What MOOCs are and what do they mean for us?

What are MOOCs?

  1. Two popular types – the Connectivist cMOOCs and the newer xMOOCs.
  2. cMOOC-ers believe that learning is the process of making connections and that knowledge really is the network. The underlying theory of Connectivism relies heavily on theories such as complexity theory and chaos theory. It considers current educational models as closed systems and the Connectivist models as open systems of learning.
  3. xMOOC-ers have built upon the premise of “massive” and “online”, but are not necessarily “open”. xMOOCs rely mainly on instructivist mechanisms, but examples using constructivist mechanisms may also exist.
  4. cMOOCs require somewhat radical changes for stakeholders and do not adhere to traditional models of institutional organization, roles and courses. They also do not have, due to their nature, pre-designed models for implementation (just some guidelines). They also place larger demands on the roles played by learners, teachers and administrators. However, they are worth considering for their obvious benefits – they can potentially translate into higher capabilities for all stakeholders.
  5. xMOOCs toe the traditional line and are simple extensions of existing institutional models and practices. They do not require radical changes and basically do not do anything new, except perhaps make teaching and learning more accessible than before with the help of technology.
  6. It is also true that xMOOC-ers usurped the “MOOC” terminology while discarding the theoretical basis and evidence provided by the cMOOC-ers. The current xMOOC phenomenon is the combination of premium institutional brands, investment and technology. In that sense, xMOOCs cannot help resolve the problems we have been facing in online education.
  7. IMHO, in the medium run, xMOOCs will likely be marginalized. xMOOCs don’t really solve anything, nor do they present much that is novel.
  8. MOOCs, as we know them today, are mostly online with some rare examples of localized physical group formations and asset sharing. This needs to be focused upon as a strategy, especially for certain subjects, infrastructural constraints and geographies. They are subject to the same constraints (physical, virtual, capability, motivation, proctoring, interactivity, support etc.) that have applied to previous evolutions in online learning.

What do they mean for us?

Before we ask “what do they mean to us?”, we must ask “what MUST they mean to us?”.

We must look upon these two types from the perspective of what problems they are content to solve. cMOOCs attack the larger discontent with the current educational system – inflexible learning & institutional models, the great obsession with predictability (the factory model), the lack of employable graduates, lack of motivation in online learning etc.

I believe cMOOCs are what we must pursue in our context rather than perpetuate systems that have lost their relevance today.

  1. For all stakeholders, cMOOCs present a new opportunity to learn and research how to best use the online medium for teaching and learning
  2. For institutions & administrators it implies
    • Access to greater resources (content, teachers, peers, experts)
    • Access to a global community of students (increased volumes)
    • Wider variety of offerings (e.g. Access to alumni for professional development offerings)
    • Better cross-institutional collaborations
    • Avenues for research backed by large data sets
  3. For students it implies
    • Better learning experiences (“learning to be”) through global collaboration, diverse resources
    • Increased heutagogical “capability” – control and ability to learn in a connected world
    • Ability to exercise choice
    • Ability to have flexibility in choosing what to learn, from who and how (better mobility of accomplishments/competencies)
  4. For teachers it implies
    • Better teaching environments/designs; improved effectiveness
    • Increased heutagogical “capability” – control and ability to learn in a connected world
    • More efficient use of time and effort
    • Increased avenues for employment
  5. For policy makers it implies greater access to greater quality at lower costs – at scale, these aspects become extremely crucial. However, they have to tradeoff by encouraging self-organization and changing quality controls to reside at local levels.
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2 thoughts on “What MOOCs are and what do they mean for us?

  1. Hi there – this is Girish here. Looks like I am in!
    Did not have to register etc. Not sure if I am really “in”. Please advise.

    • My thoughts on this subject:
      While cMOOCs are desirable and should be the ultimate goal, xMOOC is surely an important step in that direction. xMOOC has helped us graduate from traditional Video based monologues on TV/other mediums to a more engaging learning experience. Following are the key aspects of xMOOCs over traditional video based programs (that have not worked in past):

      • It is a Live – schedule driven program –Starts on a specific day and end on a specific day. Lectures and Live webinars happen as per schedule.
      • Keeps faculty’s teaching style intact- Faculty can teach as per their preferred teaching style using online whiteboard (even mistakes/speech slurs are not edited). Gives a feeling of attending a live class by best faculty in the subject.
      • All benefits of online learning applies –flexibility to access content at any time, any location and at one’s own pace.
      • Has teacher touch points –Live webinars/ hangouts – Live webinars are built in most of the programs and it provides the real-life teacher connect.
      • Peer Grading and Assessments – The weekly assignments are graded by atleast five peers – this brings in the community connect / learning.
      • Certifications – One can get certified on the program and I guess over a period of time it will get due industry recognition as well.
      • Learning Analytics enabled deeper understanding of learners – The vast amount of backend analytics can be analyzed to understand country wise/area wise types of learners, learning behaviors etc. This understanding can be fed back to produce more targeted programs.

      Even if we achieve this much in any online program it will be a significant next step. In my opinion following are my observations regarding a cMOOC based program:
      • From non-existent online models to cMOOCs will be a vast jump, xMOOC is a good intermediate step.
      • Given its loose structure, it assumes far greater level of control by the learner. Keeping learner focused and motivated has always been a challenge, not sure if it will serve the majority audience.
      • For fast / intelligent learners cMOOCs will be more attractive.
      • Certification linked program will be difficult – students have to go elsewhere to get certified

      From stakeholders perspective (my top of the mind views):
      • Learners: Create enough incentives for the learners to reduce drop-out rates. Gamifications (Points, badges and Leaderboards), certifications, peer based grading, Regular sharing of personalized analytics are some of the useful techniques/ approaches.
      • Faculty: Familiarize them with examples, awareness workshops, demystify MOOC for them. Understand how to use learning analytics to make the program more targeted and better for learner categories.
      • University/ Colleges (Public & Private): Launch a pilot MOOC program in the subject that has faculty of international/ national repute.
      • Content Creators/ Facilitators/ Service providers: Take care of all the technicalities (Shooting Video, Creation of interactive practice questions, MOOC platform etc.) focusing university/college/faculty only on how to teach and engage students effectively.
      • Certification bodies: Tieup with Physical universities for accreditation and engage with Industry associations such as FICCI, CII, PHD chamber, NASSCOM etc.
      • Industry: Work with industry associations, certification bodies and universities to provide some weightage to the MOOC certificates.
      • Industry associations: Continue spreading awareness through online and conference medium. Engage with Govt. and industry to roll out policy level interventions.
      • Govt. : Come out with a MOOC policy – setting aside funds for MOOC based programs across Govt. and private universities/ colleges, push broadband internet penetration across length and breadth of India etc.

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