MOOC principles and course design

This post has been prompted by Robert Maxwell’s comment on my last blog post. Thanks to Robert 🙂

Your comment about the messy, chaotic nature of a MOOC is something I both love and fear as an educator. I would love to give my students a foundation of knowledge (the inclass portion) and then let them have freedom to explore the topics with the idea that they will take the foundations given and build a learning experience that satisfies the learning goals of the class.

I suspect that MOOC participants who are teachers interested in applying some of the ideas encountered in MOOCs all struggle with this. If they are like me they will be asking themselves questions like – What is my responsibility? Where does it begin and end? How do I resolve the tension between control and freedom to learn? Where do control and responsibility overlap? Does teaching intervention equate to control? At what point do my good intentions lead to poor learning experiences? And so on…

Most of us who run courses in traditional institutions still have to comply with the University/School regulations and associated constraints, particularly the constraints of assessment. This has been an ongoing issue for many who have participated in MOOCs.  There is also the problem of open. Many institutions simply will not ‘open up’ their courses or learning environments to ‘outsiders’ and this then means that the ‘massive’ element of MOOCs is immediately compromised. Only the ‘online’ and ‘course’ parts remain.

However, all is not lost. Recently, I have increasingly been thinking that it is not the MOOC itself that it is the important change; it is what MOOCs say about the associated learning principles, autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness. These principles can be applied in a greater or lesser degree to any course, however small or closed. Autonomy can be encouraged on a whole range of levels, diversity can apply to resources if not to people, openness can apply to open sharing if ‘open to the world’ is not possible and connectedness can apply even in small environments because everyone has access to the web.

Last year I had a go at writing an online course applying the principles as best I could within the constraints in which I was working. I took those four principles and worked out how far I could push the boundaries. I used many of the ideas that have been tried and tested by Stephen and George, but on a much smaller scale. It helped me to think of the principles as being on a continuum from a small traditional closed online course to a massive open online course. So for example at one end of the continuum there is no or very little autonomy and at the other end there is complete autonomy (if we know what that means, which is debatable). If we place our courses on this continuum for each of the principles of learning in MOOCs, and also possibly for how ‘massive’ the course is, we can then see how close or far our course is from the MOOC ideals.

So the course I designed would look something like this:


(Click on the image to see it more clearly – although even then its not brilliantly clear :-))

This diagram is not intended to be precise – just an indication of how the principles are likely to be experienced in the course.

Maybe fearing and loving MOOCs is also on a continuum.  At what point on a continuum would we place ourselves and why?

PS – Sorry about the image. If anyone can tell me how to post a PPT slide into WordPress so that it comes out clear, I would be very grateful. 🙂