When Stephen Downes and I ran Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2008, the term MOOCs (massive open online course) was coined – by Dave Cormier and Bryan Alexander – to describe open online courses with fairly high registration numbers. Open online conference that we were offering at University of Manitoba, and courses offered by David Wiley and Alec Couros, served as a fairly natural foundation for the development of MOOCs. Since then, a growing number of educators have offered similar types of courses: EC & I831, CCK09, Critical Thinking, EdFutures, PLENK, NANEC, and others that I’m sure I’m missing (please add them to the comments and I’ll update). Soon to be offered MOOCs include: CCK11 (Stephen Downes/George Siemens, Learning Analytics (George Siemens/Jon Dron/Dave Cormier), Digital Storytelling (Jim Groom), Open Education (Rory McGreal/George Siemens), and Personal Learning Environments (Wendy Drexler/Chris Sessums). There are likely others. A few formal organizations – such as Peer 2 Peer University – are attempting to duplicate the traditional university model with open courses.
Do we have a revolution yet??
Well, it’s great to see increased attention to, and adoption of, open learning. Open content is a first step in openness. Open learning/teaching is the next. Open accreditation models is then the logic third step. However, most of the analysis of open courses to date is disappointing. We are, as in any new relationship, enamoured with the attributes that we will later find to be annoying. The focus now is on the thrill of teaching in open courses, of serendipitous contributions, of feeling connected to people from around the world, of the “massive” numbers, etc. All of these things are very nice. But what the primary intent of any course: the learning?
I have three significant concerns about MOOCs…concerns that facilitators will eventually need to address in order to extend the impact of open courses:
1. MOOCs suffer from high drop out rates and declining participation as the courses progresses. I highlight this trend toward the end of this presentation. Is this declining participation a concern? Perhaps not – MOOCs don’t have the participation barriers of traditional courses (fees), so learners are able to jump in, sample, take what they want, and move on. However, we don’t know if that’s what’s happening. We have four distinct research teams involved in assessing PLENK10, so we should have a better understanding of the reasons for dropouts in the next several months. However, at this stage, we don’t know if reduced participation is a function of course design, pedagogy, learner interests, or other factors.
2. MOOCs require a reasonably high degree of technical skill. Dave, Stephen, and I have offered MOOCs in various platforms (Drupal, Elgg, Moodle, WordPress, customized software, etc). Some of the most effective software tools (gRSShopper and The Daily) were written by Stephen. If MOOCs have any prospect of moving beyond the domain of interest of a few technically proficient educators, the process has to become “push button easy”. This presents a bit of a problem, however. Open courses are open – anyone can use any tool to participate. If we strive to make the courses easier to offer, we will likely place some constraints on the tools and processes. For example, I offered a course (Teaching and Learning in Social and Technological Networks) to a group of staff/faculty at Athabasca University. The course was delivered in Elgg. Overall, the course was successful in somewhat reducing the confusion of earlier wild-west MOOC offerings. Deciding when and what manner of constraints to apply to MOOCs requires balancing potential benefits with drawbacks. Too much structure and too many constraints and suddenly we are offering traditional courses.
3. In theory, MOOCs scale social learning by increasing opportunities for peers to help each other. However, in most courses I’ve been involved with, a group of learners expresses their frustration at feeling disconnected and lost. Perhaps this is due to the unique attributes of open courses (learners assisting each other, complexity of interaction, multiple platforms for conversations, and so on). Or perhaps this is due to course design – i.e. we need to better plan for social learning support. Bringing new learners into the MOOC experience requires some level of support. We could say that this confusion is natural and learners need to accept it as part of transitioning from classroom models of learning to online, empowered learning models. But even then, we require better transitional support than MOOCs current offer. Or, we could plan for more structured interventions or social recommendations (i.e. “based on your profile, you might want to connect with Jane”).
A group of us who have offered open courses in the past (Alec Couros, Jim Groom, Stephen Downes, David Wiley, Dave Cormier, and I…yes, we are aware of the male-centric nature of that list. Any suggestions of female-led MOOCs are appreciated) are meeting on Monday, December 20 to discuss lessons learned in delivering open courses and potential next steps. If you’re interested, feel free to drop in:
Time: 11 am Mountain Time (conversions)