Posted: 2017-08-07 , Modified: 2017-08-07

Tags: education, MOOCs

Parent: Education


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Often we treat MOOCs as a single model of education, and praise or criticize it accordingly. However, it is important to keep in mind that “Massively Open Online” only explicitly refers to the course’s setting (Online) and reach (Massively Open), and not its teaching pedagogy, nor the multitudes of ways that it leverages technology or fails to do so. Hence, saying a class is a MOOC is about as informative as saying a class is held in a classroom with 30 chairs.

I believe that two main points constrict the discourse on MOOCs.

1 The channel of a course is not the same as the content of the course.

A MOOC is primarily a platform. Creating a educational platform and providing content to fill that platform does not solve the problem of education! It can make educating students easier, but the need for good teaching practices never goes away.

…online instruction are vehicles for transporting instruction. They are not teaching methods. By teaching methods, I mean practices such as asking questions, giving examples, lecture, recitation, guided discussion, drill, cooperative learning, individualized instruction, simulations, tutoring, project-based learning, and innumerable variations and combinations of pedagogies.

Because a MOOC can encompass many different types of courses (it is a suitcase word), we realize the following:

2 There are different types of MOOCs.

In this post, I’ll give a classification of MOOCs. By understanding the types of MOOCs and hence the different directions we can go with MOOCs, we’ll broaden our conception of how to use technology to deal with problems that I talked about in the last post (lack of personalized instruction, lack of discussions and interaction, not being geared towards disadvantaged learners, and so forth). In particular, the most popular MOOCs (edX, Udacity, Coursera) are mostly what are called “xMOOCs,” so the discourse (praise and criticism) has been accordingly skewed.

There are two kinds of MOOCs:

  1. xMOOC: This is the traditional model of learning: students learn from a stable curriculum, by progressing at the same time through a predetermined set of video lectures, texts, and assignments.
    • Pedagogy: The teacher’s role is to provide this content.
    • The goal of the course is to become competent with the content of the course.
    • The main advantage of using technology is one of leverage: a single course can reach several ten thousand students or more.
  2. cMOOC: Teachers of cMOOCs believe in a connectivist model of education. Students learn from interaction with each other and by creating their own content.
    • Pedagogy: The most important role of the teacher is to assemble pathways of communication between students.
    • The journey and experience is more important than the goal. It involves regular participation, in the form of sharing ideas, collaboration, and responding to each other’s points.
    • The main advantage of using technology is providing a platform for quick communication between students who would not otherwise be together.

(Of course, like all dichotomies, this should be more of a continuum, though courses so far have roughly organized themselves into these two categories.)

Justin Reich summarizes MOOCs with this picture (see his blog):


Connectivists aggregate, remix, repurpose, and feed forward material. As Stephen Downes writes, the content is a MacGuffin, the thing that brings people together so that the real learning can happen through dialogue, interaction, and exploration. One concern is how assessments would work in cMOOCs. Downes write that we could use big data (the full profile of a student’s interactions) and network clustering.

Here are some links to learn more about cMOOCs:

Going forwards

We are at an especially critical point in developing educational technology because what we develop now will be the model for the future. Mainstream MOOCs need to absorb better pedagogy and explore ways to implement connectivism.

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