These organisations provide one interpretation of the MOOC model. They focus on concise, targeted video content – with short videos rather than full-length lectures to wade through – and use automated testing to check students’ understanding as they work through the content.
These MOOCS have been dubbed “xMOOCs”. Whilst they include discussion forums, and allow people to bounce ideas around and discuss learning together, the centre of the course is the instructor-guided lesson. Each student’s 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.
I’ve taken and completed a couple of xMOOCS so far. I took coursera’s CS101 and Human-Computer Interaction courses, and am part-way through udacity’s CS101 (more focused and programming-oriented than the coursera offering). In both programming courses, the mechanistic nature of the tasks has lent itself nicely to automated validation of my answers. This doesn’t work so well for conceptual problems, but generally the ‘answer’ videos do a good job of pre-empting and dealing with these issues.
I’ve found the video lectures to be an improvement on the traditional lecture format. The smaller units of consumption and testing of comprehension as you go make the experience much more engaging than the one-sided broadcast that constitutes most lectures. These in-lecture comprehension tests – which at present don’t do anything other than help the learner absorb the material – could be used to inform the automated testing process further on, adapting to the needs of the individual learner.
But, of course, the one-on-one interaction and easy back-and-forth questioning that can happen at the end of a formal lecture cannot take place in an xMOOC. Questions can – and do – find their way to the professor through the course’s forum – if enough people deem them to be important and a teaching assistant is looking in the right direction – but this is a much more formal and less spontaneous process than you’d get in person. So not a great arena for free and easy discussion with the person ostensibly leading the learning.
Coursera recently implemented a system for crowd-sourcing peer assessment. (The Human Computer Interaction course saw students marking each other’s work to a clear rubric, having been themselves evaluated to be an adequately accurate assessor. (Evaluation was based on one’s ability to grade a set of papers to a similar mark as the professor.)) The HCI course seemed to do a good job of peer assessing more creative contributions – the rubrics were generally clear and helpful. They did certainly constrain one’s output, but this seemed a fair compromise for getting others to mark your work to an accepted and uniform standard. Initially there wasn’t much in the way of feedback from peers – just numbers. But the peer feedback element was bulked up towards the end of the course.
So what is the other type of MOOC, and how is it different?
The other type of MOOC is based on connectivism. These are the cMOOCS.
The connected aspect of learning is brought to the fore in a cMOOC. It’s a chaotic experience (as @RosemarySewart put it) and is inherently personal and subjective, as participants create their meaning and build and navigate their own web of connections.
cMOOCs are not proscriptive, and participants set their own learning goals and type of engagement. They won’t necessarily walk away with a fixed and tested set of specific skills or competencies, or knowledge of a set body of content. This makes cMOOCs tricky to grade or assess or certify. This, combined with the fact that the platform is totally open, means that they probably aren’t very easy to make any money from.
cMOOCs are discursive communities creating knowledge together. Based on my experience in the MOOCMOOC, I’m a big fan, and I’d love to see them get a bit more attention.
The best way to understand a connectivist course is to participate in one. It may be a bit of a culture shock at first, but you’ll soon find your feet and begin to enjoy the thrill of the experience.
Rory McGreal and George Siemens are leading a cMOOC on openness in education, starting on 10 September 2012. I’d recommend joining in and seeing what connectivism has to offer.
As a springboard for more on MOOCs, check out the readings from Sunday and Monday of this month’s MOOCMOOC, and have a look at this piece on the MOOC Misnomer which does a nice job of dismantling lazy use of the term.
Update: I’ve now created a list of cMOOCs in an attempt to help people keep track of the different courses that are going on.