To MOOC or not to MOOC?

Is the one of the underlying questions of the week long MOOC being run this week by Hybrid Pedagogy. Like many others working education I am interested in MOOCs, and there has been a flurry of activity over recent months with a number of big guns joining, or perhaps taking over, the party.

The #moocmooc course is running over a week, and today’s themes centre around “What are MOOCs? What do we think they are? What do we fear they may be? What potential lies under their surface?”. There’s a group task to complete – a 1,000 word essay on “What is a MOOC? What does it do, and what does it not do?”, and a twitter conversation tonight to share experiences.

However, I think that these questions need to be underpinned by a couple of “whys”? Why are you interested in MOOCs? Why are you thinking about taking the MOOC route? Sian Bayne and her colleagues in the MSc E-Learning course at the University Edinburgh have done exactly this in their recent ALT Article “MOOC pedagogy: the challenges of developing for Coursera“.

And by way of not answering the assignment question, I’m trying to reflect on my experiences of MOOCs to date. So far it looks like the majority of participants seem to be from North America, although there are a few UK faces in there too. I’m particularly interested seeing if there are any major differences in implementation/drivers between North America and the UK. Not everyone is going to be able to go down a full blown MOOC route, but what are the key elements that are really practical for the majority of institutions? The open-ness, experimenting and extending notions of connected learning? Potential to get big enrollment numbers? It’s probably far too early to tell, and as most of the participants probably fall into the early adopters category their motivations may not reflect general practice or readiness.

Although I have a professional interest in MOOCs, it’s probably their potential for me as a learner that really excites me. I’m not particularly motivated to do any more “formal” education – for a number of reasons, but time is probably the main one. I’m also very fortunate to have a job where I really do learn something new everyday, and I feel that my peers do keep my brain more than stimulated.

Being able to participate in open courses around topics that interest me, without financial risk to me personally or my employer (which adds pressure for me) is very appealing. I’ve tried MOOCs before (LAK11) which I enjoyed – particularly the synchronous elements such as the live presentations and chat. But if I’m being honest, I didn’t spend as much time on the course as I probably should have. On the plus side, I did get a feel for being a student on a MOOC and some useful insights to learning analytics.

Although I probably tick the right boxes to be a self motivated, engaged and directed learner, sometimes life just gets in the way and it turns out that I’m a bit rubbish at maintaining engagement, direction and motivation. But that hasn’t put me off MOOCs. Like tens of thousands of others I signed up for the Stanford NPL course, and very quickly realised that I was being a tad optimistic about my coding capabilities and that I just didn’t have the time I would need to get anything out of the course, so like tens of thousands of others I silently dropped out. I did think the traditional design of that course worked well for that subject matter.

But #moocmooc is only a week, no programme required, and also a week in August when things at work are a bit quieter than normal. Surely despite the twitter conversations talking place from 11pm my time I’ll be able to cope with that? Well we’ll see. Already it has got me thinking, given me the opportunity to try the Canvas VLE and back into blogging after a brief holiday lull.

*Day 2 Places where learning takes place
*Day 3 Massive Participation but no-one to talk to
*Day 4 Moocmooc day 4
*Day 5 Designing a MOOC – moocmooc day 5
* Analytics and #moocmooc

8 thoughts on “To MOOC or not to MOOC?

  1. Hi there.I I’ve also started the MOOCMOOC so it’ll be interesting to see where the conversations go and how well the various contributions are aggregated and shared. I agree with many of your points and in particular the issue of the lone , distance learner struggling to carve out the time (and space sometimes) regularly and commit to a full course is not something that should be underestimated, but I wonder if many MOOC producers are actually not particularly concerned about that, since if the focus is on numbers in general then there’s a complete shift of responsibility for persistence and motivation onto the learner? I wonder, sometimes, if in fact it allows some academics to wash their hands of the messiness of learner support. They are the subject experts, they present the material and it’s up to the student to get on with it or not. Fine, but which types of student suceeed in such an environment and what does it say about the underlying beliefs/philosophy of teaching & learning held by the course designers? Is learning something about changing your prior conceptions, about facing up to contradictions, handling ‘troublesome knowledge’ and changing perspectives? Or is it about accumulating knowledge only?

  2. Hi Iain

    Thanks for your response, you raise some great points. I think to an extent MOOCs do deliberately put more responsibility on the learner, particularly the ones that hark to the original MOOCs from Downes, Siemens et al. They are for more sophisticated learners and despite my self deprecating remarks I know that I can network effectively and deal with troublesome knowledge. But for most undergrads or people returning to education I share your concerns. The massive be be appealing and provide enough people who want to take the final test (and so give a commercial return) but what about the masses who drop out? I can afford to be philosophical about my MOOC engagement and successes/failures as I’m not relying on them for anything in particular.

  3. I’ve also just joined in, hoping that I’ll manage most of this week (it only being a week, and one during the summer break when I”m not away is helping!)

    I’m wondering, though, if your comment re. it being mostly US participants is related to the fact here in the UK, we’re right in the middle of the summer break (and everyone was glued to the telly yesterday!) whereas in the US, they’re already starting to head back; don’t their terms start somewhat earlier than English ones (both at School and University level)?

  4. Hi Emma

    It could well be – but I have a feeling that it there would be more US participants whatever the time of year. Would be interesting tho to compare if it runs again.


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