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.

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.