Will the real MOOC stand up?

You might be wondering what a MOOC is, and what it has to do with learning? Good question, as the most experienced educators and instructional designers seem to be asking the same question recently.

Right now, there is a bit of a MOOC frenzy and hot debate happening. The educational field is questioning the nature and the value of this delivery method as more and more use it as a delivery method for learning.

Basic description
A MOOC is a massive and open online course. It is massive because enrollment is wide open where anyone can join, at times having up to 400 learners or more participants. Yikes!

And it is open in that it is free; however, if you want credit for the course you might be able to pay for that. It depends on if an accredited institution is offering it.

MOOCs are becoming popular in academia with some large American universities offering them, and even collaborating with other fine institutions. The latter is a good reason to share the wealth of knowledge.

However, the argument explores whether the new versions of MOOCs are the real thing. Here is my take on that.

From the trenches

I have taken 4 MOOCs, with the first being about 11 years ago.

The first one wasn’t labelled as a MOOC but now that I have taken others, it was pretty similar to one. It was termed as a Community of Practice (CoP) and was delivered by Etienne Wenger (the man who coined that practice) and his great team. Many of us (25?) met online to learn more about this practice, CoP, which are grouping that are user-driven, agenda-less. and focused on solving a problem. Though there were ‘teachings’ of kinds, our main project was to determine a project, work collaboratively, and develop a solution/product to our predetermined project, etc.

It was insane. The speed to which discussions posts were flying around, the stream of ideas and perceptions, and the tight time frame made the experience seem like a carousel on drugs.

And somehow, we came to a conclusion and developed a written piece on innovative uses of communities of practice. I was spent.

Then, I took 2 MOOCs from the original creators and crazy Canuks, George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier.

I can call them Canuks, because I am one, too.

Their idea of  a MOOC came from a brilliant conception that we can co-create content and concepts as a dynamic whole. That is, the internet presents a massive network that feeds off of continual content and materials being developed, mashed up and reproduced.

As a connected knowledge base, information and ideas can be spontaneously created in a dynamic fashion without control, agenda or intended outcome. Nodes of information fed off of other nodes and create more.

And the process is uber messy.

Think about it – 400 people posting ideas and suggestions on any social media they please. It’s complete yet beautiful unleashed creativity in a chaotic setting  (so not academia … but they are trying).

So, what’s the point?

Well, imagine if you want a large group of people, say in a country, region, department or institution, to brainstorm ideas, comment on new policies, test concepts, or come up with a solution then you might consider a MOOC.

But it’s not for the weak of heart. You need to know your stuff and get really organized with all sorts of technology for communication, presentation, gathering and storage.

What’s missing?

For me, I was missing a conclusion and ‘so what’ from my MOOC experiences. Could be I missed that week altogether. But I would synergize all the crazy, creative chaos and call back the troops out there in social-media land to have them apply their new understandings and learning.

I would keep this final exercise short and quick with supportive tools so participants’ ideas can be easily funneled into concluding thoughts, such as a poll or concept map.

This not only provides a feeling of closure, but perhaps a million dollar idea to help solve world problems. Think about it. Right?

For the heck of it, try a MOOC some day, and see what you think.

I don’t think MOOCs are going to die out, as talked about recently, but will remain if they continue to be this crazy ride drawing on the concept of networked knowledge. Go George, Stephen and Dave – you’re the real deal.



I’m Dr. Kelly Edmonds, an e-learning specialist with oodles of experience and knowledge on creating online/e-learning products.  Follow Me!


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