Why can’t an xMOOC be more like a cMOOC ?
I’ve joined the Edinburgh University Introduction to Philosophy Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). This is an ‘xMOOC’, a term used to describe the ‘instructivist’ MOOCs that are usually given by existing colleges and universities from platforms such as Coursera, Udacity and Futurelearn. However, I would like to see xMOOCs become more learner centred and open like the earlier Connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs) . Evidently some 260,000 people are now signed up for the Philosophy MOOC so I’ll be looking for more than a few independent souls ready to discuss the content and performance of this xMOOC in a cMOOC style by blogging outside the ‘official’ course forums. (See Liberating the xMOOC – a Philosophical Experiment. Searching is helped if the tag, introphil appears somewhere in a post.) Anyone unfamiliar with cMOOC ideas should look at the classic 2010 video by Dave Cormier made long before xMOOCs were even a twinkle in the eye of the venture capitalists. Here, ‘MOOC’ means ‘cMOOC’ in today’s parlance. (Don’t miss the wry exchange on YouTube between Dave Cormier and a commenter on the meaning of ‘MOOC’!)
cMOOCs are very peculiar beasts. I was first thrown by one in 2011 (CCK11) when it dawned on me that, contrary to what was on the tin, a cMOOC wasn’t a ‘course’ at all. Instead, a heady amalgam of ‘massive’, ‘open’ and ‘online’ was leading to a quite extraordinary place where the normal rules of learning engagement just didn’t apply. There were a couple of facilitators but no teachers. Participants were encouraged to create and maintain their own blogs. Social media was used for discussion and sharing resources. Topics were explored together, connections made and groups were formed and maintained long after the MOOC was over. cMOOCs never die – I still check out the CCK11 page on Facebook.
Why don’t xMOOCs explore the brave new paths followed by the earlier cMOOCs? Some participants join a MOOC with the express purpose of passing an exam and gaining credit of some sort. Nothing wrong with that of course and cMOOCs have included small numbers of students aiming at formal certification. Passing examinations though is not the primary purpose of education and the obsession with exams evident in the xMOOCs strikes me as unhealthy. MOOC participants have diverse learning objectives in comparison with students taking the traditional university or college courses that current xMOOCs appear to be based on. Typically, a traditional course is aimed at a small bunch of carefully-selected, exam-orientated students of about the same age and educational background who turn up at set times to hear a professor pontificate. Why adopt such a narrow, timid little beast as a standard when MOOCs, given adequate investment in planning and infrastructure, have at least the potential to be as broad in purpose and scope as anyone could wish for? A really mature MOOC could have a traditional course for breakfast!
Dropouts Rule! – OK ?
Now consider those who have actually participated in MOOCs. Most do not belong to the tiny minority of eager beavers who have the time and opportunity to study regularly, meet all the deadlines and pass a final examination with flying colours. The overwhelming majority of participants are the so-called dropouts. What does it really mean to be a MOOC dropout? Does it mean:
- leaving happily after a week or two because you’ve already found the content and connections you came looking for in the first place?
- leaving sadly after making reasonable progress but not sitting the final exam because you find multiple choice tests demotivating and couldn’t get help – or perhaps your English just wasn’t up to the job?
- making exceptional progress, gladly engaging with and assisting other participants but then being brought to a grinding halt by ‘real life’ – loss of internet connectivity, unexpected work commitments, having a baby?
- becoming bored and losing interest because you’re only 13 and without the right background but persevering long enough to make sense of a few technical terms and maybe launch a lifelong interest?
- just looking in to check all the buzz about MOOCs and then joining a different MOOC later on for more serious study?
There’s at least anecdotal evidence for all these ‘dropout’ scenarios and others where at least some educational benefit is to be gained. It may be very difficult to pinpoint or quantify but it should not be overlooked!