There are currently lots of blog posts around, asking yet again ‘What is a MOOC?’ and about the different types of MOOCs – see for example
MOOCs are even being discussed on a German blog which I could only access through a translation. Unfortunately since I do not speak German, I was not able to participate in the discussion in the comments.
All these discussions are very relevant to my current situation in which I am working with George Roberts and Marion Waite of Oxford Brookes University to plan a new MOOC for May/June – First Steps into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.
The first question in my recent post about planning MOOCs – was ‘What is a MOOC’? and there was another question for planning a MOOC (Slide 7) about deciding on ‘What kind of MOOC”? They sound such simple questions, but the discussions on the web have shown that they are not easy to answer.
I am clear in my own mind what a MOOC is for me – but I also know that others interpret it differently. I tend to agree with Matthias Melcher that the original idea of MOOC is becoming watered down and now MOOCs seem to be all things to all people. Even those who have never participated in a MOOC feel qualified to comment (just as those who have never qualified as teachers feel qualified to comment on how to teach). Stephen Downes has ‘shrugged’ his shoulders and said this is inevitable.
For me a MOOC is what CCK08 offered and succeeding MOOCs designed on similar principles offer. Yes it was a massive, open, online course – but it was also more than that. It offered a new and explicit perspective on learning in the 21st century. The other day I found myself saying a MOOC is one thing but the Stanford AI course is just a massive open online course. Wow – how bizarre does that sound, but maybe people who recognize the CCK08 philosophy understand what I mean.
For me a MOOC is not simply a massive, open, online, course – it is based on the explicit principles of connectivism – the principles of autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity – which we have shown through research are not easy principles to aspire to or achieve. It is also based on the activities of aggregation, remixing, repurposing and feeding forward the resources and learning that are part of the MOOC experience. A MOOC design, in the terms that I am describing it, also takes a specific stance on the relationship between teacher and learner – a stance in which the word ‘teacher’ might be considered redundant.
In a way it’s a shame that the term ‘MOOC’ was coined. On the one hand it is good that it is a term that has attracted a lot of attention (both negative and positive), which at least means that educators are beginning to think about the extent to which traditional approaches to teaching and learning might need to change. On the other hand, all the MOOC variations that are being spawned may have resulted in a blurring of the original intention and meaning. That’s not to say that other open online courses, even other massive open online courses don’t have value. If the success (in terms of numbers attending and completing the course) of the Stanford AI course is anything to go by then they obviously do. But the original MOOC had a clear well defined philosophy, which was a break from traditional ways of working and was designed to address the issues that anyone working in education has to deal with in relation to the global changes in connectivity, information sharing and knowledge creation that we are seeing in current times. I hope the principles on which CCK08 was founded will not get lost in this variation.
What new term could we come up with which would keep the original MOOC philosophy intact and distinct from the many variations of MOOCs that are now being created, if indeed it is important to do this?