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All abuzz about MOOCs

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By Rory McGreal July 25, 2012 - 5:33pm Comments (3)

PHIL Hill wrote about different types of MOOCs on a blog:

The term MOOC may be new, but if you define a MOOC as 100s or 1000s of students. Athabasca University and other open universities has been doing this since the late 90s. They were not “connectivist” MOOCs. However they do fit the Wikipedia definition of a MOOC: “A massive open online course (MOOC) is a course where the participants are distributed and course materials also are dispersed across the web.” We have been linking to websites for quite a while now. So really I would see a third type of MOOC, which is more structured and possibly more akin to the non-connectivist type. The open u courses are generally open to anyone but they are not free of charge as the others seem to be. Is this the important distinction?


  • 'O' for 'open' is quite important. Older courses might have been MOCs (massive and online), but not really MOOCs.

    It depends on what you mean by 'open'. I've argued over at one of George Siemens's great blog posts on the topic that 'open' means something quite different to this younger/older generation of MOOCs than in George's earlier courses. In essence, George's MOOCs are free as in process, not just free as in beer, but I think I oversimplified the issue there. Both forms are open in providing different ways of reaching a destination and different ways of using and re-using content.

    The first generation MOOCs where the name evolved are much more open in pedagogy, content, dialogue, sociability, technology, medium, time, space, pace (a bit) and access. By design, people wind up in quite unique and different destinations by many different routes. And of course most people, as the article suggests, never reach much of a destination at all. The new generation do, as you say, seem to replicate, with a little tweaking, the methods of what John Daniels calls the mega-universities, a scaled-up industrial model that ain't too bad as far as it goes but not rich in freedom of process or destination. I think the better ones do, however, add an openness of engagement that the older mega-university courses lacked, mainly because the large numbers that provide opportunities for a whole ecosystem of peer support to have developed around them, often very rich and complex, and they are often mashed and remixed with other things. And that brings them closer to what George et al have done. So it's not just about 'free': openness of use and openness of process is crucial. It's a different kind of 'massive' than the hierarchically controlled variants of the mega-universities and a different kind of 'open'.


    Jon Dron July 25, 2012 - 6:35pm

  • Jon,

    According to the Wikipedia definition, AU courses can be described as MOOCs, not that Wikipedia is the supreme arbiter.But, one could argue that the word "Course" does not properly describe George and Stephen's MOOCs. A course has a "fixed roster of students". Of course one could also argue that the course is evolving. The OERu has "courses" that don't have a teacher, so I guess we can see even further evolution of the course concept.

    All the best.


    Rory McGreal August 2, 2012 - 10:25am

  • And there are people and publishers who have been selling tutor-less courses for decades (at the very least). We are lucky here at AU to have folk who have pioneered the latest generation of learning stuff that is distributed, involves lots of people who are at least able to learn together if they want, and is free to anyone with Internet access (though assessment, formal support, etc might be a paid-for extra), whatever we choose to call that. 'MOOC' is as good a word as any.

    I'm not sure where the Khan Academy sits in all of this but I suspect it and others of its ilk represent an equally interesting but slightly divergent approach because it supports just-in-time learning and is about rationally-sized individual lessons rather than a whole course of them. Modularity makes for way more flexibility and adaptability to individual needs. What I find most fascinating is that, though most people do treat them as things to help them to learn as individuals, there appear to be increasing numbers who are doing it together in many ways - the comment threads on the lessons themselves being just the tip of the iceberg. Massive Open Online Lessons maybe?


    Jon Dron August 2, 2012 - 11:42am

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