Day 2 of MOOC MOOC was very enjoyable. We were given our first formal activity, which involved creating a 1000 word collaborative essay, addressing the following questions:

  • What is a MOOC?
  • What does it do, and what does it not do?

Based on my reading and my familiarity with using Google Docs, I jumped straight in and began to respond. One or two others did likewise. Eventually, we reached a collaborative impasse, realising we needed to do some more reading and take some time to reflect. In particular, I needed to understand better the difference between the two different types of MOOC that were being discussed: cMOOCs (Connectivist – developed by the likes of Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Dave Cormier) and xMOOCs (the Coursera/Udacity model – currently being lauded and vilified, depending on which end of the Media spectrum you choose to read).


As one of the early developers of cMOOCs, George Siemens writes: “Our MOOC model emphasizes creation, creativity, autonomy, and social networked learning. The Coursera model emphasizes a more traditional learning approach through video presentations and short quizzes and testing. Put another way, cMOOCs focus on knowledge creation and generation whereas xMOOCs focus on knowledge duplication.” Marc Bousquet, sums this up more concisely, writing about cMOOCs that: “Good MOOC’s…foreground and sustain the social dimension of learning and active practices, i.e., knowledge production rather than knowledge consumption.”

What we have then in MOOCs is little more than a continuation of the age-old debate between progressive, student-centred learning and traditional transmission-based teaching/learning that has dominated education for a long time. When taking this dichotomy at face value, there is little that is surprising. In that, the institutional model (xMOOCs) is essentially an extension of the pedagogical models practiced within the institutions themselves, while the more progressive model (cMOOCs) built by a ‘connected’ group of ‘individuals’ is relatively free from institutional constraints.

Does this mean that within institutions such as Stanford and MIT no social, creative, networked learning occurs? Certainly not, but like in many educational establishments I would suggest that such models of learning are the exception rather than the norm. Why is this? In my experience, it is not one facet but a combination of factors that result in such situations. Infrastructure, finance, time and leadership all impact on educational practice within educational institutions. I have no doubt that, in the eyes of institutional leaders, xMOOCs represent an opportunity to increase marketing and revenue. When Watters asserts that “the pedagogy – watch videos, take multiple choice quizzes – is an indication that these courses are retreading old practices rather than really rethinking how the technology can transform how we teach/learn”, she is not only right, but also raises the question: why? Is this simply a case of educational practitioners ‘not getting it’? Or is it a case of professors and teachers being asked to produce content for something they have not had time to come to terms with? I am not making excuses, as I sit significantly far to the cMOOC end of the spectrum when it comes to my own pedagogical classroom-practice. However, working within an educational establishment myself, I have witnessed a number of potentially progressive projects and initiatives be delivered very poorly. Why? Usually, because the leadership wants to jump on a bandwagon and little to no time is afforded for professional development or research to develop understanding of the potential pedagogical benefits, let alone best practices.

MOOCs are not about broadcasting education although that is what many xMOOCs appear to be doing. cMOOCs on the other hand have huge potential to be both a disruptive and progressive force within education. They can:

  • Develop and fostering connected, collaborative learning beyond traditional classroom settings
  • Provide learning that does not fit neatly into the curriculum
  • Connect groups of like-minded individuals who share interests
  • Provide a platform for the development of learner independence and resilience

Having developed a better understanding of the cMOOC and xMOOC paradigms, I returned to the Google Doc which had taken further shape. I enjoyed helping to edit and refine it and feel that I was able to make a better contribution having taken some time to step back, allowing my thinking to evolve.

You can read the finished essay here: A Mooc by Any Other Name (4)

Final Thought

In the video interview above, George Siemens expresses that MOOCs are about learners embracing chaos, making sense of it themselves, rather than someone doing it for them. The collaborative essay was a perfect example of this, we began with chaos but through initiative, reflection and connection we were able to make sense of the chaos and produce a piece of succinct writing. Is it the case then, that the online aspect of MOOCs is what is most important? Owing to the fact that, through the use of web-based tools (Google Docs, Canvas, Twitter) we were able to form connections and collaborate effectively.