Connection not Content

A Blog for MOOCs and Other Animals

Give xMOOCs a Chance !

with 8 comments

Kiss me

Don’t turn up your nose at xMOOCs!

(‘Kiss Me’ by Florian Seiffert on Flickr)

Connectivists are inclined to turn up their noses at xMOOCs. I’ve done this myself, (Why can’t an xMOOC be more like a cMOOC ?), pointing at the instructivist pedagogy that xMOOCs inherit from traditional courses. Now, one way or another, I’ve participated in several xMOOCs and I’ve even completed ‘Introduction to Philosophy‘ and ‘Quantum Mechanics for Scientists and Engineers. I’m under no illusions about becoming expert in either of these topics but I did learn something worthwhile and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience – rather more than some traditional courses I’ve known!

So what’s there to like about xMOOCs ?

Videoed Lectures – minutely planned and rehearsed in advance, these are but distant cousins of any lecture in any traditional course. View whenever you like or wherever you are. Pause, rewind, fast forward or repeat segments, even speed up the presentation if you think you know it all or slow it down if you don’t – what luxury! If you have language difficulties or want to construct your own notes there’s probably lecture transcripts available too.

What a contrast with traditional lectures! When I was a student (years before the Internet) a certain mathematics lecturer would enter the lecture room and start writing notes from the top of the left blackboard. When all the boards were full he wiped out everything and started again. He rarely spoke and we spent the entire hour just copying notes that were essential for the examination. Little else was studied and we only followed up by some question spotting shortly before the exam. Of course not all traditional lectures are like that but as vehicles for learning, xMOOC videos seem to be head and shoulders above what many traditional lectures can offer in practice.

Expert Tuition – xMOOC video professors who participate in the forums can progress learning by swiftly clearing up ambiguities, developing points of interest and, by their example, set high standards for communication between students. A large number of participants who are not active in the forums probably benefit too.

Experts with the necessary skills to intervene at the right time or place and in the right way are greatly appreciated in xMOOC forums. Quantum Mechanics may be an extreme example but where understanding rests on theoretical concepts with little intuitive appeal effective learning can become very difficult without someone having expert knowledge of the unfamiliar facts and methods that are the accepted nuts and bolts of the subject. This can also apply in xMOOCs dealing with humanities topics, even when there’s greater scope for participants to interact and learn from each other other. I did learn something reading 101 different participant accounts of ‘The Meaning of Life’ in the Philosophy MOOC but rather more from one or two succinct comments by the professors!

Catalytic Learning – xMOOCs can motivate and consolidate learning by spilling over into open networks in ways that may be unexpected and serendipitous. xMOOCs influence learning outside themselves or inside other MOOCs. For example, Jenny Mackness in a MOOC on ‘Modern and Contemporary American Poetry‘ is surprised to find “so many connections with my research into online teaching and learning“. Karen Carlson’s excellent video, ‘When MOOCs Collide‘ illustrates how several ‘cross-breeding’ MOOCs have influenced her learning while Louise Taylor’s open notes on various MOOCs are so detailed they become an education in themselves.


Community – ‘Massive’ and ‘Open’ almost guarantees a diversity of MOOC participants with different backgrounds and levels of prior knowledge. Only a small fraction may be active in xMOOC forums at any time but many do provide mutual help and encouragement. Perhaps surprisingly, this can include expert tuition by altruistic participants with no formal connection to the MOOC. Community in an xMOOC may not bear comparison with the cMOOC ideal where knowledge is created and shared in a distributed network but who knows? Perhaps inside every xMOOC there’s a cMOOC trying to get out!.

Quizzes, Assignments and Deadlines – Rightly or wrongly, many xMOOC participants place great importance on gaining certificates. ‘Passing’ a series of multiple choice questions or assignments marked by other learners is hardly a decent measure of competence but it does help to reinforce basic concepts and the challenge can be motivating. I doubt if I would have kept up the pace without the spur of weekly deadlines, particularly in Quantum Mechanics where the assignments involved considerable number crunching work.

Now I may have been very lucky in my choice of xMOOCs and I know that xMOOCs are not all of the same standard but whatever their pedagogical and other failings they evidently benefit large numbers of people across the globe. (Eg ‘Studying Learning in the Worldwide Classroom Research into edX’s First MOOC‘, reports that of about 155,000 registrants only about 26,000 were US based.) People without the resources or even the motivation to join a traditional course benefit from xMOOCs in ways that are often overlooked. The mostly silent majority also benefit – the so-called ‘lurkers’, ‘toe-dippers’ and ‘drop-outs’ who, for a miscellany of reasons ‘milk the MOOC‘ but do not qualify for a certificate.

xMOOCs are bound to improve with the technology and with a bit of push and shove may be capable of developing towards more open communities that put students at the center of learning. Some connectivists seem to avoid joining xMOOCs on principle whereas their presence might help shake off some of the baggage that xMOOCs inherit from traditional courses. If you can’t beat them, be pragmatic and join them – give xMOOCs a chance!

Written by Gordon Lockhart

December 6, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Posted in Mooc

8 Responses

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  1. Right On Gordon! cMOOCs are such a heady learning experience that we tend to forget that xMOOCs are well worth exploring.
    My experience in Coursera’s “Aboriginal Worldviews and Education” by University of Toronto professor Jean Paul Restoule was similarly positive. It so impressed our College President who also participated that she got a guest lecturer from the course as our keynote speaker this fall.
    I’m also finding Adobe Education Exchange’s collaborative courses (they refuse to acknowledge them as MOOCs) very well done. When I first enrolled, I was a bit skeptical, wondering if this might just be a high pressure marketing tool for Adobe, but I was pleasantly surprised. Of course it is assumed that Adobe product users are the main learner body, but the courses focus on technique AND pedagogy – especially on how to translate what we learn into learning experiences for our own students. They have closed forums just like other xMOOCs but do encourage open sharing via Twitter and personal or professional blogs.

    Jim Stauffer

    December 6, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    • Thanks Jim – and glad to hear you’re enjoying xMOOCs too. Yes cMOOCs can be really great – maybe best of all for self-learners and for topics that lend themselves more to learning by discussion and debate – maybe not so good for basic STEM stuff. To be honest, the success or otherwise of current MOOCs often seems to me more to do with the calibre of those designing and running them rather than adherence to any particular learning philosophy. Certainly more openness would be welcome.


      December 7, 2013 at 3:01 pm

  2. I was just thinking about writing (finally getting around to replying your last) but it’s been so long that the exchange doesn’t show on the WP list without a slow reload). fyi Jenny Mackness has been taking xMOOCs and been blogging observations/comparisons that might interest you.

    How did Quantum Mechanics [?] go? Lately, my mooc attention span has suffered from other online commitments, although I have drifted in and out of a few – enjoying the exchanges and getting ideas from them. Along the way, I feel as though I am connecting more dots doubt that I will ever complete the picture.

    Here’s a footnote to my sort of but not completely local ed outreach project: educators embedded in an institutional setting are not that interested but I have picked up more interested than I expected from GED and especially families that homeschool…not so surprising when you consider both have strong DIY / self-paced learning components. I still hope to connect #GetSmarter (still the tag so far) with my casualized faculty advocacy constituency but see problems there.

    I followed George Siemens’ #mri13 – conference for MOOC Research Institute – but intermittently. Interesting and brought together x and c (plus a few critics of both). I expect that there will be many blog and a lot of presentations available online.


    December 6, 2013 at 9:54 pm

  3. Reblogged this on MOOC Madness and commented:
    Godon Lockhart on connecting all manner of moocs


    December 6, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    • Hi Vanessa! Yes I’ve been following Jenny and her MOOC experiences. I had to work hard with QM to keep up and in spite of myself I can’t help feeling smug about getting a certificate. I didn’t have time to look much at the last weeks’s material but tried the final week’s assignment anyway by simply ignoring questions requiring numerical answers and just guessing the yes/no, true/false ones more or less at random – I still got 46% for that assignment – says something about standards of assessment!

      Thanks for the reblog and tweet!


      December 7, 2013 at 11:19 pm

      • Well, I’m impressed and proud of you — bemused by endgame too. No doubt I am ready for another but can’t decide what in. I already read and write a lot on line blogging and handling (juggling) social media for the academic casuals advocacy group, so I better not do more than one (dipping in and out of the occasional connectivist model not to count). I signed up for a few that just did not engage me. Some would, if like ModPo for Jenny, they were new areas. With her background, she is also applying as a Coursera “forum assistant” (or whatever it is called). I bet there is major research going on as well just enjoying the classes. I liked what I’ve seen of ModPo but have done graduate seminars covering the same material just as well and taught much of the material to undergraduates… too much déjà vu all over again…the same may apply to a number of lit areas.

        There is a course on sustainable development that looks interesting and would tie in with local interests.

        After reading Bryan Alexander’s recent pieces on higher education, I find myself caught up thinking about how to make education locally sustainable – corollary to “planning for coming collapse” but for education. I thought of your project. Then searched “sustainable education” and “making education sustainable” but did not come up with much — a notable exception being a 2011 post by Michael Feldstein on making moocs sustainable, Lots on sustainability education, very little on making education sustainable.

        And there’s this by Downes,, that is along the same line – just different terms and on a much grander scale than making local education sustainable. I’d say that when Stephen Downes writes about targeting a market and George Siemens gets a Gates Foundation grant, mooc-melding is well under way


        December 8, 2013 at 12:16 am

  4. I think I’m MOOCed out for a bit now Vanessa but maybe do some toe-dipping or just look at stuff I’ve downloaded. I don’t think Modern Poetry is my scene although that Karen Carlson video and what I heard about ModPo made me think maybe, just maybe, there could be something beyond Burns (or my favourite, McGonegall, of course!) Interesting re Coursera “forum assistant” – certainly needed. Self-appointed ‘experts’ while generally helpful can be bruising, particularly to the more timid and clueless. Like you I couldn’t face a MOOC on a topic I’ve taught – electronics/ signal processing sort of things in my case. I think I’m down somewhere for a MOOC on sustainable development lines – hmm or was it Climate Change? – I said I was MOOCec out! As for sustainable education, I hark back to the past having enjoyed a completely free UK University Education – fees, maintenance grants at all levels. I suppose it’s futile to expect ‘monetisation’ to go away for melding MOOCs but diverting some of the public money going into HE might help towards “progressive introduction of free education” as the UN Covenant put it years ago.


    December 9, 2013 at 5:37 pm

  5. […] Connectivists are inclined to turn up their noses at xMOOCs. I've done this myself, (Why can't an xMOOC be more like a cMOOC ?), pointing at the instructivist pedagogy that xMOOCs inherit from trad…  […]

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