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.

Autonomy, assessment and guiding forces

Lisa Lane has written a blog post  – The Guiding  Force –  that has captured my interest. In her post, she asks us to identify  our ‘guiding forces’ in planning our work as teachers – or as she calls them – instructors.  (As an aside, I find the use of language here an interesting cultural (?) difference – I assume it is a cultural difference – because I interpret ‘instruct ‘differently to ‘teach’).

For me my guiding forces (as they stand now – but this has not always been the case) are informed by my involvement with MOOCs and connectivism. I cannot think of better guiding forces than autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness – the four principles of learning in Moocs  (described by Stephen Downes ) – with for me an emphasis on autonomy. If we understand what we mean by autonomy (which Carmen Tschofen and I have discussed as ‘psychological autonomy’ – autonomy as an expression of the self – in a paper we have had accepted by IRRODL – but not yet published), then diversity, openness and connectedness all fall into place.

I think assessment would also fall into place – because it would mean that the control of assessment would be in the hands of the autonomous learners – but as yet I can’t see clearly how this would work – other than it would need to be negotiated. So, if autonomy is the ‘guiding force’  and part of that autonomy is that students want their efforts to be validated and accredited – then students will need to have much more control over their assessment. But where does this leave ‘the expert’ and will students have the skills to take control of their assessment?

I think Lisa’s question about guiding principles, highlights the changing role of the ‘teacher’, ‘educator’ ‘instructor’ in relation to their students. Lots to think about in this – thanks Lisa 🙂