How does a MOOC demonstrate it’s value?

This week I am working online on the Academic BEtreat run by Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner. Whilst the discussion has been centred around Etienne’s 1988 book and their more recent value creation framework (written with Maarten de Laat), a couple of us in the BEtreat, are interested in MOOCs and how these learning environments relate to communities of practice. As a result I have been asked the following questions in relation to the question in the title. This is a copy of the questions and my responses.

MOOCs: Where is the income generated to run one?
It has never been the intention of MOOCs (at least the original connectivist MOOCs) to generate income. Having said that, some MOOCs charge for accreditation. Oxford Brookes intends to do that next year. We’ll have to see if it works. Other MOOCs get sponsorship. See for example the forthcoming FHE12 MOOC

MOOCs: How do you run a MOOC and generate enough revenue to stay independent?
This is an important question as of course funding and sponsorship brings with it constraints, which might affect the pedagogical aims of the MOOC. There has been talk recently on the web about the business model for MOOCs. My view is:

MOOCs were never intended – originally – to generate income. They had altruistic and experimental aims – but of course, we all have to make a living, so MOOCs could never be your only business. I think we need to think in terms of spin-offs of MOOCs and possibly trade-offs. I have written a blog post about my initial thoughts following FSLT12 here –

Scaffolding Learning in MOOCs: How do you scaffold a course in ways that both excites the people who thrive in a non-prescriptive environment and in ways that scaffold the learning enough for people who need a lot more structure?

The original design of MOOCs never intended to scaffold learning. In fact they were never intended be a ‘traditional’ course. The intention was that people would experience uncertainty, unpredictability and information load, as this is what we will need to work with in the world, with the way things are going. Of course we can opt out – just as many people got out of ‘the fast lane’ in the 60s and went off to live in communes – but if we want to try and keep up with the pace of change, then we have to get used to uncertainty. In MOOCs learners are expected to make their own connections and seek peer support through those connections.

But some MOOC deliverers have gone down the SMOOC route (small open online courses), where they do try to provide support within an open course. Lisa Lane (Pedagogy First) and Alec Couros (EC&I 831) both do this through asking for volunteer mentors to work in their MOOCs. However Dave Cormier has just written a blog post that says that the ‘massive’ is needed for a true experience of the original intentions of MOOC.

MOOCs are not for everyone. If a learner wants scaffolded learning – then a MOOC is probably not for them. Despite the hype, I don’t believe that MOOCs are going to replace traditional forms of learning – but I do think they are very important for experimenting with alternative ways of thinking about learning in the 21st century and that they offer the potential of bringing education and learning to people who might otherwise have no access to it.

15 thoughts on “How does a MOOC demonstrate it’s value?

  1. Scott Johnson August 5, 2012 / 4:18 am

    There seems to be recurring themes in questioning MOOCs that seem phony or misdirected. Can they support themselves and do they accommodate all learning styles. Why do we hold MOOCs to standards of public utility that no other educational project is held to?

    The prime questions should be do MOOCs serve some educational purpose and do we value as many approaches to education as we can jamb into a 24 hour day?

  2. jennymackness August 6, 2012 / 7:12 am

    Hi Scott – thanks for your comment and interesting questions.

    For the most part I agree that much of the questioning around MOOCs seems misdirected or uninformed – but institutions that want to go down the MOOC route are struggling with working out how to value the time spent on MOOCs if they do not generate a direct income. It’ll be interesting to see how things pan out :-

  3. Scott Johnson August 7, 2012 / 5:40 am

    Hi Jenny,
    Understand that institutions need to generate income from their offerings. My job is all about building courses that can be sold or traded with other institutions for student funding credits or partnering in program delivery. At times I get frustrated who directs the structure, content and expected outcomes. In the background though is the knowledge that our department represents an inflow of funds to a struggling college and this ultimately pays out to the students in access to all programs.

    Also understand that each institution must and will alter the MOOC model to suit it’s community and the peculiarities of its identity in a world of educational institutions. What bothers me I guess is the current critique of MOOCs as they function as open spaces. If a model doesn’t meet a standard then study it, adapt it, take what works for you and get on with it. Pecking at details like MOOCS not being this or that is petty and a sad waste on creative and critical energy.

    And of course there’s my bias towards the Connectivist MOOC serving my needs. There are very few things in this world as the MOOC version of educating myself and excuse me if I think the critics can either offer informed critiques or go off and build their own tree fort to play in.

    Thanks for your postings on the BEtreat.

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