Sunday, October 27, 2013

c- and x- MOOCs?

The term "massively open online course" was coined by a canadian educator Dave Cormier, who had the idea that he could provide an enriching experience for his 25 graduate students if he opened his course to anyone interested. His students would receive his attention and get grades. The others would benefit from the materials and help his students gain a wider perspective on the topics discussed online. To his surprise several hundred people, from all over the world, signed up. His excitement and - as it turned out - success at providing a great experience for his students led his colleagues to develop the model with a "connectivist" pedagogical orientation. They promoted two connectivist approaches, 1) learning as a conversation with multiple content experts, rather than the instructors being the teachers and 2) the building of small discourse communities within the larger group. This became known as a c-MOOC.

US instructors and beancounters missed the connectivist aspect and saw the opportunity to fill their auditoriums with hundreds or thousands of virtual students. Starting with a Stanford experiment that got a lot of press, another form of MOOC was developed that is primarily top down, lecture based. These have come to be known as x-MOOCs after Harvard's edX. Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Coursera offer xMOOCs.

Most people don't know anything about c-MOOCs, because the hype of US MOOCs has obscured the original idea.  And both types are still very much experimental. Both have poor completion results for the majority of people who sign up. And each offers possibilities for some learners. Perhaps most important both are having the positive effect of causing a stir in academia.  How can educational institutions scale to meet the needs of more and different learners? How do we take advantage of digital technology, opens resources, global knowledge networks, and a changing view on knowledge authority?  How do we promote learner engagement in online learning environments? To what extent, and how, do we create a sense of learning community?

MOOCs are also having an influence on the concept of Big Data. These courses are constructed in a way that the instructors get a lot of data about what enrollees are doing in their courses. Though the findings are not always encouraging, the data will give educational researchers lots of material to work with to explore key questions about learning.

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