The Literacies for MOOCs

Often the debate has been that MOOCs require a fairly advanced/evolved level of maturity for the learner. This is an old debate. But here is a gem from Stephen Downes as he responds to Clark Quinn.

It seems to me indicative of the failure of traditional education that students in university-level courses still have to be motivated and still have to be taught how to learn. Quinn is quite right – most courses still attend to both. What he doesn’t say is that they utterly fail at it which is why it must be done over and over and over again.

By starting out with a presumption of a different set of skills, MOOCs explicitly foster and value these skills. So while students who have grown up with the typical command-mode style of learning, it is not unreasonable to assume that students raised on MOOCs will have mastered the different set of skills. Students are adept at learning to follow orders when they are given a steady diet of orders; it is reasonable to assume they will learn to take responsibility when they are given responsibilities.

Stephen goes on to state that

If we can get past the idea that the purpose of a MOOC is to ‘teach people stuff’ then we can begin to talk about what benefits they bring. But so long as we just think of them as another way of doing the same old thing, we’ll be misunderstanding them.

Now this is one real way to think about the literacies and their evolution for a learner in a MOOC. By being in a MOOC, by imbibing and practicing the techniques of more “experienced” learners and devising your own, you evolve to a higher level of capability in your learning. which is also why the network is so important. “Good” networks will help you evolve faster, while “bad” networks will demotivate and confound you. “Good” practices will help you achieve your personal goals and “bad” practices will affect you. What you and the network do will affect each other in positive and negative ways.

I would define “great” networks as networks that are open, massively interconnected, also massively redundant (in the technical sense to mean many parallel layers of “competencies”), accessible, navigable, flexible, heterogeneous and active. Such networks themselves motivate and fuel the desire to learn. This happened to me with CCK08, with EdFutures and many of the early MOOCs. I went in with the motivation to learn and experiment – and I evolved to a more mature state of my own learning capability through what I was exposed to (without being mandated).

Networks do not become “great” by games of chance alone (though there is important serendipity to be encountered in learning this way), but also by an “invisible hand” which is really the collective consciousness of the network – the conversation and the people, and their shared culture of learning. However, there are ways to build these networks, like Stephen and George epitomize through their work every day.

Stephen, in Learning to Learn, also makes the critical point that “a connectivist course does not consist of a single identifiable group of people stepping through the same activity”, rather connectivist learning is about “interaction, usability and relevance”. One can probably see that such an emergent, chaotic and complex environment that a MOOC is, will generate systemically better outcomes once learners gain more capability.

Apart from some of the progress made in identifying some of the critical literacies for Connectivism, George has a post on what a Connectivist Taxonomy would look like. Not surprisingly, connection-forming, meaning-making, contribution and involvement – are important components of the taxonomy, and literacies such as managing your digital identity, working with online tools, relationship building, self-expression, participation and wayfinding behaviors have also been discussed.

My sincere hope, for any vision for MOOCs anywhere, is that we seriously consider all of this and perhaps decide to convene a strategy that builds capability for us to learn effectively what we want or need to learn. Amen.


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