The philosophy of MOOCs

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

Osvaldo Rodriguez blog

George Siemens’ Elearnspace blog

Stephen Downes’ Half and Hour site

John Mak’s Blog

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?

66 thoughts on “The philosophy of MOOCs

  1. suifaijohnmak March 11, 2012 / 9:52 pm

    Hi Jenny,
    Totally agreed with you. How to keep the original MOOC philosophy intact and distinct from the many variations of MOOCs? I will address that in coming posts.

  2. Glenyan March 11, 2012 / 11:12 pm

    This topic always seems to come back, maybe because it’s interesting enough. For me, the subject matter of any given MOOC will play a (the?) defining role of what type of MOOC it is. So, I think an answer to your question can be found in your fragment “anyone working in education”. As I see it, the original MOOCs that held this defined philosophy were intended specifically for educators trying deal with change, innovate, keep up to date, etc.

    As I try to develop a MOOC for language learning, I strongly hesitate to even call it a MOOC. Especially since issues of credit pop-up every now and then.

  3. fred6368 March 12, 2012 / 8:52 am

    Hi Jenny, thoughtful post. I dont buy the MOOC model, as often with new ideas I think they work best as heuristics (as can be seen from your writing) than as fully formed ideas. The CCK crowd seem to be straining to prove a half-formed idea (which are the best) as something complete. I am happy with OO (ah!) but think the MCs have it wrong. Massive Courses? Oxymoron?
    I agree with you that we have to address, autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity each of which put black holes into Massive. I think the concept of massive reflects a technological / North American / business obsession with scale. Just think how cheap education can be once we learn how to scale! MOOC is a meme, an aide-memoire that says look at this, which is good enough.
    My personal experience with both WikiQuals (which currently has 9 people in it) and Ambient Learning City (and other groups) is that optimal numbers are around a dozen. And I am coming to understand that learning and co-operation are issues of organised complexity which respond best neither to leaders (and CCK & MOOCS have leaders) or probabilistic tendencies, but have to find their right level. As you mention in the stats 25 people completed the “course” which sounds about the right level. So the MOOC is a f/Flag on a hill which we take can account of as a crucible for new ideas / processes / (knowledge?) but not as a complete solution.
    Lots of good related ideas on co-operation and groups in Sennnett’s new book Together, especially the sections on dialogics rather than dialectics and empathy rather than sympathy; neither dialogic processes nor empathy scale.
    In WIkiQuals we are talking about the necessity of Affinity Partners in collaborative learning processes

  4. catherinecronin March 12, 2012 / 9:21 am

    Thanks, Jenny, for this thought-provoking post. The waters have become muddier lately, as the recent NY Times article ( illustrates — with Udacity and Stanford/Coursera cited as examples of MOOCs. The problem, as Fred highlights, is the M and the C… there is no reason *not* to call Udacity/Stanford/MITx courses MOOCS, as they are all of those things: massive, open, online courses.

    I agree with your point that these examples do not embody the original MOOC philosophy. However, “connectivism” was not explicitly included in the original acronym, so “MOOC” can be applied, rather loosely now, to a wide range of online courses. I spent a little while this earlier morning reviewing tweets from #edgex2012 — where both George Siemens and Stephen Downes presented earlier today. One of the tweets resonates particularly now!

    RT @gsiemens: @Downes “we need to rediscover the connective aspect of MOOCs” #edgex2012

    I look forward to finding out more about your upcoming MOOC on Learning and Teaching in HE. I think that, despite its shortcomings, the MOOC model has been useful in disrupting conventional models — of HE particularly — and an important step in re-imagining the future of education. And Fred, thanks for the tip on Sennett’s book — I will check it out.

  5. gbl55 March 12, 2012 / 10:36 am

    Jenny – yes much soul-searching re ‘What is a MOOC?’ – many different conceptions and their descriptions are often prone to misinterpretation! Online learning events (meaning any event with learning objectives of any sort) have surely a broad spectrum of possible recipes that are only beginning to be sampled along with connectivist MOOCs and the Stanford model. Autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity come in many different guises, are not ‘all or nothing’ properties and to some extent can be combined with other ingredients. I suspect that definition of the particular forms taken by MOOCs to date have been shaped more by the leadership skills of the various ‘MOOC Cooks’ rather than strict adherence to any particular recipe – not a bad thing but plenty scope for further experimentation and independent research.
    Gordon Lockhart

  6. fred6368 March 12, 2012 / 12:55 pm

    Thanks Catherine, I’ve also left critical comments on the slides for #edgex2012 too! They talk about predictions for disruptive (as if!) education which sound suspiciously like early entrants into the hype-cycle. I’m beginning to think that this debate might be gendered. Are the MOOC mavens a new form of patriarchal leadership? Is scale a male pre-occupation?
    It was you and Ilene Alexander who suggested the terminological move away from the metaphor of journeyman and into the empathetic support of affinity.
    I also got the tip on *organized complexity* from the final chapter of Jane Jacobs Life & Death of Cities book! Here we all are niched-up in Jenny’s nook expressing our “autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity”

  7. brainysmurf March 12, 2012 / 1:04 pm

    Wow, I am having a big ‘aha’ moment reading these comments. Since my first active participation in a mooc was a mooc *about* connectivism, I seem to have assumed that all moocs deploy a connectivist approach. Apparently, that’s not the case. So we have connectivist moocs as well as moocs of other flavours. Enlightening!

  8. Ken Anderson March 12, 2012 / 1:39 pm

    Interesting that within a short time span we are already pitting ‘traditional’ against ‘contemporary’ MOOCs.

    Apropo of perhaps nothing, I am taken by this (paraphrased) line from the movie Contagion (2011) which I watched yesterday:

    “Blogging is not writing. It’s just graffitti with punctuation”

    I wonder if there is a catchy sentence/phrase in this style that would capture the essence of MOOCs?

  9. catherinecronin March 12, 2012 / 2:11 pm

    … and for that we thank you, Jenny! 🙂 I’m enjoying reading the comments here, and your interesting questions, Fred. Of course MOOCs can enable non-hierarchical communication, sharing, and learning, and some were set up with precisely these goals in mind. But as developments in this space progress (rapidly, at the moment), we must be mindful of which voices and perspectives are heard, and valued. I’m also for keeping the focus on autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity — fostering, enabling and supporting these in what we do is so important.

  10. fred6368 March 12, 2012 / 2:25 pm

    Thanks to Jenny too when she catches up 🙂

  11. Glenyan March 12, 2012 / 2:27 pm

    That’s quite the loaded definition of the word ‘writing’ in you’re quote Ken. I honestly don’t know how to read the tone of your comment, but here’s my attempt at a catchy slogan:

    MOOCing isn’t Education; it’s just learning without the restrictions.

    This is a bit tongue & cheek, and I’m actually prone to more restriction than MOOCs tend to offer (traditionally, that is), so it’s not necessarily a slogan beaming with blind positivity…but it’s a start.

  12. gbl55 March 12, 2012 / 3:02 pm

    Rightly or wrongly ‘MOOC’ seems to be on the way to becoming a generic term – I’ve certainly seen massive online courses with debatable connectivist credentials referred to as such. Referring to the CCK series as ‘connectivist MOOCs’ is one way of avoiding ambiguity – maybe there are others?

  13. fred6368 March 12, 2012 / 3:31 pm

    MOOC maybe a meme like LOLCATS but that doesnt mean we accept all the metaphors it is accreting to itself, intentionally or otherwise.
    I notice in his disruptive edgex2012 talk @georgesiemens is just appropriating Schumpeters use of disruptive innovation, which derives from a mid-twebtieth century debate about capitalism renewing itself. Such a definition of innovation Isn’t appropriate for learning even if you might try and apply it to the education system. I have used the term “generative innovations” to indicate the kind of innovation model that might work for education. Ironically MOOCs might prove to be generative even though Siemens calls it disruptive.

  14. jennymackness March 13, 2012 / 7:39 am

    Hi Everyone – many thanks for all your comments. Apologies for being slow to respond. I was in a full day F2F meeting yesterday 🙂 Here are just a few thoughts in response…

    John – thanks for your visit. Looking forward to reading your blog posts.

    Fred – you have made lots of interesting comments. I’m intrigued that you say the optimal number for an online course is 12 (have I understood that correctly?). So what is happening in the Stanford type courses? And would a woman ever establish a similar course? I think as Glen says, it might be more to do with the subject. Would a humanities subject MOOC work if run along the Stanford model lines?

    Catherine – nice to meet you 🙂 ‘Connectivist MOOC’ (which Gordon also mentions) might work better as a way of defining what we mean by the CCK08 type of MOOc. Do you think enough people know what is meant by connectivism?

    Gordon – I agree that autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity come in many guises. Carmen Tschofen and I tried to unpick this a bit in the paper we had published in IRRODL – They are not easy ideas to understand, never mind use as principles for a course.

    Ken – that’s an interesting idea, i.e. that we are already talking in terms of traditional and contemporary MOOCs. Not sure about your ‘blogging is graffitti’ line though 🙂

    And I agree with Brainysmurf about the difficulties with definitions (thanks for the link to the interesting blog post, brainysmurf)

    Glen – I’m not sure that a MOOC is learning without restrictions. Roy Williams, John Mak and I discussed this a bit in our Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC paper – – where we suggested some constraints might be needed to prevent the whole thing descending into chaos. And as you say, assessment or ‘for credit’ issues tend to put constraints on what you can do.

    Finally, thanks Fred for references to the two books, to Catherine for the link to the NY Times article and the Brainysmurf for the link to the blog post. I will try and catch up with the edgex2012 conference today and think further about whether MOOCs are generative rather than disruptive.

    Still lots to think about here – so many thanks 🙂


  15. fred6368 March 13, 2012 / 8:02 am

    Jenny, as you know my interest is in learning as an emergent phenomenon and, derived from the theoretical framework of the Emergent Learning Model, I’ve set up Ambient Learning City and WikiQuals as framing devices to see how emergence might shape groups of self-organised learner’s. They are deliberate devices to allow *new* problem states to be framed and from which we might learn about self-organised learning processes. We’ve learnt from Ambient Learning City that we need new metaphors if we are not in the classroom, we developed Digital Cabinets of Curiosity as ways of developing “object-centred sociality” allowing participative curatorial processes to emerge and I think we’ve captured that process in Aggregate then Curate as part of MOSI-ALONG.
    Courses aren’t emergent they are predictive and MOOCs are asking interesting questions about networked learning but also seem to be promoting an ideology about new forms of scale and might be disruptive, although Siemens uses this term far too loosely, but are not transformative unless they also allow for learner appropriation. MOOCs do offer some opportunities for appropriation and if Downes and Siemens can learn from the way in which they are they can evolve. Downes current pres at Edge2012 is refreshingly sceptical about what they have learnt so he is clearly in a reflective place. Siemens feels too didactic to me.
    So 12 is the magic number in courses? No, rather it seems to be the upper number in affinity-based learning groups. Learning how to build futures for ourselves.

  16. jennymackness March 14, 2012 / 7:23 am

    Hi Fred – thanks for sharing the information about the work you are doing – also for more interesting comments…

    ‘Courses aren’t emergent they are predictive’

    I’m not sure about this. Doesn’t it depend on how adaptive the course is and whether it changes according to learner experiences.

    ‘and might be disruptive, although Siemens uses this term far too loosely, but are not transformative unless they also allow for learner appropriation’

    So are you saying that they don’t allow for learner appropriation and if so in what sense?


  17. fred6368 March 14, 2012 / 8:32 am

    I think you have to design for appropriation, and then reflect on what pattern that appropriation reveals. Of courseAll courses can be appropriated by learners whatever the intention of the “teacher”
    I don’t think we yet know how “design for appropriation” so we need to create problem states within new learning opportunities from which we can learn.

    When we were developing the learning resource tools for as part of the Metadata for Community Content project (2002) we defined non-formal learning as “structured learning opportunities without formal learning outcomes” separating out the processes on the teaching and learning side of the process into both push (opportunities) AND pull (appropriation) an idea of *obliquity* (see John McKay for more). The Emergent Learning Model (ELM) says start with the informalities of the social processes of learning NOT with the definitions of course structures.

    With the two ELM projects we have seen an evolution of the activities they have enabled, and our role as experienced educationalists, or (Certified) “Learning Technologists”, is to learn from the emergence so engendered. In Ambient Learning City we learnt about a process we’ve now termed Aggregate then Curate, best adopted by the Old Age Pensioner ladies in the Salford History Group, and in WikiQuals how a “Community of Sqolars” needs Affinity Partners who are empathetic with the self-identified learning projects being created.
    It’s about designing for the unintended consequences to happen when learning is enabled and learners are trusted.

  18. Ken Anderson March 15, 2012 / 12:34 am

    Hi Jenny. Maybe blog writng is graffitti for the digital age? Throw in a couple of lolcats, a concept map and away we go?

    But seriously (ha!) the contemporary vs. traditional MOOC comparison might be insightful. Perhaps the C-MOOCs (connectivist-MOOCs) are in fact fading from the scene as newer and more popular versions of distance learning through digital appliances emerge. Stephen Downes mentioned this on Tony Bates’ blog:

    – in its fourth iteration, the CCK course is played out, at least for now. And in its 26th week, the Change11 course is running on fumes. So there are expiry dates. But my newsletter, which incorporates many of the same elements, is more than 10 years old. So there are forms that can have continued life. Not that that’s good or bad, just an observation.

    Retrieved from:

  19. Roy March 15, 2012 / 12:39 pm


    Not sure that hegemony is what this should all be about: (see ) although there is an undercurrent of hegemony flavouring all these discussions. Pity.

    Perhaps we could make some useful distinctions along the following kinds of (functional, rather than terminological) lines:

    a MOO Course
    Quite narrowly focused, if not prescriptive (in outcomes at least), with distinct possibilties for feeding into traditional assessment.
    Numbers: large, good throughput.
    Facilitated: Lightly – more structured than facilitated.

    a MOO Network
    Broad, open, fuzzy, emergent. Judge it by your own (individual or collective) criteria.
    Numbers: variable. Throughput not an issue.
    Facilitated: no, aggregated.

    JAMs (see Knowledge in the Public Interest)
    Short, sharp, focused online workshop (or OOW?) over a few revolutions of the planet. (72 hours works well). Like a long-weekend jazz session.
    Numbers: 60-150 active.
    Facilitated (in rotas).

    Hotseats (see Networked Learning Conferences)
    Structured hang-outs.
    Numbers: 15-100: at least 20 active.

    Affinity-based Learning Groups (Fred, above)
    Aggregate then Curate
    Numbers: 5-15

    Hybrids: to taste. (Labradoodles, etc)

  20. fred6368 March 15, 2012 / 12:51 pm

    Nice summary Roy, thanks!

  21. Karl Royle (@karlroyle) March 15, 2012 / 2:34 pm

    Channelling @grahambrownmartin a little.. are all these varieties of online educational engagement a bit like napster V the music industry….are they black swans? Taleb (20010) 🙂
    Education free at the point of delivery…it will never catch on will it? 🙂

  22. emapey March 20, 2012 / 12:45 am

    Connectivism is missing in MOOC!!!! Why not MOOCC, instead: Massive Open Online Connectvist Course? (thanks to Edgardo Altamirano)

  23. Ken Anderson March 20, 2012 / 4:08 am

    As much as I agree with Roy about hegemony = not-desirable, I think the point skirts the issue. IMHO, an issue remains regarding the focus on MOOCs and Connectivism. Again, IMHO, theorizing about connectivism is irrelevant – what is relevant is what people are doing, and on this point Roy is ascendant – people are creating different models for digital learning/instruction.

  24. fred6368 March 20, 2012 / 8:08 am

    Hmm, so
    I am here and I am connectivist
    You are there and you are rhizomatic?

    One for the MOOCCs v the Emergents?

  25. jennymackness March 20, 2012 / 9:43 am

    Hi Roy, Karl, Fred, Eduardo and Ken – thanks for your further comments. With regard to hegemony – yes it could be a distraction – but on the other hand, there is a very big difference between the CCK type of MOOC and the Stanford type of MOOC – and these differences bring with them philosophical considerations and possibly even ethical considerations.

    For example, it is possible to interpret the word ‘open’ in many different ways in relation to MOOCs. Simply ‘opening’ up your course to all, is not the same as expecting a ‘spirit of openness’ …. and so on.

    There is still lots to think about in relation to MOOCs 🙂


  26. Ken Anderson March 21, 2012 / 2:49 pm

    @fred6368 I’m not sure I understand fully.The concept/metaphor definitions/understandings throw me off a little. What I am suggesting is that adaptations are made within environments and with the tools (technology) found therein. (E)ducation is an adapter, attaching itself to environments as a virus might attach itself to a host, mutating for survival purposes (another metaphor – yikes!).

  27. brainysmurf March 22, 2012 / 6:53 pm

    I appreciate Jenny’s comment “Simply ‘opening’ up your course to all, is not the same as expecting a ‘spirit of openness’ To me, the first part of that statement (opening up the course) is what can make it ‘massive’. And I believe the second part, the spirit of openness is what makes it ‘open’, at least for me.

  28. Ken Anderson March 22, 2012 / 9:21 pm

    Who decides what a “spirit of openness” is or means?

  29. jennymackness March 23, 2012 / 4:19 pm

    Hi Ken – Carmen Tschofen and I explored this in the paper we published in IRRODL - (pages 136 and 137). In doing so we realised that there’s a lot more to ‘openness’ than simply ‘opening’ a course – but who decides? For me, it would be the individual.


  30. Ken Anderson March 23, 2012 / 5:59 pm

    Thanks Jenny. It appears that you and Carmen are arguing for an expanded consideration of the concept of ‘openness’ to include an individual, psychological, openness that you describe as going beyond the traditional connectivist concept of openness. It seems that your concept is focused on the individual’s reaction to an environment, perhaps one’s ability to function in an open manner in that environment (leaving aside how ‘functioning in an open manner’ might be measured or observed). Are you suggesting that an ‘open’ course may not necessarily be attempting to provide an environment in which an individual can be ‘open’?

  31. jennymackness March 25, 2012 / 7:53 am

    Hi Ken – you are right. We did not discuss how ‘functioning in an open manner’ might be measured or observed. Nor were we suggesting that

    >an ‘open’ course may not necessarily be attempting to provide an environment in which an individual can be ‘open’?

    We were looking at ‘openness’ from the perspective of the individual, rather that from that of the course provider and suggesting that from the individual perspective ‘openness’ can be interpreted differently to some of the ways it has been interpreted to date in open online courses.

    Thanks for the question 🙂


  32. Ken Anderson March 28, 2012 / 1:39 am

    I suppose it is valuable to look at ‘openness’ from the perspective of the individual and I applaud you for bringing that perspective to light.

    Certainly, I agree that the perspective offers different interpretations from those that have been forwarded thus far in the discussions that I have observed, and, as you have noted, largely have a one-way ‘openness’ characteristic.

    If I understand your argument correctly, you are positing a difference between a course being ‘open to’ all individuals (in the sense of the course not having structural barriers to participation), and an individual being ‘open to’ the experience of the course (in the sense of being psychogically accepting of and mindful within the course experience).

    I wonder what difference the latter perspective might make to the plans of those offering ‘open’ courses? While it might be nice to offer lurkers a rationale for their lurking behaviour, will that impact on course design in any way?

  33. Carmen Tschofen March 29, 2012 / 1:14 am


    Just catching up and a bit scattered in response, but here’s a stab:

    One recognition that Jenny and I had as we worked on our paper but only briefly referenced is that there has been an increasing conflation of connectivism (as a theory, idea, concept, whatever) and MOOCs (as an expression thereof). The cracks in this approach are now appearing as people create/name MOOCS with no regard to connectivist theory whatsoever.

    If we’re going to stick with the term MOOC, one diagram I use to explain the variety to myself is on my blog ( In an L-shaped diagram reflecting degrees of agreement and certainty, the farther to the lower left, the more ‘course-like” MOOCs may be, with all the attendant language about design and outcomes, and the farther to the upper right, the more I wonder if we should be talking about spaces or environments rather than courses, where design is emergent or chaotic or even nonexistent. Although I think “designing for emergence” was the intent of the original MOOCs, one question now might be if connective learning theory (connectivism) needs to be detached from the MOOC, and if it is, what happens or what are the alternatives. Is there any chance that the focus on MOOCs is actually detrimtental to further exploration of the idea? Stephen Downes has mentioned that he perceives insufficient connective activity and as MOOCs are more defined, especially in terms of courses, this may well be the case– but maybe it is also the case in “connectivist” MOOCs? Rather than thinking long and hard about how MOOCs in various guises and course design are related to connectivism or vice versa, I have been wondering more about the analogy of spaces (coffee shops and co-working space, maybe?) might be related to how connectivism works.

    @Ken One implication of the “openness in a mindful way” idea — acknowledging the spectrum of psychological openness, in addition to the previous openness definitions as behavior (“sharing”) or as “lack of barriers” — is that in this context there are no such thing as lurkers, only, perhaps, non-visible listeners, explorers, etc, (who don’t require “rationales”:-)) (I’m not sure if you use lurkers as a generically descriptive term, or as a more evaluative/judgmental one, so I don’t mean to point at you specifically here– just riffing on the idea.) This makes sense, I think, if one steps away from the vision of a collective working in agreement toward goals in a course (as in the diagram), and understand that human beings are rarely totally inert (reality television viewing notwithstanding), are always doing SOMETHING based on their understandings and environments and exposure to information and experience, just not, perhaps, what others want or expect, and therefore assessments about “lurking” are interpretations. In the absence of specific demands or expectations within a course, the very idea of “lurkers” makes me wonder if there are expectations of tacit social contracts or assumptions that are at work as mental placeholders for the more familiar and overt authoritarian approaches.


  34. fred6368 March 29, 2012 / 8:22 am

    This continues to be a fascinating and helpful debate, thanks to all.
    I spent 30 mins over breakfast crafting a response to Carmen and others which my iPad lost when I retrieved a link, will repost.
    We are starting an Open Academic Practice #OAPchat weekly tweet up at 10am today UK time (trial) If anyone invested please join (@karlroyle) in future we will develop a more sensible time. Let me know of any interest?

  35. fred6368 March 29, 2012 / 8:54 am

    I had written a 3 part response so I will reply one part at a time to minimise degradation 🙂
    I wonder what is meant by Open? I am reminded of a tenet we developed as part of the work of the Learner-Generated Contexts Research Group which went “From Access to Content to Context” In the end open learning is about developing context-responsive learning strategies, which allow the emergent properties of learning to manifest themselves. That is what we have been trying to enable with Ambient Learning City & WikiQuals. If you design for emergence the outcomes are unpredictable and, so, not a course; MOO!

  36. Ken Anderson March 29, 2012 / 2:33 pm

    @Carmen Actually, I was using ‘lurkers’ as a replacement term for your use of the term ‘legitimate peripheral participants’ (lpps) in your paper (p.137). In some ways, I think it might be a more appropriate term esp. when I consider your further point about expectations of tacit social contracts – my reading of Lave/Wenger on lpps is that lpps move from the periphery to the centre, over time, which in context suggests a contract of sorts. Your article seemed to suggest a rationale for lurking (lpps) based on the psychological openness idea. I don’t know whether a rationale (explanation) is needed or not, but my experiences suggest that some people do wish to provide or latch onto one.

    I think I am mostly non-judgemental of lurkers, except when an argument is put forth that central participants are the cause of lurking behaviour, and efforts are made to limit the centre. I have experienced this in cck courses (see CCK08 for example), although I don’t recall whether self-proclaimed lurkers were pushing this argument or whether the push came from elsewhere (would a lurker really engage in this type of fray? or would advocates step forth on behalf of lurkers?).

    @fred6368 Open is as Open does.

    When I pondered on your question, I thought of the movie Forrest Gump, and the protagonist’s statement, “Stupid is as Stupid does”. One implication of this statement is that actions determine definition/signing/etc. Exactly why this statement came to my mind, I don’t know, but it may be useful, and I wonder if a definition or interpretation of what is meant by the word Open can be found by examining the actions of those proclaiming it? So for you, Open means unpredictable outcomes, and emergent learning. For others, it may mean lack of barriers, universal access, or a psychologically welcoming environment.

    I also wonder if rather than MOOC, or MOO, we might benefit from the acronym MOOT, as in massive online open THING. MOOT as a word of itself, does seem to provide a tidy description of the phenomenon.

  37. Carmen Tschofen March 29, 2012 / 5:01 pm

    Hi Fred, Ken and all,

    The idea of the “course” was one which I called “most heavily laden in terms of expectations and assumptive mental models” in a post considering MOOCs from CCK08 (, and I think this is still the case.

    @Ken, I agree that Lave and Wenger’s lpp does contain a linear/directional expectation that suggests a social contract… Gotta wonder if there’s another term between the potential negativity of “lurkers” and the potential directiveness of lpp as a theory or process– people being people, maybe? To clarify my view of psychological openness, I would say it has less to do with the externality of a creating psychologically welcoming environment (which places responsibility on someone other than myself as a learner) and more to do with the inner state or disposition of a learner/person. I can be open to the experience of inhabiting an extremely rigid and judgmental learning environment, for example, if I think it is important to explore that particular experience and its potential benefits and difficulties. (Doesn’t mean I’m going to like it, though:-)) I agree that the whole acronym thing wanders into the territory of a (moot) semantic or semiotic exercise, but maybe it’s occasionally useful as a form of social object/scaffold around which we can throw out thoughts about The Thing. ( Still, can’t quite shake the feeling that the acronym in any form might have outlived its usefulness, at least in terms of embodying innovation.

    @Fred: For what it’s worth, a quick series of tweets on March 14 during EDGEX between Viplav Baxi and Dave Snowden caught my eye, in particular because while I, like Viplav did, intuitively question whether design (and courses) and emergence can really inhabit the same space, Dave Snowden responded that design and emergence could, noting a difference between engineering and design, and explaining “you can design something that will manage process, but can’t define outcome” and “boundary conditions, variable constraints, fast feedback loops …” are elements in such a framework. This may already be part of your work, but certainly there’s plenty to unpack there, particularly for a MOO?

    (I appear to be inhabiting a strange (connective?) world in which one cites tweets not addressed to oneself in comments on a blog not one’s own…:-)


  38. fred6368 March 29, 2012 / 5:48 pm

    Massive response Carmen, thanks!
    We are also interested in institutional boundaries and discussed this in Beyond a Boundary, looking at Habermas “cognitive schemas” Mike Sharples “semiotic layer which he characterises as the link between informal (mobile) mlearning & formal education (the mobile in the classroom) Rose Luckin’s “filters” in her ecology of resources model & something we call nPV Networked Public Value (later!) See Slide 9 on this;

    We think the boundaries between say informal/open & formal/courses say for a (hmm) filtered semiotic layer in which debates about control are acted out. In a sense MOOCs through an endless line across/beyond this boundary and trawls for interest beyond the institution, so they clearly challenge existing institutional boundaries.

    Carol Yeagar in a Webiner on Open Academic Practice this morning (that Jenny joined) discussed her MOOC CMC11 saying how much it informed her practice and helped her develop her PLN. So MOOCs seem to have value in impacting on academic practice within institutions which is good 🙂
    JISC in the UK have justed funded some projects examining Open Academic Practice and the webinar this morning was related to that. We are planning tol hold a weekly tweetup #OAPchat to track developments

  39. jennymackness March 30, 2012 / 9:40 am

    Hi Fred, Carmen and Ken – thanks for the ongoing discussion.

    Just to add a few points from my perspective and recent involvement in different projects.

    First – can you design for emergence? This is the subject of a paper I am writing with Roy Williams – which hopefully will get submitted within the next month (we have to finish and submit another one on synaesthesia and embodied learning by the end of today first!). With regard to the emergence paper we have spent more than a year expanding on the ideas we developed in our first emergent learning paper (Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from – Special Issue: Connectivism – Design and Delivery of Social Networked Learning ) which has been a fascinating process. We have certainly come to think more and more in terms of learning spaces as Carmen seems to have done. Don’t want to say any more about the paper yet – other than it has been fascinating to work on and will hopefully be submitted soon.

    Second – the question of the meaning of openness. As you know Carmen and I discussed this in our paper. The interesting thing for me now is how this relates to open academic practice. You may know that I am working with colleagues from Oxford Brookes University to develop a MOOC-type course for new lecturers in Higher Education – see – which is where we have started to develop this (the site is still a work in progress). In fact it is this work that sparked off this post – as I still struggle to understand what ‘course’ means in relation to MOOCs. One of the aims of the Oxford Brookes course (and it is a course) is to – Promote, develop and improve open academic practice within higher education – but for me this raises the question of what do we mean by open academic practice, how does it relate to open education resources, open research, open scholarship etc? Open seems suddenly to have become a very big word and it is hard to hold on to the ‘spirit of openness’ that I mentioned earlier and that Carmen alluded to in her comment about mindfulness.

    In relation to ‘lurking’, I agree with Carmen that in a connectivist MOOC there can be no such thing as a ’lurker’ – if autonomy is a basic principles of MOOCs, participants can choose how to engage – from the sidelines or from the centre or anywhere in between and not necessarily be on a trajectory from the edge to the centre. However, if a MOOC design is more ‘course-like’ with assessment and even accreditation, then ‘lurking’ might be an issue. Even in CCK08, those being assessed were (if I remember correctly) expected to post to their blogs, comment on other blogs, share their artefacts and take part in the discussion forums. They could not ‘lurk’ and ‘pass’ the course.

    Fred I look forward to following your work on open academic practice. The Oxford Brookes team is hoping to produce a paper on this later in the year.

    Thanks to you all,

  40. fred6368 March 30, 2012 / 10:22 am

    Jenny, thanks!
    Well yes you can design for emergence. It is what we have done in both Ambient Learning City and WikiQuals. What happens is that the processes and activities evolve as you do them; you need to be responsive AND “dialogical” You have to be receptive to those changes and the evolution of learning needs. Which is why, in part, we are talking about Affinity Partners as co-creators in the learning process on WikiQuals
    This doesn’t easily match to a course model, although it can; see this interview with me on brokering learning;
    An underlying issue with Course Design and with any academic in any context is that they have gained their status from their *subject* expertise and they arent very good at teaching and enabling learning. It is very hard to humble about your subject knowledge. It is even worse in developing new subject areas where a scrabble for the top of the hierarchy is inevitable. So I’m pretty sceptical about whether academics can design for emergence because it isnt already present in their practice
    In Ambient Learning City we started with a desire to work with the museum MOSI on developing participative curatorial strategies, using some of Nina Simon’s ideas from the Participatory Museum & the Emergent Learning Model;
    Despite the project brief (and the Tate had behaved the same way on earlier projects – and the Staatsgalerie in Frankfurt, cultural institutions are more hidebound than academic ones) the Museum defined community engagement as people from Moss Side (say) coming into the museum and they would curate their artefacts for them (see RunCoCo)
    We then, in good emergent practice, routed around the barriers and designed a project of building Museums in the Community using the “myMOSI” theme and we did this by promoting the idea of Digital Cabinets of Curiosity. Some films here.
    From that we developed the Aggregate then Curate model of #socialmedia participation, which wasnt even close to where we started; but was emergent.
    So I think emergence happens dialogically in practice

  41. Ken Anderson March 30, 2012 / 4:09 pm

    I wonder if ‘course’ means having a captive audience of learners whose autonomy reaches its limit at the point where assessment is required for recognition of learning?

    If this is the case, then, on the lurker issue, there are no lurkers in courses – they drop out or fail.

    In your paper ‘Connectivism and Dimensions of Individual Experience’ (CDIE) a Siemens quote (p.131) offers the opinion that lurkers (and legitimate peripheral participation) are not welcome, My conclusion is that MOOC courses must contain vestiges of behaviourist tendencies (as per p.139 of CDIE), as demonstrated by any efforts to eliminate lurking. MOOCs are primarily designed to scale learning as Fred noted above (March 13). If I understand learner appropriation correctly, I would suggest that CCK08 attempted to snuff that out, in many ways, somewhat akin to classroom management techniques (the latter understood as the desire to maintain order amongst unruly learners).

  42. fred6368 March 30, 2012 / 4:38 pm

    Ken, thanks, I’m learning a lot. Like the point that on a course you dont lurk!
    When we started Ambient Learning City and tried to move learning out of the constrained circumstances of the classroom into the “digitally enabled city” and, perhaps like the intentions of a MOOC, tried out new forms of learning organisation, hoping that the magical emergence would appear out of spontaneous self-organisation, well it didnt happen. Multi-context distributed learning is a immanently do-able but hard to realise in practice.
    It made me realise that there are a lot of hidden metaphors at work that enable learning to happen. We had to invent new ones, myMOSI, Digital Cabinet’s of Curiosity (which worked in a way) but a new metaphor has less traction than an old one like, say, a classroom, or even a VLE/PLE (hence the residual power of the dreaded instructional design). A class, a course, a qualification, a badge, is already understood, along with the compromises needed to get through it (no lurking!) and so is acted on by participants even when the limitations are known; learners are pretty sophisticated consumers. So new modes of learning have a (dead) weight of old metaphors to get past as well as new futures (and language) to invent.
    I’ve come to realise that the Emergent Learning Model I’ve been working on demonstrates a rhizomatic character and is about allowing non-linear dynamic behaviour to be encouraged and recognised. But in the end it only has meaning if learners gift a value to the new process in return. With WikiQuals, so far, the Sqolars are donating a value to our emerging processes.

  43. jennymackness April 1, 2012 / 9:11 am

    @Ken – I think one of the outcomes of CCK08 was a recognition that there were behaviourist tendencies in some of the design elements of that MOOC – hence, I think, the move to an even more distributed model with, for example, no Moodle discussion forums. However, the question we raised in the Ideals and Reality paper – – was whether some constraints are needed for effective engagement and learning in MOOCs.

  44. jennymackness April 1, 2012 / 9:13 am

    Hi Fred – I like this… ‘So new modes of learning have a (dead) weight of old metaphors to get past as well as new futures (and language) to invent.’ 🙂 Thanks!

  45. Ken Anderson April 1, 2012 / 3:48 pm

    Hi Fred, I’m learning a lot too. I find that online dialogue is a great place to experiment with ideas that arise from self-study, and the experimentation is about airing ideas out for feedback from other minds. That’s sounds like very interesting and valuable work that you are doing.

  46. Ken Anderson April 1, 2012 / 4:39 pm

    Hi Jenny. I guess this is one area where we have different perspectives. I interpret the CCK08 move to the blogs as a behaviourist-type act, designed to enforce, justify, and support, the philosophical curriculum of the course. The curriculum of connectivism is autonomy, distribution, openness, etc. and a centralized Moodle discussion forum was determined (by connectivists) to conflict with that curriculum. This conflict became especially undesirable when the forum was appropriated by some of the participants, and consequently a connectivist narrative was offered. This ‘Tyranny of Moodle’ narrative sought to justify the move to the blogs, partially on the basis of increased autonomy, but to my mind, it is merely a funny story. The Moodle forum was always autonomous, and one could partipate therein by posting, commenting, or lurking. The forum was also very entertaining at times.

  47. jennymackness April 2, 2012 / 8:52 pm

    Hi Ken –

    > I interpret the CCK08 move to the blogs as a behaviourist-type act

    Fascinating – that had never occurred to me – so yes – we do have different perspectives – but then there seem to be as many perspectives on CCK08 as there were active participants 🙂

    I do agree though that the Moodle forum was always autonomous. I was quite happy in my choice to ‘lurk’ 🙂

  48. Ken Anderson April 9, 2012 / 4:12 pm

    Hi Jenny.

    >but then there seem to be as many perspectives on CCK08 as there were active participants

    I think it would be an interesting exercise (if it hasn’t been done already) to examine these varying perspectives from a thematic basis to see if they are to be distilled into a smaller number of popular perspectives/ontologies. I had observed a dominant ‘professional educator’ perspective throughout CCK08, and had a small concern about that perspective controlling the dialogue without having its assumptions critiqued. In hindsight, it now appears to me that the perspective has produced the current phenomenon of the MOOC – bringing a particular form of education to the mass(iv)es. Perhaps scale has trumped the network, and knowledge is more about facts than connections, after all.

  49. jennymackness April 10, 2012 / 12:21 pm

    Hi Ken

    > I had observed a dominant ‘professional educator’ perspective throughout CCK08, and had a small concern about that perspective controlling the dialogue without having its assumptions critiqued. In hindsight, it now appears to me that the perspective has produced the current phenomenon of the MOOC – bringing a particular form of education to the mass(iv)es.

    This is a very interesting perspective that I hadn’t thought about – but the ‘connectivist MOOC’ phenomenon if we can call it that, hasn’t stopped the Stanford type of MOOC from emerging.

    What assumptions would you like to be critiqued?


  50. Ken Anderson April 10, 2012 / 4:29 pm

    >but the ‘connectivist MOOC’ phenomenon if we can call it that, hasn’t stopped the Stanford type of MOOC from emerging.

    Actually I was thinking that one of connectivism’s contributions is the Stanford-style MOOC. Connectivism might have been the butterfly, chaotically-speaking.

    One assumption I wonder about is:

    That professional educators can change big-E Education from within. I would like to see this critiqued.

  51. jennymackness April 11, 2012 / 4:02 pm

    Hi Ken – another interesting comment :-).

    For some time now I have been discussing Iain McGilchrist’s book – The Master and his Emissary – . The differences between ‘connectivist MOOCs’ and the ‘Stanford type MOOCs’ remind me of the differences between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Could the Stanford type MOOC be seen as another example of the dominance of the left hemisphere which is always seeking abstraction?? 🙂

    Are you going to critique the assumption that educators can change Education from within?

  52. Ken Anderson April 12, 2012 / 3:37 pm

    Hi Jenny

    No, I won’t be doing that critique. I don’t really have the time nor do I feel qualified at present to take it on. I just raise it as an interesting (to me) item.

    I am not sure about McGilchrist’s thinking. I think I understand the point about different perspectives of reality, but I would likely have to read his entire book to find the assumptions and/or flaws in his argument(s). Frankly, I tend to be a little sceptical of these types of ‘suggestions’ as he calls them. But I understand the appeal, and the willingness to acknowledge the expertise of certain ‘seers’. And I am certainly empathetic to intuition and rely on it daily.

    As far as the comparison that C-MOOCs are to the right brain as S-MOOCs are to the left, I don’t know. I thought that connectivism (both theory and practice) itself was filled with abstraction. I would love to hear more of your thinking on this…

  53. jennymackness April 13, 2012 / 6:48 pm

    Hi Ken – my thinking about McGilchrist’s ideas is very woolly at the moment. When I have something coherent to say – I’ll try and make a post. At the moment I’m at the stage of thinking that there are links between McGilchrist’s ideas, connectivism, learning, teaching and more, but I haven’t quite got a handle on it yet. Afraid I’m a very slow thinker and learner – so it could be while 🙂 Great to ‘talk’ to you. Thanks.

  54. VanessaVaile July 5, 2013 / 10:58 pm

    Reblogged this on MOOC Madness and commented:
    an OLDaily link reminded me to look in here – glad I did too…came for the post, stayed for the discussion

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