Blog Post

Can MOOCs Learn From MMOGs?

Back in 2004-05, while I was writing The Information Commons Handbook (ALA / Neal-Schuman, 2006), I became keenly interested in the potential for Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) to be morphed into web-based learning environments by enterprising and creative faculty in collaboration with librarians. I was especially struck by a) the extraordinary size and scope of the typical MMOG player base, and b) the remarkable degree of user engagement and persistence. I called attention to these factors in my book, because I saw the new academic library framework of the Information Commons and Learning Commons as possible platforms for MMOG learning-model development by faculty and MMOG learning-model engagement by students. These possibilities seemed to me exciting, and potentially transformative.

Since 2006, of course, we've all seen the development of MOOCs. We've heard the hype about them as the "future of higher education," often by commentators who seem a bit giddy by their sheer MMOG-like initial enrollment numbers. But while rigorous MOOC outcomes assessment has been underwhelming, the assessments I've seen indicate levels of student engagement and persistence that are anything but MMOG-like. Some claim this doesn't matter. I disagree. I think it may be time for MOOC enthusiasts to to take a fresh look at the idea of morphing the MMOG into a model for web-based learning.

What I did not anticipate in my 2006 book was that any faculty, let alone "star" faculty at prestige institutions, would be content to initiate a web-based learning model that would essentially do little more than port-over the creaky old  concept of sage on the stage. Yes, a MOOC may now be a virtual sage on a digital stage, but in terms of underlying learning-model dynamics, the parameters of that physical-to-virtual shift remain essentially trivial, not transformative.

True, some more enterprising faculty are now trying some new interactive MOOC add-ons and apps to boost student interactivity, and presumably, thereby boost engagement and persistence. Perhaps we will eventually see the development of something like a MOOC / MMOG hybrid, in a framework that blends modalities of the star professor's sage persona reframed within the more engaging interactivity of an online learning game with its players guided on the side. At the very least, I hope someone tries.

---Donald Beagle < >

LinkedIn profile: < >





Donald, I agree with your view of the potential in MMOG type MOOCs. I have yet to do a MOOC, so cannot comment on your appraisal, but one thing to keep in mind is that MOOCs are in the very early stages. The MOOCs today - as you suggest -may resemble the first (now almost laughable) attempts at early film-making. This is a note of comparison I have come across in my reading about MOOCs. I think the future you envision here may very likely come to fruition. Give it time!


Hi, Kevin, Thanks for the comment, and I especially like your metaphor of today's MOOC being at a very early stage of a developmental curve roughly parallel to early films. So your comment leads me to reflect on some things that might be done -- and not done -- to encourage that progress. Some things that should not be done, in my opinion, would be:

1) to become so giddy over huge initial enrollment numbers that we come to regard the MOOC as the "golden child of the future" somehow above such mundane concerns as outcomes assessment. Fortunately, I think some of that early patina of media hype has now sufficiently worn off that MOOC outcomes assessment has indeed begun to show up on academic radar screens.

2) to become so entranced with the technology that we fail to ask the tough but vital question about how (or whether) the MOOC can somehow engage the exciting and creative ferment in new pedagogical styles we often group under  the general heading of "constructivism"-- integrative learning, group-process learning, project-based learning, etc. That's the real source of my complaint about simply "porting over" sage-on-the-stage from a physical to a virtual domain, and why I remain intrigued with the persistence and engagement evidenced by participants in MMOGs.

This very interaction-- my posting of a blog, your taking the time and effort to post an insightful comment in reply, and my taking the time to give it the attention it deserves, is made feasible (and hopefully as interesting for you as it is for me) because we are in a dialogue. But if I were "teaching" a MOOC, and you were one of my 58,000 enrolled students, and I had about 6 nanoseconds per term to "engage" with you like every other student, I worry that this sort of interaction could not happen.

It leaves me reflecting on where and how I began the original post: remembering that, in writing the IC Handbook in those pre-MOOC days of 2005-06, what truly excited me was the potential of web-scale learning. So I thank you also for inspiring what I think will be the title of my next post in this series: "Web-Scale Learning: Probably MOOCs, but Potentially So Much More."




Hi Donald,

Thanks for the wonderful reply. Yes, certainly you are true about the masses of students in MOOCs, and the impossibility of real feedback. I read a wonderful article in a recent Scientific American about Edx by the Dean of M.I.T. and one point he made is that the MOOCs, as run by MIT and Harvard will generate a lot of research data. This data, in turn, will help find the strengths of MOOCs. He very much sees MIT as in a blended form  - with MOOCs supporting the basic acquisition of knowledge - something he claims they are good at, while professors can focus on higher level teaching in class time. In this way, it resembles the flipped instruction common in many settings today - a way to shift the dull "sage on the stage" stuff to cyberspace. On the research side, another recent reading pointed to the fact that about 10 times more money goes into Health care research, even though Education commands the same large chunk of the GDP - so the research work is very welcome. MOOCs, like any tool, will be wielded both better and worse by different practitioners but I share your enthusiasm for where it may well go, given time, as you expressed in your final comment.