The MOOC Synthesizer | Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed


"Two recent interventions in the ongoing conversation about massive open online courses (MOOCs) strike me as provocative, in very different ways – and also as curiously neglected, given the interest of what the authors have to say. Perhaps it is a sign of fatigue with the subject? Maybe, but the two articles in question, published a little over a month ago, take up the MOOC question in ways that haven’t previously come to the fore.

"In calling them to readers’ attention, I don’t aim to influence anyone’s opinion of MOOCs. To attempt that, my own opinion would have to be settled, which it isn’t. There are compelling arguments for assessing them as the pedagogical wave of the future, bringing quality education to everyone, or as a passing fad, possibly in the nature of an economic bubble. I sometimes wonder whether MOOCs might not be the next step towards a dehumanized future in which we become the carbon-based batteries fueling our robot overlords, but have come, as yet, to no settled judgment. (Not that these are the only options, of course, but the topic does tend to elicit strong feelings.)

"Wherever you fall in the spectrum of opinion, at least one of the two articles flagged here should be of some interest. They take perspectives not otherwise represented, to my knowledge, in the arguments of the past couple of years. That neither has raised any ruckus seems odd."

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1 comment

MOOCs are open, by definition.  Open can mean many things, but the most fascinating, for me, is simply that they are open to learning  - serendipitous learning, unpredictable learning, learning by unexpected participants and pathways and media, learning by people who you wouldn't expect to be there, for instance because they cant afford university fees, etc, etc.  

The two articles linked here seem to advocate prescribed contents, micro-managed feedback, and assessment as a key part of the plan (and business plan, as assessment-as-a-(paid for)-service).  I have no problem with doing these things at a massive scale, in fact I am an enthusiastic supporter of what the AI MOOC achieved.  

Its just that I think we need to start calling a spade a spade.  Most of this kind of prescribed-learning-at-scale is training, albeit sometimes at a sophisticated leveland the notion that Khan Academy is a MOOC (see the recent article in CHE) is not even worth debating. So lets drop the polite 'family resemblance' between xMOOCs and cMOOCs, and call the former MOOTs - masssive open online training, and keep 'MOOCs' for open learning, as it was intended. 

This is  also an old debate - the difference between 'education' and 'training', and I think we need to dust it off and apply it here.  

And a semiotician, I must add that the syntax of just adding 'a wee (lower case) prefix' to indicate family resemblance between 'cMOOCs' and  'xMOOCs' rings every alarm bell that I ever learnt about in applied linguistics.  Prefixes or suffixes matter: 'African-American' is just not the same as 'American-African', for example.  But maybe I read too much post-structuralism in my youth.