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MOOCs, Learning Points

Carol Edwards from BCIT recently shared a document detailing her experience participating in massive open online courses. She concludes: “Based on the Report Card generated above, MOOC’s are a failure, both as an educational product and as a business model.”

I appreciate any critique of MOOCs. The value of critiques often rests in helping to make transparent the assumptions that we’re making regarding a topic. Edwards has put significant effort in describing her experience in MOOCs and what she sees as short comings.

I don’t believe her conclusions apply, however, to connectivist MOOCs. First, she focuses on MOOCs that fit into the Coursera/Udacity model – largely knowledge duplication MOOCs. With open online courses that I’ve helped facilitate, we’ve emphasized knowledge generation. Her critique targets the former model.

Second, the metrics by which we evaluate MOOCs are different from those that we use to evaluate traditional learning. The economics are different. I read recently that MIT had more students complete their circuits course than would in 40 years on campus. It makes no sense to look at that and conclude MOOCs don’t work because of high drop out rates.

Finally, MOOCs are essentially the web happening to education. To evaluate them by the value points of a hierarchical controlled system will yield limited insight. The criticisms often directed at our MOOCs (decentralized, hard to figure everything out, user-generated, etc.) are more of an indictment of what the existing system values (structure, routine, scalability, homogeneity, etc) than what is actually wrong with our courses.


  1. I’m interested in this too. I’ll be starting the Gamification Course through Coursera today and looking forward to how it’s all going to pan out. I’m doing it out of curiosity really. It would be interesting to get research from both institution and learner points of views. Regards


    Sunday, August 26, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink
  2. Jay Cross wrote:

    George, this is reminiscent of when blogs first came on the scene. Lots of folks said blogs would never fly. First of all, you couldn’t trust them. I was criticized for not having footnotes to back up my opinions! Second, the drop-out rate was high. What else would you expect from a free service with no barriers to entry?

    In the very old days of blogging, we knew most of other bloggers by name. The future of blogging was in doubt. It was a tiny world. Now that the number of blogs on the web is approaching 200 million, the doubters have conceded.

    It’s a bit early to declare MOOCs a failure.

    Monday, August 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  3. Mark Bullen wrote:

    Good points George. The different understandings of what a MOOC is are getting in the way of a meaningful discussion. Apples and oranges. There is also a depressingly familiar lack of understanding of the history of online learning. One could easily get the impression that online learning is new and we are only just figuring out how to use the technology for teaching and learning. This happened 15-20 years ago when online learning began and nobody paid attention the rich history of distance education.


    Monday, August 27, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink
  4. I’m glad you posted this because it reminded me go an look up the slides associated with Week 20 of Change 11/12 when Rich DeMillo, Ashwin Ram & Mike McCracken talked on Social Networks, Learning Communities and Web Science. My hopefully not too simplistic take-away from the talk and PDF is that the way institutions see “the value points of a hierarchical controlled system” is normally in terms of bell curves; whereas more valid insights might be gained from measuring connectivist learning in terms of power laws, which produce long tail curves, the implications of which were pointed out in the talk. Thanks for reminding me to review that, and for maintaining a repository of highly worthwhile recordings.

    Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 6:37 am | Permalink
  5. Thanks for continuing to write about this. Over the past year I’ve been forwarding ideas from you and Vance and others via my own blog articles with the goal of connecting people interested in the well-being of youth in poverty in on-going learning, networking, idea creation and collective actions that support youth in many places. . I connected with Vance this past weekend in the Webheads plaform and will continue to learn from you and others who share ideas in this arena.

    Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink
  6. Stuart Berry wrote:

    Thanks George for sharing this. I was a little challenged by the overall tone of the article particularly as it appears to have been written for a professional audience. A tremendous amount of emotion. I have just reread your various blog posts about MOOC’s and have reaffirmed my understanding on their intent and as such feel that the article author has presented quite a 20th century industrial model of education as her point of comparison. I appreciate the marking challenges and some of the more personal challenges she was faced with but come on – let’s begin to push our thinking beyond the narrowness of today’s institutional-driven models.
    I know I need to better appreciate the world of learning that you and others are encouraging and am drawn to much of the thinking of people like Christensen in his book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. As you and others have indicated MOOC’s may not be the answer but it will be as a result of MOOC’s and other ideas that help to pave the way to that much needed change in our teaching and learning.

    Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  7. Hi George, I participated in the Change MOOC last year and it was my greatest and most exciting learning experience ever! – Yes, it was chaotic and frustrating when in January everybody moved to the next MOOC – but I got so many new ideas, perspectives – and I liked the other participants’ blogs, tweets, etc better than most of the experts input. The transfer in different fields of work (or first ideas about it) were amazing. Bye, jupidu

    Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink
  8. gsiemens wrote:

    Thanks Jutta – pleased to hear that you found the experience valuable!

    Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink
  9. Ben Tremblay wrote:

    Just one point here: I often want to refer to “Socratic method”, but don’t … it seems fuzzy, if not completely misunderstood.

    Teeing off from your “we’ve emphasized knowledge generation” … can I say that the Socratic method engages the learner in a transaction? (Okay 2 points; is that transaction “dialectic”? “discourse”?)

    fair winds

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink