C is for Course

Image by Sarah Ross CC BY-NC 2.0

The C in MOOC is for Course. From this point of view the DelftX: OG101x Open Government course is very familiar – as a learning technologist I’ve been involved in developing similar online courses for many years. It contained familiar elements, it was a time bounded event, open to a registered cohort of students. The EdX platform is not dissimilar to other VLE platforms (such as Blackboard Learn or MOODLE).  As I noted at the start it contained a surprising amount of assessed activity  Week 1 – MOOC first impressions. Feedback was provided – both from staff  Feedback video on assignment 1 and peers Week 3 – Peer review activity. In fact I began to wonder if the emphasis on assessment was changing my approach to the course, Seeking out the marks….

At this point I began to think about where the term MOOC came from? MOOCguide lists two individuals, Bryan Alexander and Dave Cormier, using the term in 2008 – so it’s a very recent one. Dave Cormier says he and colleagues came up with the term when they developed a course CCK08 ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge’ which was a fully open course that could be followed online for free (there was also a paid, certified option capped at 25 students) – the first MOOC. Downes, S. (2008) describes this course, which was ‘explicitly designed according to the principles of connectivism’. It was a 12-week ‘distributed’ course with 2200 participants and activities in different spaces: Moodle, course blog, wiki, weekly conference call. Students were also encouraged to write about the course in other public spaces (such as blogs or Twitter) and tag it with cck08 so it could be found – so it was decentralised. In this video Dave Cormier, who coined the term MOOC, describes his vision of a MOOC.

“A MOOC is a course, it’s open, it’s participatory, distributed and it supports life-long networked learning.”
“It’s an event around which people who care about a topic can get together and work and talk about it in a structured way.”

“Participants are not asked to complete specific assignments”

The CCK08 MOOC sounds different from the MOOC course I just experienced? Was the MOOC I studied typical? It wasn’t distributed – I couldn’t find any related activity on Twitter for example, and everything took place within the edX platform. As I noted in my reflections Week 1 – MOOC first impressions it had quite a focus on specific assignments. 

de Freitas, Morgan and Gibson (2015) explain that the CCK08 ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge’ would be called cMOOC – the “c” representing their connectivist heritage. They say that the Stanford University variety known as xMOOC has created more international media attention: “In particular, the course Introduction to Artificial Intelligence by Sebastian Thrun and Pater Norvig in 2011″. The xMOOC is a more standard web course (the x may stand for expert), within a learning management system that includes lecturers and assignments. This sounds much more like the MOOC I have just taken part in. The diagram below which was cited in de Freitas, Morgan and Gibson (2015) gives a helpful overview.

Figure from Hill 2012

I’ve now I’ve done one MOOC (an xMOOC example) but is this enough experience to base any kind of observation on? Should I now go and look at courses on different platforms such as Coursera, FutureLearn, or any of the several providers listed  in wikipedia. Should I seek out a cMOOC to understand the difference between this and an xMOOC? I could try MOOCs from different providers and locations to see what the differences in approach are?

MOOC’s are the most recent development in the long history of education and I’d like to take a small diversion to look at what came before. Sumner, J. (2000) gives an overview history of digital education from a Habermasian perspective,  exploring how distance education relates to the two world views, “lifeworld” and “system”:

“lifeworld reproduces the culture, social integration and processes of socialisation necessary for the continuation of society”
“system….economy, coded as money, and the state administrative system, coded as power” p. 269

Sumner suggests that “…many of those involved in distance education have consciously or unconsciously served the system” and calls for distance educators to “stand up for the lifeworld against the system par exellence – corporate globalization”.  She states that distance education that supports the ‘system’ isolates the distance learner and promotes professionalism, individualisation and personalising trends and gives several examples of early distance education approaches which she says support the system. These are similar concerns to those expressed by Clegg, S., A. Hudson & J. Steel (2003) and Liss, J. (2013) discussed in the post O is also for Online. Sumner hopes that technology (she has high hopes for computer conferencing) will offer alternatives that promote the lifeworld through its support for social learning:

” This interactivity, which can lay the foundation for the creation of the public space that enables communicative action, separates education from indoctrination” p. 272

Sumner, J. (2000) wrote this paper 8 years before the first MOOC happened, in it she made the following prediction:

“In this information age, distance education will diverge along these two pathways: the one retaining the system-serving approach to education that values high volume delivery over interactive learning processes, the other exploring the possibilities for building and sustaining the lifeworld that values social learning over corporate profits for private stockholders.” p 281

This appears to predict the dichotomy between cMOOC and xMOOC offerings. However, the recent appearance of social media does mean that a social aspect can easily grow around the driest/ least interactive of learning activities.

A paper by Marginson, S. in 2004 reviews what he terms as the “failure of English language global e-learning” and he cites failed projects, including UK e-University, Universitas 21/Universitas 21 Global and Cardean University (I worked for a company called Interactive University (IU) from 2002 to 2005 so remember the optimism of this time). However, despite this first wave of global education failures, many Institutions are now experimenting with MOOCs as a way to offer global education. I consider their motivations in the post: I’m thinking about why universities want to run MOOCS?

Cormier, D. (2010). What is a MOOC? YouTube
Retrieved: 13 March 2016.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eW3gMGqcZQc

de Freitas, S., Morgan, J. and Gibson, D. (2015). Will MOOCs transform learning and teaching in higher education? Engagement and course retention in online learning provision. British Journal of Educational Technology. 46(3): pp. 455-471

Downes, S. (2008). Places to Go: Connectivism & Connective Knowledge. Innovate: Journal of Online Education. 5(1) (Retrieved from http://nsuworks.nova.edu/innovate/vol5/iss1/6)

Hill P. (2012) Online educational delivery models:a descriptive view. Educause Review, 47 (6): pp. 84 -86. (Retrieved from : http://er.educause.edu/articles/2012/11/online-educational-delivery-models–a-descriptive-view)

Marginson, S. (2004). Don’t Leave Me Hanging on the Anglophone: The Potential for Online Distance Higher Education in the Asia-Pacific Region, Higher Education Quarterly, 5(2/3): pp. 74 – 113

MOOCGuide (nd) History of MOOC’s.
Retrived 13 March 2016. https://moocguide.wikispaces.com/1.+History+of+MOOC%27s

Sumner, J. (2000) ‘Serving the System: A critical history of distance education’, Open Learning, 15(3): pp. 267-285.


Author: Susan Greig

I'm a Learning Technology Advisor at the University of Edinburgh. I just finished my Postgraduate Certificate in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh.

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