Some things MOOCs are good for

Now that we’ve gone up and down the panic adoption curve for MOOCs it seems like it’s possible to talk about them with a bit more remove. It’s been 5 years since the first MOOC (so called) and my chance inclusion on that first CCK (connectivism and connective knowledge) course by Stephen and George has led to the privilege of participating in many of them and talking to lots of people about lots more of them. There have lots of new acronyms, where people change a letter or two, lots of criticisms about how the new MOOCs are not ‘real MOOCs’, and pearl clutching of many other descriptions. (note below) The simple fact is that there is something about a course designed in the way that George and Stephen designed CCK08 that uses the internet in a way to push education into new spaces. That’s interesting. This is the language we have… so I’m going to use it.

What is a MOOC?
When i first talked to Stephen and George about their course in 2008 I was fascinated about the opportunity of impacting a field of thought by actually learning together. If you could get enough people co-creating knowledge, at the same time, on the same topic, think of the effect you might have. It would be like doing a manifesto writing, except by having hundreds of people talking at the same time. (I jump to wild conclusions in my head at the drop of a hat) I was also quite compelled by the possibility of the possibility of the community being the community for the time the course was going in and potentially continuing to be so after the fact.

The massive, for me, extends beyond the idea of massive in terms of numbers to include, I think, diversity. The openness is not only ‘free’ but also the idea of open syllabus, the space for multiple threads of belief coexisting in the course. The online speaks to the weaknesses and strengths of online connection… both, i think, in the sense that they need to come back to ‘yes/no’ math type connectivity. The course is about structure being applied to the internet. I spent many years working in internet communities… they are the best, but they are also tons of work. A course is like that… just not as cool. Easier to commit to.

XMOOCs… telling people what they might need to know
I had a chance encounter in June of this year that had a great impact on my feelings about MOOCs. I ran into Piotr Mitros (EDx scientist dude) at a conference and by a fine stroke of luck, we both had a surprise Friday off when we were there (to our surprise the second day of the conference was in Spanish). We decided that we would head around the city on one of those ‘jump on’ ‘jump off’ sightseeing buses. We argued for 13 hours. We left there with a few projects we wanted to work on together, and I left convinced that somethings are better taught by xMOOCs. In particular, I started to see it as an excellent way to conquer the gatekeeping courses being taught at our university. A good xMOOC, clearly laying out the common ground in a field, with pre-determined opportunities to self-remediating, could be a fantastic way of levelling the playing field. Imagine a networked textbook, created by lots of people, centralized in a nice solid MOOC-styled LMS.

BrandMOOCs – love me or hate me, we’re here to stay
thesummerofleaarning experience was my first encounter with what I think of as a brand MOOC. I love the model. A company uses it’s influence to create a course that their clients and service providers can learn from and use. Lots of people get a chance to learn some thing they wouldn’t have otherwise, the brand gets recognized for leadership and development in the field, they get a chance to maybe find some new connections… Everyone wins. I’d prefer it if the content they were using were open source… but they might get there. I think there’s a real opportunity for more companies to get out there and share some of the knowledge they have with others and give lots of people who wouldn’t normally have the connections or the right guidance a chance to break into a field of knowledge. There are far more ways this can go awry than ways that it can succeed (in the positive social sense that i mean success) but this is meant to be a positive posts. The pitfalls of this should be obvious. Fodder for a future post.

cMOOCs – where my heart lies
I love the idea of finding new ways for people to fail together, to cheat from each other and to rob from their betters. If you can go out to a worldwide group of people and have them take your work to task, to improve it, to take bits of it and incorporate it into their own… what could be better? Open research. I’m going to be running my own open course on rhizomatic learning in January, and while i will probably fall short of the threshold of ‘massive’ i’m still hoping that working on it in the open, with friends, will help me see clearer. I’m also really excited by a number of MOOC projects popping up all over the world where people are realizing that they can band together to learn the things that they need to learn. I’m not trying to be coy, but some of the coolest ones i’ve heard of are still under wraps, but they follow a similar pattern – subsection (cultural, political or otherwise) not served by dominant narrative on the internet. Band together to learn what they need to know. etc…

For most of the people i know in online learning, even those complaining that ‘real online learning isn’t being paid attention to’ are being listened to more than they were. Of course… people aren’t really liking everything they have to say “elearning isn’t a silver bullet” “we can’t just take all our courses and turn them into MOOCs”. But I think more people are starting to see that the abundance of knowledge and connection made available by the internet has made things possible that simply weren’t before. I think that’s good. You may not 🙂

MOOCs are good for…
They are, maybe more than anything, good as a lens through which we can ask the same questions we’ve always wanted to ask. What is learning? Why do we teach? What responsibility to we have to our students? To society? To ourselves? I have been in more of these discussions in the last two years than in the rest of my career combined. And, for that, I am thankful.

(note: some concern from @patparslow on twitter (see below) that I’m suggesting that ANY critique of MOOCs is illegitimate. This reference is meant to refer to the ‘what about the children, death of education’ type responses to MOOCs, not legitimate concerns from people about xcabcMOOCs)

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