I love this definition of MOOCs by Ignatia Inge deWaard in her e-book, MOOC Yourself: “A MOOC is a non-defined pedagogical format to organize learning /teaching/training on a specific topic in an informal, online, and collaborative way.”
This captures the key essence of a MOOC highlighting the key differentiators between a MOOC and an online course. I think the confusion between a course on an LMS and a MOOC—especially now that MOOCs are all set to enter the workplace where course tracking has so far been the norm—is going to be rampant. Hence, it is essential to identify the key aspects of what makes a MOOC a MOOC.
Here are some of my thoughts:
- Unlike an online course which focuses more on content, MOOCs focus more on context. Good content is a prerequisite to creating a MOOC but what keeps it going is dynamic building up of context around the content.
- Online courses are close-ended with static content. The content in a MOOC is not static. It evolves dynamically through learner participation, creation of user-generated content and collaboration. The base content is just a starting point for any MOOC. Each MOOC will gather around it a repository of content – reference links, resources, participant blogs, podcasts, videos, and so on – over and above the initial content used to start the MOOC.
- Courses are assigned to learners, typically by the organization they work in. Sometimes, learners will sign up voluntarily for a degree or a diploma. However, in either case they will learn in isolation, as individuals. In a MOOC, learners come together voluntarily to form cohorts and groups. MOOCs have the potential to give rise to Communities of Practices or enhance the learning within an already existing CoP. I believe MOOCs and CoPs are going to have strong bonds going forward.
- Courses are either bought off-the shelf or custom built. MOOCs do not always require custom-built content to set up unless the need is very specific. MOOCs on various topics can be set up using blended content – some custom designed and some re-purposed from OERs and other available content from the net as long as one takes care to note the various IPR-related policies.
- The content in a MOOC can be replaced/updated quickly because a well-designed MOOC should ideally be based on the principles of micro-learning with no learning byte exceeding a max of 10~12 mins ideally unless the topic calls for a longer chunk of learning for it to be meaningful.
- Courses are designed by learning designers and SMEs and disseminated to the learners. MOOCs flatten the world of learning by bringing everyone on the same plane. A learner can become a facilitator and vice versa. The roles blur making learning a democratic process rather than a hierarchical one.
- Courses are close ended with a defined start and end point. Learning in a typical MOOC is not confined to a specific “digital space.” It spills over with participants tweeting about their experience, blogging about it, holding meetups and Hangout sessions. The offline and the online world can come together with the boundary of a MOOC being essentially porous.
- MOOCs require a set of digital skills beyond the ability to take courses online and attempt multiple-choice questions. MOOCs require online collaboration and facilitation skills. Participating in a MOOC is a two-way process—participants are consumers as well as creators.
- MOOCs enable building of PLNs (Personal Learning Networks). Participants in a MOOC typically come together from varied background; and without that particular MOOC, this diverse group of individuals may not have had any reason to come together. The common MOOC topic thus fosters “weak ties” among unlikely individuals opening the door to innovation and learning.
- Online courses require basic computer skills of navigation. However, MOOCs can be effective in fostering some of the critical 21st Century skills like collaboration, self-driven learning, pattern sensing and problem solving. Participants in a MOOC “learn how to learn” in the course of a MOOC, with each one finding their own strengths and weaknesses.
- Courses are built around pre-defined objectives and may or may not cater to just-in-time learning. MOOCs are fundamentally build on the principle of just-in-time, “pull” learning empowering the learners and treating adult learners—well, like adults. This is perhaps one of the fundamental reasons why MOOCs have seen such popularity. It is immaterial whether everyone is completing all the MOOCs they attend or not. The fact is people are signing up, voluntarily, and taking what they need. The power is back in the hands of the learners.
Corporates looking to implement MOOCs within their organizations will need to look at some of these characteristics before putting a set of courses on a platform and calling those MOOCs.
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