Sunday, June 24, 2012

MOOC Mythbuster – What MOOCs Are and What They Aren’t

Debbie Morrison / Posted on May 29, 2012

“Welcome to the college education revolution. Big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary.” Thomas Friedman, Come the Revolution,  NYT

Mr. Friedman is right – and though he doesn’t mention MOOCs directly in the article, the ‘revolution’ he is speaking of is in the near future with the launch of  edX and Coursera by the Ivy Universities. This past week I’ve been following a number of blog posts and articles about MOOCs, Massive Open and Online Courses, of which Coursera’s model is based upon [edX I predict will be something different], yet there’s been much speculation, misconceptions, exaggerations and misinformation. It’s time to clear the air – in this post I’ll define what MOOCs are and are not, what the skeptics are saying, and I’ll conclude the post with an attempt to clarify the differences (and similarities), between MOOCs, online courses for credit, and traditional face-to-face courses.


How MOOCs Work

First, let’s break down what’s really going on before we don the fighting gloves – the traditional model of higher education is being challenged – the ‘course’ where the professor lectures, delivers the content, student uses a textbook, complete assignments and is assessed -  is at the crux of the matter.  Note however, that MOOCs include similar core components of the traditional ‘course’, there are three as outlined by Stephen Downes, [educator, researcher and founder of the MOOCs] in his essay, Introducing my Work (2012, p 35) which are:

1. Open Content
2. Open Instruction
3. Open Assessment

You may notice the similarities between what Downes outlines and traditional education: content, instruction, assessment, yet its the word OPEN that differentiates how a student participating in a Massive Open Online Courses goes about learning. The other fundamental difference is the presupposition on how learning happens, and the pedagogy that goes along with it.

Origins of the MOOC

MOOCs are a vehicle for learning and are based on a theory of open education and how people learn – a theory called connectivism as coined by Stephen Downes.  Downes launched the first MOOC  in 2008 with George Siemens (Downes, 2012) and MOOCs are based upon their extensive research on how people learn, and upon the premise that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks. [snip].

How MOOCs Work

For MOOCs to be successful, certain conditions have to be in place. One fundamental is the motivation of the learner, where the learner actively participates because he or she wants to learn and thus constructs knowledge based upon his or her input and activity/engagement in the course. [snip].

“This type of course is called a connectivist course and is based upon four types of activities.”
  • Aggregate: [students engage with content at this phase - lectures from experts, daily content links provided through course news letter, reading content on Web]
  • Remix: [students are encouraged to dialogue with peers and communicate about content and what they are learning, either through blogs, discussion boards or chat]
  • Re-purpose: [students construct or create knowledge]
  • Feed Forward- [students are encouraged to publish what they learned through blogs, or any other 'open' venue, in other words 'share' their knowledge]

The Myths Debunked…

When reviewing the slew of recent blog posts and articles, it appears that numerous authors are seeing the MOOC as one dimensional, as a mode of delivering the lecture [content] and that’s it, without considering the other components involved in the learning process – the interaction, the communication etc.. We see an example of this in Glader’s article, “He [professor] compares online teaching to hosting a TV show rather than a classroom, which functions more like a play..“,  or this misconception as reported in Inside Higher Ed’s article on the 7 concerns of MOOCs,".  [snip]

See below for the chart I put together which attempts to clarify the differences between MOOCs, Online Course and traditional f2f courses for college credit.

I hope this sheds a small bit of light what MOOC’s are and are not.  More to unfold over the next few weeks and months, stay tuned.


Source and Fulltext Available At 


1 comment:

  1. FYI, George Siemens coined the word "connectivism," not Stephen Downes.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.