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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Viewpoint From: Campus-Wide Information Systems, Volume 31, Issue 4
Adult Learning and Human Resource Development, Department of Human Development, Virginia Tech National Capital Region, Falls Church, Virginia, USA
Linda E. Morris
Adult Learning and Human Resource Development Program, Virginia Tech National Capital Region, Modest Town, Virginia, USA
Keywords: MOOCs Lifelong learning, Distance learning, Information communication technologies, Online course, Online learning platform
On MOOCs and beyond …
A dozen educators from an array of venues and from diverse countries around the globe (e.g. Greece, USA, UK, Brazil, Australia, and Canada), gathered recently (July 2013) in China Crete for a workshop entitled “Move Over for MOOCs: A global issue?” The session was a small part of a larger conference (International Conference on Information Communication Technologies in Education (ICICTE), held annually for the past 13 years on a Greek island and attracting a multi-disciplinary audience.
Participants included a motley mix of seasoned professionals such as a pioneer in distance learning along with the keynote speaker for the conference, who joined first time conference goers (many hearing the term Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs) for the first time) to engage in exploration and dialogue. They were first treated to a presentation on the history, scope, challenges, and variations on the meaning and functioning of MOOCs, and an exploration of the movement. A lively discourse permeated the place. As designers and facilitators of that session, we would like to share with you our perspective on some key issues that arose from the dialogue and how our thinking is unfolding on this timely and ever-evolving topic.
“What,” you may ask, “is a MOOC”? The term MOOC originated from a 2008 conversation between Dave Cormier (UPEI's manager of web communications and innovations and blogger) and George Siemens (formerly from the University of Manitoba) about what to call a new type of learning activity George Siemens and Stephen Downes were creating for a course called “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge/2008” (CCK8: see Cormier, 2008). The initiative was built off a for-credit course at the University of Manitoba, Canada and used many different platforms to engage students with the topic, including Facebook groups, Wiki pages, blogs, forums, and other resources and reached 2,200 students. In 2012, using the same MOOC terminology, but a different approach - one to resemble classroom activities - Stanford Professors Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig offered “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” for free online. More than 160,000 students in 190 countries signed up, and for the first time, an open online course was truly “massive.” Others followed and in a short period of time MOOCs have burgeoned and become the rage, discussed in a variety of sources and resource materials. Offered through a variety of venues from regional colleges to the campuses of “‘elite’ universities,” MOOCs have expanded around the planet.
During a recent visit to the MOOC list (www.mooc-list.com/), we counted 30 categories of free online MOOCs, provided at 347 universities/entities. The web site lists MOOCs by length (majors and minors, self-paced and 1-52 weeks) and level of effort (self-study to 16-20 hours per week). It also lists more than 35 initiatives, which have produced 1 (Allversitty, MOOC-Ed, and P2PU) to 236 (Coursera) MOOCs. Other continually updated sites to watch are:
(1) University of Maryland University College (UMUC) guide to MOOCs (see http://libraryguides.umuc.edu/MOOCs);
(2) International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) web site-Openup Ed: a pan European MOOCs Initiative led by the European Association for Distance Teaching Universities (see www.openuped.eu);
(3) EDUCAUSE Library: MOOCs, which provides “facts,” resources, events, etc. pertaining to MOOCs (see www.educause.edu/library);
(4) EduTech: a World Bank blog on ICT use in education, which provides reading list on MOOCS and keeps up with the movement around the world, especially with the issue of developing countries (see http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech); and
(5) MOOCs University Press: Global Directory of MOOC Providers and Resources in Higher Education, K-12, Professional Development Corporate Training, and Other MOOC Segments (see www.MOOCSUniversity.org).
As becomes evident, MOOCs are reaching the full lifelong learning spectrum from the K-12, college, university, and professional development sectors.
MOOCs contain many different design elements. For example, participants may:
* watch a series of short video lectures;
* take interactive online tests to respond or check understanding of concept or information and participate in forums;
* write an essay or detailed response (sometimes peer-reviewed);
* agree to an honor code that all efforts are their own work; and
* receive a certificate.
“Instructive” elements such as these, however, are more commonly found in x-MOOCs, while connectivist MOOCs (c-MOOCs) tend to focus more on construction, than instruction, of knowledge.
c-MOOCs and x-MOOCs
At present MOOCs have been grouped into c-MOOCs and x-MOOCs based on their underlying approach.
The c-MOOCs are focussed on building discursive communities creating knowledge together. They are based on the idea that learning happens within a network, where learners use digital platforms such as blogs, wikis, social media platforms to make connections with content, learning communities, and other learners to create and construct knowledge (Morrison, 2013). The course developed by Siemens and Downes (CCK/08) is an example.
According to Marques and McGuire (2013):
Connectivism and Connective Learning/2008 (CCK/08), put into practice the main characteristics of connectivism by allowing a large number of students to collaborate between themselves, create new content and start new discussions and debates. They did this using many different platforms such as forums, blogs and social networks. The aim was to allow students to create their own personal learning environments (PLEs) independently and at the same time support an interconnected knowledge.
The x-MOOCs emerged later, and are now more prevalent (e.g. developed by Udacity, Coursera, Edex, FutureLearn, etc.) and widely known. Offered on university-based platforms their underlying approach is that of a traditional university class incorporating, for example, videotaped lectures and quizzes. Thus, in contrast to the c-MOOC, the center of the x-MOOC is the instructor-guided lesson. The students’ journey/trajectory through the course is linear and based on the absorption and understanding of fixed competencies. Learning is seen as something that can be tested and certified. Some are even offering credit for MOOC courses (see e.g. Bishop, 2013).
It is important to distinguish between these two approaches, because we may wish to use one approach in one situation and the other in a second. Indeed, as we continue our exploration we will probably create a-, b-, c-, or y- and z-MOOCs.
MOOCs are massive in that hundreds or even thousands of participants can join in from around the globe, they are open in format, for the most part, there are no barriers or selection criteria regarding who can and cannot participate (and they are free), and are online providing an anytime anywhere learning opportunity that in most cases one can drop in and out of. Their rapid evolution raises a myriad of challenges and opportunities to shape their direction.
Challenges, opportunities, and issues
Among the issues to address, especially with the rapid migration to universities, is how to provide credits toward university degrees. Participation in some MOOCs already provides continuing education credits and certificates of completion. But what about credits toward a degree? We need to determine how to assess learning. For example, UMUC has agreed to grant credit for six courses that closely match its own introductory offerings. To earn the credit, however, students will have to prove that they know the material. That can be done one of two ways: by taking a paid version of the course for $150 or less, which includes proctored exams, or by going through a rigorous “prior learning assessment” process at UMUC. The University of Central Lancashire announced in October 2013 they will now offer academic credit to students completing a free online course, although they will be required to pay a small processing fee. Announced in September 2013 the University of Osnabrück and the Lübeck University of Applied Sciences will be granting European Transfer Credit for a MOOC in marketing with hopes of expanding the program while ensuring transfer credit is available to students broadly. The ability to receive and transfer credits obtained in MOOCs will continue to create dialogue and debate for some time, domestically, and internationally.
Then, there is the cost issue. Building a MOOC can cost upwards to $200,000 or more and providers include for profit entities as well as not-for profit companies, with some funding coming from venture capital. What will the economic models of the future be, especially if universities incorporate MOOCs into their degree programs? In some cases students are already paying fees; for example, for the issuance of a certificate. Perhaps one avenue will be the increase of MOOC assessment programs such as Prior Learning Assessments or the construction of e-learning portfolios.
Another issue for degree or non-degree programs, given the number of learners, is how to maintain a rich dialogue among them, as well as between learners and instructors and/or teaching assistants. What is the optimal blend of learning through interaction with rich resources and engagement with learning partners? Might we involve learners in assessing each other's work?
As with other learning programs, we would expect learning outcomes/objectives to drive content and both to drive the design and choice of specific learning activities. We can also expect that both learner-centered and instruction-centered approaches will be employed. The challenge is how to shape these with ever-evolving technologies and widening scales.
The current societal context
We would like to recognize and stress, however, that MOOCs are part of a larger deeper movement in society-at-large: the open access movement, which in turn is part of the lifelong learning movement and its manifestation in a networked digital age. Open access: some may have dreamed about it, but who would have thought even several decades ago that opportunities to learn from human as well as material resources in the form of open online journals, courses, and other forms of media would be so readily available to so many without traveling physical distances and in most cases without even paying a fee! Moreover, the opportunity to be able to network with others, ask questions, provide viewpoints has ushered in an era of opening access as well to new colleagues from different cultures and countries, often with differing ways of knowing. So, with regard to MOOCs, learning takes on an expanded meaning that transcends content alone and warrants further consideration of the array of motivational orientations for joining a MOOC.
Accordingly, while there does appear to be a movement toward giving further attention to developing certification and other accreditation type aspects to MOOCs, many learners might be motivated by other reasons. Of course it all depends upon how one defines a “course.”
Introducing the concept of Massive Online Learning Experiences (MOOLEs) to complement MOOCs
Returning to our discussion of c-MOOCs and x-MOOCs, x-MOOCs are reminiscent of content driven, educator led formal education, degree or other credit oriented, found in higher education institutions, most often with pass/fail criteria. Given that MOOCs began in a less formal manner, focussed on learning and networking, we would like to propose and introduce the concept of MOOLEs to complement MOOCs. Not all learning experiences manifest in the form of a formal credit bearing course. Consistent with the renewed movement not just of assessment but other ways of recognizing one's prior learning as part of a portfolio, x-MOOCs may provide completion recognition and in many cases certificates of achievement. MOOLEs, in a complementary manner, provide a different kind of learning in a networked world. Of course, such a bifurcation is not that rigid. Each could very well have elements of the other. For example, there is benefit from staying mindful that there may be merit in exposure and interest in learning for those who joined x-MOOCs but may have dropped or stopped out along the way, and may have their own way of documenting what they learned. Such learning may extend beyond the content to learning how one learns, in general, as well as with and from others. Just the opportunity to enroll in a university course could be very motivating to some who may have been denied such an opportunity earlier in life. Little if any research to our knowledge has been done in this regard. Participants in MOOLEs, on the other hand, can opt for documenting the degree and kind of learning one is experiencing and submit a portfolio or learning log for recognition of evidence.
Perhaps the community college system might be a meaningful venue and “platform” for the further development of MOOLEs, given their multi-faceted mission of preparing learners for entry into colleges and universities, workforce training as well as preparation for associate degrees in specific occupations, and meeting the learning and other needs of the community. At least it might be a start.
We welcome feedback and dialogue on our “viewpoint(s)” and look forward to the possibility of hearing complementary as well as contradictory viewpoints from others as well, as we all embrace our life paths of learning with and from both human and material resources in a lifelong, life-wide, and life-deep manner in a connected world.
Bishop, T. (2013), “Maryland college offering credit for massive open online courses”, The Baltimore Sun, September 4, available at: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2013-09-04/news/bs-md-mooc-20130815_1_moocs-umuc-higher-education (accessed December 22, 2013)
Cormier, D. (2008), “The CCK08 MOOC - connectivism course, 1/4 way (web log comment)”, available at: www.davidcormier.com/edblog/2008/10/02/the.cck08-mooc-connectivism-course (accessed December 22, 2013)
Marques, M. and McGuire, R. (2013), “What is a massive open online course anyway? MN+R attempts a definition”, MOOC News and Reviews, June 7, available at: http://moocnewsandreviews.com/what-is-a-massive-open-online-course-anyway-attempting-definition/76 (accessed December 22, 2013)
Morrison, D. (2013), “The ultimate student guide to xMOOCs and cMOOCs”, MOOC News and Reviews, April 22, available at: http://moocnewsandreviews.com/ultimate-guide-to-xmoocs-and-cmoocso/#ixzz2mwQMquRH (accessed December 22, 2013)
Carson, S. (2013), “MITx, edX team up with City of Chicago to bring high school students MOOC-style learning: Mayor Emanuel praises flexible, high quality online learning”, June 13, available at: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2013/ (accessed December 22, 2013)
Grannell, C. (2103), “Are MOOCs the future of professional development and training for creatives?”, October 30, available at: www.digitalartsonline.co.uk/features/creative-business/are-moocs-the-future-of-por-training-for-creatives (accessed December 22, 2013)
(Note: Selected Bibliography for continuing inquiry is available from the authors.)
Dr Marcie Boucouvalas can be contacted at: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org