MOOCs: to master predetermined content OR to participate in active learning, content creation communities?

Are today’s best known MOOCs , those provided by Coursera, Udacity and edX, really just a 21st century textbook,  as some argue?  Lisa Lane in her Online Teaching blog claims that most “use a pedagogy that is similar to an early 20th century correspondence course – read, test, repeat.”  Because the mainstream media focus on Coursera, Udacity and edX, the early MOOCs pioneered by George Siemens, Stephen Downes anesd others are often ignored.  These early MOOCs, beginning in 2008 and often known as cMOOCs or Connectivist MOOCs, are quite different from the widely publicized current MOOC offerings (sometimes known as xMOOCs) of Coursera, Udacity and edX.

According to Wikipedia “Connectivist MOOCs are based on several principles stemming  from connectivist pedagogy. The principles include:

  1. Aggregation. The whole point of a connectivist MOOC is to provide a starting point for a massive amount of content to be produced in different places online, which is later aggregated as a newsletter or a web page accessible to participants on a regular basis. This is in contrast to traditional courses, where the content is prepared ahead of time.
  2. The second principle is remixing, that is, associating materials created within the course with each other and with materials elsewhere.
  3. Re-purposing of aggregated and remixed materials to suit the goals of each participant.
  4. Feeding forward, sharing of re-purposed ideas and content with other participants and the rest of the world.”

While today’s popular xMOOCs certainly provide opportunities for people worldwide to study everything from Intermediate Organic Chemistry to Aboriginal Worldviews (see Coursera course listings), do these well-known MOOCs really represent a revolution in education, as often proclaimed?  If we want our college graduates to have well-developed critical thinking skills and to be problem solvers, are xMOOCs the answer?  Or should we be focusing more on the project based, discovery learning characteristic of constructivist, connectivist pedagogy, whether by old-fashioned face-to-face classrooms or online courses?

It is interesting to ponder where the “Feminist Dialogues on Technology” MOOC/DOCC (Distributed Online Collaborative Course) fits in this cMOOC  vs xMOOC schema.  The feminist MOOC/DOCC (see my earlier post) is being developed as a collaborative effort by many professors which will utilize short, thought-provoking video interviews and a variety of assignments or exercises (Boundary Objects that Learn) developed by the organizing collective.  Will this course be able to preserve the more constructivist, connectivist approach characteristic of feminist pedagogy and the cMOOCs?

To learn more

  • About how connectivist MOOCs work, see About this Course by Downes which spells out how the aggregating, remixing, etc. works.  Same info is presented in a creative video “Success in a MOOC” by Dave Cormier.
  • MOOCs as Participatory Communities: My Experience with “eLearning and Digital Cultures”  in which participant claims that this MOOC  “is not designed to impart fixed facts to students; it is designed to be an experience, where students learn about digital culture by discovery and experimentation” (in contrast to typical xMOOCs which “require students to watch a series of recorded lectures and take quizzes or exams that demonstrate their understanding of the material”).
  • A Tale of Two MOOCS  has a table at end of article comparing the pedagogical methods of a very structured MOOC with a more constructivist one.

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