Connection not Content

A Blog for MOOCs and Other Animals

#CCK11 Nature of the MOOC – and a Challenge for 21st Century Education

with 9 comments

While I responded to Susan’s comment on my silly MOOC illustration I suddenly had the idea that, for me anyway, engaging with a MOOC was rather like a young student starting out on a traditional university or college course for the very first time. You meet fascinating strangers with interests quite outside your own experience. You have serious discussions about stuff you know little about. You’re bombarded with readings you skim or ignore. You make fun of the professors. You please yourself what lectures you go to and if you do go to lectures, you pay more attention to the chatter of your new friends than what the prof has to say. You commit indiscretions and blunders – you learn informally.

Some of your fellow students are bright, attractive and enjoyable to interact with – even when they talk nonsense. Others you find boring, or even upsetting and you learn to avoid them – diplomatically.  Some simply drop out never to be seen again while others lurk around making little impact although there may be good reasons for this. Quite a few are repeating the course and like to offer advice to the newbies. This happy state of affairs is usually curtailed by the intervention of real life,  probably in the form of  assignments and examinations.

There are obvious parallels here with progress through MOOCs in general and CCK11 in particular but I don’t want to push the analogy too far! It may be unclear whether pushing out the boundaries of a course into the informal social environment that normally surrounds it makes for efficient or effective deep learning but it certainly can be an enjoyable, exciting and motivating experience for those who are new to a learning topic. A MOOC seems ideal in this role of induction or orientation where formal assessment is not particularly important. Further advantages are:

  • High drop-out rates are less of a concern – some participants will dip their toes in the water only to realize they’d rather do something else!
  • A critical mass of participants with diverse academic backgrounds and expertise will be attracted if the topic is of sufficient interest and wide enough in scope.
  • The risk of domination by individuals or groups with their own agendas is reduced by encouraging participants to set up their own blogs, forums, FB pages etc.

A Challenge for 21st Century Education ?

Here’s a hypothetical example of how a MOOC might be exploited in an orientation mode. Take a topic of truly global importance such as ‘Climate Change’. This is a complex topic with wide-ranging scientific, economic and political aspects, all begging for intelligent solutions, yet locked down in controversy and suffering from ignorance and prejudice.

This is only my impression of how a MOOC for learning about Climate Change could be publicly advertised. The effort involved in setting up something like this would be considerable but the unique educative power of the MOOC with its ‘neutral’ format could be ideal in preparing the world for the big changes in lifestyle that are probably on the way!

Image based on ‘Fractal Engineering of a Globe’ by *Psycho Delia*. Text from Encyclopedia of Earth (Climate Change Collection)

Specimen Poster

Written by Gordon Lockhart

March 19, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with

9 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I agree – matches my observations, not to mention pattern of practice so far. OK so I don’t drop out but get distracted, fall behind on readings and whatever passes for formal participation (oxymoron perhaps), etc.

    I hadn’t made the same connection to new college student experience (been a while) but *click* when you did. That means the ones who want to learn will figure it out. The others, curiosity seekers, cv builders, whatever, will leave. So what? Eventually we will all get better at it and a more effective set of orientation, facilitating practices will evolve. Call it Developmental MOOC-ing. Maybe instructors experienced in teaching Developmental courses should offer advice. Until then it’s sink or swim pedagogy.

    I like the idea of MOOCs as orientation, cool advert too. Been thinking of them for self-regulated learning for GED, ESL and basic skills.

    Vanessa Vaile

    March 21, 2011 at 12:09 am

  2. Thanks for your comments Vanessa – I like your ‘sink or swim pedagogy’ description. I think the problem with the developmental / foundation course approach is that learning objectives then become rather more specific (eg basic maths before undertaking a science course at degree level) and it’s unclear to me how current MOOCs, with their emphasis on free-wheeling learner autonomy, can adapt. In terms of CCK11, if I became really serious about studying learning theories, etc in depth, I’d actually withdraw from the network. (Oh Heresy!) I’d do what I’ve always done – retreat to a library or other quiet place and study in isolation. Maybe (now it’s the 21st Century) I’d pop up for air and consult my PLN from time to time but on the whole, I’d actually want to disconnect and discourage interruption while I get my act together and my knowledge grows (more heresy!). I probably exaggerate but it’s this deep learning aspect that I find difficult to reconcile with Connectivism philosophy.

    Gordon Lockhart


    March 21, 2011 at 11:33 am

    • It appears I’m also guilty of heresy Gordon. But isn’t it comforting to ‘KNOW’ without any doubt that we won’t end up in the stocks together or burnt at the stake. 🙂

      Susan O'Grady

      March 21, 2011 at 8:18 pm

      • Don’t be too sure Susan! Connectivism, Mashism and Con-Irk-tivism may be too heady a mix to be tolerated – nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition:


        March 21, 2011 at 8:57 pm

  3. […] mode where high drop-out rates and assessment are not very relevant (I blogged on this here). With a free-wheeling approach to learner autonomy and engagement, a MOOC can provide an enjoyable […]

  4. […] out what MOOCs are or should be and I’ve done my own share of pontificating about this too (Nature of the MOOC – and a Challenge for 21st Century Education ) but the humble MOOC is acquiring a life of its own and I think that attempts to corral it within […]

  5. […] many other learning situations (apart, perhaps, from the ‘orientation’ type of activity I’ve previously discussed) may be much less straightforward due to a lack of human or other resources or, perhaps more […]

  6. […] model in many other learning situations (apart, perhaps, from the ‘orientation’ type of activity I’ve previously discussed) may be much less straightforward due to a lack of human or other resources or, perhaps more […]

  7. […] model in many other learning situations (apart, perhaps, from the ‘orientation’ type of activity I’ve previously discussed) may be much less straightforward due to a lack of human or other resources or, perhaps more […]

Leave a Reply to #Change11 Connectivism re-visited | Learner Weblog Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: