O is also for Online

WOCInTech Chat CC BY 2.0

The second O in MOOC is for Online and in this post I’ll be examining the ‘online’ aspect of digital education and some of the standards for this that make it possible.

Liss, J. (2013) in his paper points out that “the Internet revolution occurred because of the development of a standardized computing platform” (such as TCP/IP) and goes on to look at the development of “Standardized Education Platforms” which allow for interoperability. Liss is optimistic about the self regulatory power of systems and cites Schumpter’s  (2008) concept of ‘creative destruction’ as a metaphor for this. He gives examples including technical standard such as SCORM and ISO/IEC 12785 as well as academic standards such as the Common Core State Standards Initiative in the US.  He goes on to say that “It could be argued that a MOOC itself is a standardized platform allowing thousands or hundreds of thousands of students to take a course”. This may be true for edX which runs on an open source platform which multiple sites are using. According to the post by Leith (2014) another big MOOC provider Coursera is also moving in the same open direction but is not far along. While this article in the main offers a techno optimistic viewpoint, Liss cites Lawson (2000) and is concerned that “the forces of globalization will cause knowledge systems to conform to the point where they may become homogenized around one philosophy of education”. He later cites Dryzek (1996) “globalization spreads an insidious form of economic rationality” and is concerned about a move towards individualism and away from collective responsibility.

Clegg S., Hudson, A. and Steel, J. (2003) counter the techno optimists – they are concerned that the globalisation effects of ICT on education are a myth that is in fact being driven by policy rather than vice versa:

“Within education the passive acceptance of globalisation paradigms engenders a deterministic view about the role and function of technology as a phenomena with its own independent trajectory”.

They question the idea that globalisation has “rendered the nation state and its components impotent”. This also links back to the work of Cohen (2007) who was looking at the case made by some that cyberspace could be consider outside of geographical space and hence the law did not apply here. This acceptance of globalisation as inevitable maybe prevent people addressing and maintaining the interests of national  identity and community. Clegg S., Hudson, A. and Steel, J. (2003) warn against the “Hype Cycle” (which suggests that early expectations may be over inflated) and cite two examples where this applies to education (Sinko, 2001, Hudson, 2001). Clegg S., Hudson, A. and Steel, J. (2003) conclude their argument against the “simple link from globalization through technology to pedagogy and a skilled workforce” by describing it as deterministic. They later say “It presents only one model of what it means to learn; that is to become an individually more competitive item of human capital” – expressing similar concerns to Liss, J. (2013). I’m not sure that the authors of either of these papers would approve of the MOOC phenomenon, with its focus on individual effort and the authority of ‘prestigious’ Universities.

Whilst studying on the DelftX: OG101x Open Government MOOC, I started to think about why this was being taught in English. It appears English has become the de facto standard language for teaching in distance education. Hansson, H., and van de Bunt-Kokhuis, S. (2004) explore this and look at the effects of English becoming the “lingua franca of modern times” giving examples such as Sweden where the accents on vowels are being dropped as these can’t be used in email addresses or URLs, but which can render company names meaningless. They are concerned about the effect this may have on cultural diversity as ‘language is linked to culture and vice versa” and also about disadvantages for speakers of other languages:

“What if English is the most predominant language in e-learning? For students there are clear disadvantages in learning in a language other than English if you collaborate with native English speakers”.

Marginson, S. (2004) also considers English as the language of teaching within the context of cross-border education, but regards this as advantageous rather than problematic:

“because of the advantages it confers: for Asia-Pacific students a higher education in an English-speaking nation has status not just because of the academic qualities but also the career benefits derived from learning to live and communicate in an English-speaking setting”.

Hansson, H., and S. van de Bunt-Kokhuis (2004) also note the rise of the use of images as part of communication: “Hundreds of years ago, society was picture-poor. In schools only a handful of illustrations were available, depicting the world outside”.  Provided you have enough bandwidth or data allowance the modern Internet does allow for easy access to images and multimedia content.


Cohen, J. (2007). Cyberspace and/as Space. Columbia Law Review, 107(1): pp.201–256.

ISO/IEC 12785 consists of the following parts, under the general title Information technology — Learning, education, and training — Content packaging:

Part 1: Information model
Part 2: XML binding
Part 3: Best practice and implementation guide [Technical Report]

Hansson, H., and van de Bunt-Kokhuis, S. (2004). E-learning and language change: Observations, tendencies and reflections, First Monday, 9(8) (August 2004).

Leith, A (2014). Using and Contributing to Open Source at Coursera
Retrieved 14 March 2016 https://github.com/edx/edx-platform/wiki/Sites-powered-by-Open-edX

Liss, J. (2013). ‘Creative Destruction and Globalization: The Rise of Massive Standardized Education Platforms’,Globalizations, 10(4): pp. 557-570

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

Clegg, S., Hudson, A. and Steel, J. (2003) ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes: globalisation and e-learning in Higher Education’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 24(1): pp. 39-53.

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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