I could see the difference between the two, especially when learning through MOOC and with others, when “we” actively converse with each others through different channels in MOOC.  It seems that some participants were cooperating for most of the time, though a few participants might collaborate in small groups or teams to work on specific tasks – on research, or wiki, or the MOOCast.  It is therefore important to distinguish between individual learning, networked learning and group learning, as a way of learning over the internet and webs.  The table here – From Cooperation to Collaboration summarizes it well.

There have been tensions in between group and teams learning requiring collaborative participation and individuals learning in a network based principally on PLN/PLE, as revealed in many researches throughout the past, mainly because of the perception of collaborative participation in an online education, where there were also differences in the team’s goals and individual learner’s goals:

“Some of the darker sides of collaborative participation which in its extreme manifestations can be experienced as normative and, we suggest, as a form of tyranny of the dominant and which instead of having a liberating effect, reinforces a form of oppression and control.”

In the case of MOOC networked learning, as pointed out by Clay Shirky here: “Not everyone can participate in every conversation.  Not everyone gets to be heard.” This also relates to the power associated with networks, where power distribution is often uneven, often following a long tail phenomena, even if it is under a small group learning in the networks.

Photo: Google?

These were also reflected throughout the CCKs and MOOCs, where individuals set their own paths of learning using networks, without necessarily sharing any unity, order, or shared goals, within those networks or organizations.  Bloggers just focused on self-reflecting using their blogs and sharing through their PLN (Twitter) or aggregating or curating their collectives (Delicious, or, Google Reader) etc.  Learning through such thinking it ALOUD, with reflexive learning is more common to the participation of forum discussion and sharing in the more recent MOOCs.  So, does it reflect the cooperative rather than the collaborative nature of networked learning?

Some participants of MOOC viewed MOOC as a collaborative platform where Cathy says: “This course will allow us the opportunity to collaborate together and experience first hand this new way to learn.”  There may still be many interpretations about the diverse nature of networked learning, based on MOOC experience.

When it comes to changes in formal and informal learning, we may need to think about the pedagogy involved, where there may also be a shift from collaborative learning in institutions to cooperative learning in networks.  There may also be a shift from cooperative learning in networks to collaborative learning in institutions when MOOC is formally institutionalized and accreditated in institutions.  Does it address the difference between cooperation and collaboration learning in the networks/groups?


Brian Christens & Paul W. Speer.  Tyranny/ Transformation: Power and Paradox in Participatory Development

Debra Ferreday and Vivien Hodgson. The Tyranny of Participation and Collaboration in Networked Learning



#PLENK2010 Tacit Knowledge, Reflection and Personal Learning

Stephen explains about the two kinds of knowledge here.  He states:

Two different types of knowledge. Two different sets of skills. If we want people to socialize, to conform, to follow rules, we’ll focus on the repetition of the symbols and codes that constitute explicit knowledge, to have them become expert in what Wittgenstein called “language games,” the public performance of language. But if we want people to learn, then we need to focus on the subsymbolic, the concepts, skills, procedures and other bits of tacit knowledge that underlie, and give rise to, the social conventions. We cannot simply learn the words. “A great deal of medicine can be remembered even after one has forgotten the use of medical terms.”

So which types of knowledge are most relevant to networked learning? Stephen argues that we need to focus on the subsymbolic, the concepts, skills, procedures and bits of tacit knowledge that underlie, and give rise to the social conventions.  That’s wonderful!

I am interested in exploring tacit knowledge and so in my previous post I have tried to relate tacit knowledge with knowledge management.

I would like to explore tacit knowledge, reflection and personal learning.

(a) What is the meaning of tacit knowledge?

In this article about tacit knowledge, Sveiby explains Polanyi’s concept of knowledge, which is based on three main theses: First, true discovery, cannot be accounted for by a set of articulated rules or algorithms.  Second, knowledge is public and also to a very great extent personal (i.e. it is constructed by humans and therefore contains emotions, “passion”).  Third, the knowledge that underlies the explicit knowledge is more fundamental, all knowledge is either tacit or rooted in tacit knowledge.

Knowledge is thus not private but social.  Socially conveyed knowledge blends with the experience of reality of the individual.  Our knowledge therefore rests in a tacit dimension.  I have shared the concept of explicit and tacit knowledge here on What is knowledge and learning.

(b) What is Tacit and Focal Knowledge?

Knowledge about the object or phenomenon that is in focus – focal knowledge

Knowledge that is used as a tool to handle or improve what is in focus – tacit knowledge.

The integration of knowledge is a personal skill in itself.  Such integration is often revealed in the use of PLN in learning, where one would reflect on the existing knowledge and blend that with new knowledge in probing,  sensing, and responding to complex learning situations.  This often involves sensemaking and wayfinding when learning through personal and social networks.

Take cycling as an example, a novice cyclist would likely learn how to ride a bicycle through a number of steps: (a) by observing someone riding a bicycle, (b) by riding a bicycle him/herself, (c) by trial and error, he/she would try using different balancing techniques, steering the bicycle, braking it using the hand brakes, (d) asking other skilled cyclists for advice and tips in cycling, and (e) developing knowledge of risks awareness in cycling  – through identification, assessment and control of risk etc., and (f) observation of safety rules and regulations whilst cycling on the road.

So, the mastery of cycling technique by a novice cyclist is normally done through a number of stages, though the learner might have undergone such stages unconsciously, where tacit knowledge such as balancing of the bicycle with motor skills, sensing the steering with eye-hand-body coordination, responding to emergency and having risks awareness might have all integrated into the knowledge building and growth in the learning.  Progressive practice, continuous reflection through further refinement of cycling skills and consulting with other knowledgeable cyclist could all help the learner cyclist in building further competence in riding a bicycle .  Such learning practice would also require confidence building with the learner.  A learner may also need the support from peers to sustain the interests in cycling.  The tacit knowledge associated with cycling might also be revealed through do-fail-re-do-practice-reflect and review cycle where the learner gradually understands the techniques and skills involved in driving a bicycle.

So the knowledge of cycling is an activity which could be better described as a process of knowing.  Polanyi regards knowledge as both static “knowledge” and dynamic “knowing”.

(c) What is reflection in teacher education?

What is reflection in teacher education? In this Teacher reflection in a hall of mirrors: Historical influences and political reverberations by Lynn Fendler, she traces the genealogy of reflection in teacher education by seeking the conditions of its emergence through the influences of Descartes, Dewey, Schön, and feminism. Drawing on the critical lenses of Foucaultian genealogy and the sociology of scientific knowledge,the analysis investigates how the complicated meanings of reflection get played out in complex and contradictory ways through research practices. So reflection has always been an important part of learning development amongst educators, and that reflection should go beyond the instrumental reflection.

Reflective thinking in teacher education is often practiced using the technique of writing in journals. Journaling, which is usually intended as a means by which teachers and students can get in touch with their own and each other’s thoughts, can also be considered to be a form of surveillance and an exercise of pastoral power.

So, when a learner is posting reflective journals or posts on their blog posts (as part of PLE/N), would this be viewed by the learners as a surveillance of his/her learning by others such as teachers and knowledgeable others?   Would this explain why some of our learners are hesitant in posting their reflection in public (like blogs, forums)?  How would educators support learners in posting their reflection? How about allowing learners to post reflections in their private space (in open source program), such as eportfolios?  This would allow learners to share their reflections with those he/she would like to share.

Steve in this notes on reflection explains the nuances in reflection and critical thinking:

Reflection must be a near relative both of critical thinking, and of deep (in contrast to shallow) learning. In fact, we can probably equate reflection with critical thinking turned on one’s own ideas and actions as opposed to those presented by others. Reflection is more often used to refer to actions, and critical thinking more often to alternative theories of the same phenomena, but the framework above applies equally to both.

This Reflective practice in the civil society: the contribution of critically systemic thinking by W Ulrich, Ulrich provides a rich account of boundary judgements.

He highlights that the facts we observe, and the way we evaluate them, depend on who we bound the system of concern.

Only in Habermas’ ideal world, consensus is an adequate criterion of mutual understanding.

Yet the huge body of literature around Habermas’ discourse theory of rational action has thus far hardly considered the role of boundary judgements.

Ulrich continues: Once we understand the role of boundary judgements and know how to deal with them in an open and reflective way, we can grant one another the right to have different rationalities, we can begin to understand, and agree upon, the sources of dissent.  Thus we can learn to understand one another even though we cannot agree, as our needs and interests are genuinely different.

In reflection, the concept of boundary judgements could help in understanding why conflicts and arguments in forum are often unresolved, especially when experts, knowledgeable others, novices and many legitimate peripheral participants all have different rationalities, and due to the differences in experiences and individual’s “world views”, this could lead to further disagreement and dissent in various topics which are complex in nature.  Would this also provide us with clues on how we could support experts and networkers in establishing boundary judgements?  I think this could shed light in overcoming the issue or conflict that often arise mainly because learners (both teachers and learners) may be basing their arguments on their own perspectives, rationality and critical thinking.

He concludes that:

…well-understood professionalism cannot do without a strong civil society. Only thus can professionals as well as ordinary people act as responsible citizens, that is, follow their conscience rather than group pressures toward conformity.

(d) When personal learning (based on tacit knowledge) are intersecting with social learning (based on explicit knowledge) in networks amongst networkers (learners and experts), what would the trajectory of knowledge look like?  I think this is where I would like to explore further.  Here are my further questions:

1. How would tacit knowledge be “transformed” into explicit knowledge in the social learning process (i.e. interaction in social networks)?

2. Is emergent knowledge rooted from individual tacit knowledge?

3. Would “emergent knowledge” be a result of interaction amongst the nodes (networkers, learners, experts, teachers, and agents)?


Downes, S. Two kinds of knowledge

Fendler, L. Teacher reflection in a hall of mirrors: Historical influences and political reverberations.

Ulrich. W. Reflective practice in the civil society: the contribution of critically systemic thinking, Reflective Practice, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2000, pp. 247-268.