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The Limits of xMOOCs & the Emergence of Learning

There has been a lot of interest in MOOCs, actually xMOOCs, with the launch in the UK of Futurelearn and the support of Secretary of State David Willetts (who closed world-leading elearning NDPB Becta) on Newsnight July 1 2013. This is a blog post critiquing xMOOCs that I wrote in October 2012 and have been updating.
I’ve been following a discussion thread about MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) on the ALT list and wrote this about the Limits of MOOCs, something that I think we are trying to address here on the WikiQuals project.
I’ve been participating in MOOCs and working on various #open #learning strategies and projects, for some time; I actually don’t think MOOCs are now much about learning at all; they have become content-driven #edspam and work in similar ways to spam, with a very limited ‘completion’ rate. Admittedly the original MOOC vision of Stephen Downes, George Siemens & Dave Cormier was focussed on developing a model of learning that reflects their interest in distributed knowledge.  Hence the ‘self-referential’ quality that some people comment on about their CCK MOOCs on Connectivism. MOOCs were about Connectivism, and explored the use of new digital tools, as their excellent What is a MOOC? makes clear, which is fair enough – they are articulating and developing their vision. They also write on the value of open courses being in Research, Learning & Engagement, which ties in with that original vision, and Cormier argues that you wouldn’t want to Assess within a MOOC either. However newer MOOCs have different agendas.
The key part of a MOOC however is the “Massive Course” dimension and this year, 2012, has seen the big American Universities take the globalisation of education, and their traditional content-push model of learning, into the MOOC arena and have focussed on growing the MC business; Udacity, Coursera, MITx etc. Gavin, for example, on the ALT list commented that his experience is that Coursera is content-centric and that you must navigate as they command; of course! Downes et al should have called their work DOOK – Distributed Open Online Knowledge, if they didn’t want the big boys to steal the baby when they made their bigger splash. MOOC growth now is about US Universities winning the race in the globalised education market, meanwhile in the UK we are raising fees, and failing to improve the learning experience on offer, even at our widening participation Universities.
That isn’t to say that MOOC courses, like any course such as Dominik Lukeš on Inclusion, don’t offer interesting learning opportunities derived from the passion of the (careful now) instructor or, better, co-creator. Many contributors on the ALT list (mostly professional educationalists) comment that they take MOOCs out of interest, but this is from people already sold on the value of education who are, perhaps, stepping out of the subject-based limitations that our pedagogically-driven education system limits them to. They may be mystery shoppers, or just off to steal some new ideas; fine. However I don’t see MOOCs transforming education into a participatory learning process or even enabling the co-creation of open scholarship. I don’t see that Connectivism MOOCs are creating distributed knowledge either, although they are distributing new practice and asking new and exciting questions about learning. cMOOC participants seem to be acting more like Wenger’s’ Technology Stewards within evolving Digital Habitats, (who “walk at 45 degrees between hierarchies & networks”) revealing new ecologies of learning, or at least new Personal Learning Environments and Personal Learning Networks. It is this networked learning potential that is really exciting in the hype-world that MOOCs currently exist in. Sadly the MOOC is becoming a black box in which institutions are trying to capture this evolving networked practice so that they can sell it; they are trying to build an e-education service delivery model. I am glad to see that Peter Sloep is usefully tracking this evolution with his pages on networked learning.
Jenny Mackness, who has run a MOOC #fslt12 with George Roberts, has written a few interesting blog posts on issues in running MOOCs, such as The Challenge of Openness. Much as I like Dominik’s passion and his very sensible ideas in ‘How to Moocify’ I think the OpenEducation USA model is a terrible one. I used to teach in the USA and they have a very different educational model, as do the Canadians (who invented MOOCs), as do the Europeans (despite the Bologna Process which still hasn’t change national learning cultures across the EU). Allowing US educational values to become the determining values of any ‘new’ education model just allows them to ‘win’ in the economic globalisation of the education marketplace race, which American Universities are very serious about ‘winning’ in the current ‘disruptive’ age in Higher Education.
Incidentally the ‘Disruptive’ tag comes from Clayton Christensen (a Professor at Harvard Business School) who talks about ‘disruptive innovation’ flowing from technology and he uses ideas from the economist Schumpeter who sees capitalism as re-inventing itself through ‘creative destruction’. Christensen wants Universities, well the leading American Universities, to re-invent their business model using disruptive technologies. Business models driving education institutions are such a big issue in the USA right now that the brilliant cartoonist Doonesbury has been discussing executive remuneration and Anya Kamenetz, who spotted that students lived in Generation Debt, wrote DIY Uni essentially about gaming the expensive education system. Americans are serious about colonising education globally with xMOOCs, Open Course Ware & the rest of the disruptive tech-push toolkit, developing a content-driven service-delivery model of education. They see global market opportunities in education, whilst, in the UK, we only see economic migrants in the glorious own goal which was, for example, the recent punishing of London Met Uni for enrolling overseas students (since rehabilitated).
Despite Terry Anderson’s great work on Open Scholarship and his proposal of developing ‘Open’ Students, British Universities remain closed places of limited scholarship focussed on reinforcing traditional educational behaviours, which xMOOCs and badges (hah!) barely touch. We need to radically change institutional behaviours, as well as educational policy, examining how these might be transformed in the emerging Network Society, but we aren’t even addressing those issues. No wonder Ben Hammersley, in his British Council Lecture An Internet of People, thinks that the only way we can transition from our old hierarchical society, built around Universities with their hierarchies of knowledge, into a new network society, which cMOOCs could help with, is by getting rid of the those in power in hierarchical institutions; he’s pretty drastic on that point.
What has the emerging network society got to do with MOOCs? Or indeed with any other of the 10 Pedagogic Innovations listed in the OU report Innovating Pedagogy 2012, which don’t mention Andragogy or Heutagogy at all; this isn’t a report which has much to say about learning. Well MOOCs, along with much else, are part of a discussion about the future of education, but this only has real meaning if we also examine the kind of society we want to live in. We certainly need to develop networked solutions for learning in a network society. However subject-based pedagogy, the basis of our entire education system, isn’t capable of doing that. cMOOCs started as an examination of learning in a networked world with a belief that a new kind of knowledge was emerging, so it also has an epistemological position, which we really do need to engage with in any discussion about society as well (see Putting Context into Knowledge). cMOOCs originally offered the possibility of designing learning which is NOT pedagogically driven and subject-based, but are now being colonised by the new so-called ‘open access’ model to University courses, which is driven by American University business models. I think the fact that Dave Cormier has moved on to Rhizomatic Learning (what I call discontinuous networks) reflects this split. Incidentally I think, badges, such as the Mozilla Backpack, are designed to reinforce the limitations of education (by badging informal learning whilst leaving education alone). So-called ‘open access’ model is about recruiting people into courses with qualifications.
Whilst access is a critical element in democratising education we in the Learner-Generated Contexts Research Group have a motto about the openness of learning in a post-web 2.0 world namely; “From Access to Content to Context“. Meaning that open access, especially to formal courses, is not enough to democratise education on its own. The content-gap online was identified back in March 2000, by the Children’s Partnership that showed that traditional content was socially-excluding. Bernie Dodge had created WebQuests (more open than MOOCs) back in 1994Content-creation, as well as curation, should follow next once ‘open access’ has been addressed and we think this is a key learning issue in a Web 2.0 world. The ‘best professors on best courses’ mantra is a Shibboleth mouthed by winners in the old hierarchical educational model to vaguely justify xMOOCs. (At Becta my team were developing & hosting content-creation toolkits for as part of our Community Development Model of Learning back in 2003). Learning becomes truly open once it is capable of context shaping, which I think the original CCK08 MOOC was addressing, and becomes part of an ‘open context model of learning‘. As a group have tried to operationalise this process by showing how to integrate pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy in the PAH Continuum. Thomas Cochrane has shown how to do use the PAH Continuum in course design at UNITEC in New Zealand. We indicated how this might impact on education professionals in the Craft of Teaching. We look forward to xMOOCs catching up.
We need to develop Open Learning policies for institutions, and we could start by getting our institutions to adopt this summers 2012 UNESCO Paris OER Declaration and its 10 principles, and then go on to adopt co-creation models of learning, such as Co-Creating Open Scholarship. We need to be actively democratising the learning process in this post-scarcity world of distributed knowledge, which is something that we are trying out on the WikiQuals project (watch out for the forthcoming WikiQuals Open Learning Lab project). Here is some more information about this hopefully international initiative on open learning on the Open Society pages
The Emergence of Learning. Whilst xMOOCs are all about scaling content-delivery, in order to sell education, learning doesn’t scale, it is an emergent property and is personal to the learner. We need to design for the ’emergence’ of learning in learners and scholars, which means we need to design ‘non-linear dynamic systems’. Jenny Mackness and Roy Williams have documented how to do this with their wonderful Footprints of Emergence project. WikiQuals is based on the Emergent Learning Model and is testing the accreditation element of that. Ambient Learning City is testing emergence in open contexts.
xMOOCs have opened a debate about the future of learning in a network society, but they don’t represent that future in themselves, even whilst they offer new ways of organising the use of digital tools, and the learning that can flow from that, they are transitional. xMOOCs are what happens when Professors and Administrators at the top of the Education hierarchy notice what has been going on below, and without them, for 15 years or more; they just want scale, status and recognition. For me the future is that ‘We Are Rhizomatic‘ as that does offer the potential of creating new organisational forms for education (see our Architecture of Participation blog for more on this). Rod Paley of xtlearn, an Aggregate then Curate social learning tool, is curating links on MOOCs here as this debate evolves.
If Not MOOC then what? I recently ran a curated conversation on Education Innovation at BIS which suggested the following three ways in which we might innovate education for the 21st Century;
a) Develop a Community of Innovators, maybe even a maverick network; a community of practice for innovation in education
b) Develop learning design skills which are based on new 21st Century pedagogies; such as the Open Context Model of Learning or the Emergent Learning Model or Connectivism or e-pedagogies or Ecologies of Resources
c) Design learning experiences that offer complexity, authenticity and engagement; what the Digital Practitioner work described as creating “artfully constructed student-centred learning experiences
d) develop them for the society in which we wish to live, for me that is building participatory democratic processes. I did a workshop with Leonard Turton of Summerhill School earlier this year (at CROS in Romania) and their core principle is that you can not build democratic society without learning in democratic schools; great point! I think we are doing that at degree level with WikiQuals. Have a look at Open Learning & Network Democracy for more on this.
City Learning Contexts; Actually at the FOTE12 (Future of Technology 2102) event yesterday I suggested that what we really needed to be designing are MOCCs – Massively Open Cultural Contexts in which we learn. We tried this in the Ambient Learning City project called MOSI-ALONG in Manchester, and came to some conclusions about Social Cities of Tomorrow  called Aggregate then Curate. The curation of content, such as on, say, xtlearn, (“Pinterest with Pedagogy”) is certainly at least as important as open access to content delivery educational systems.
NB; if you liked this blog post you might like the document ‘Open learning & network democracy‘ which asks you to first think for what kind of society you want before you start building, or designing, learning for.
January 11th 2013; Please note that I am continuing to update this with links, developing the consistency of the argument about building democratic learning and deepening the points (I think!); more links, stuff on Disruption (see I am Disruptive We are Digital) DIY-Uni & the USA business model, following interest from the OLDSMOOC Community; and more about the principle From Access to Content to Context
May 2013: A comparison of the learning models of the alternative university of CROS & WikiQuals, and their use of Social Media – paper at ELSE (E-Learning & Software for Education) conference in Bucharest.
July 2013; updated in light of the Newsnight insert on MOOCs – somewhat ignorant piece on technology-enhanced learning, with an incoherent justification by a clearly unbriefed David Willets arguing, for example that MOOCs can take advantage of learning analytics that will help us find students in Mongolia…

About fred6368

Visiting Researcher at the London Knowledge Lab Member of the Learner-Generated Contexts Group Social Improv & #Heutagogy Contextualist & CyberSalonista Participatory City Beatles & World Music Fan Working on #WikiQuals

52 responses »

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  10. Too much to take in at one time so I’ll have to pick away at it. Starting at the end there seems to be a lack of thinking focused on what type of society we’d want and why that doesn’t inform every decision we make. In fact, why not look at what we have, can do well, do poorly and stop living in an imaginary better life in the future?

    I’m obviously not entirely clear on these thoughts but leaping ahead without a foundation defies my understanding of growth. For instance, I recognize the barriers to change within the institution where I work and choose not to burn up effort removing the barriers to move ahead. There’s something about MOOCs that seems to deflate barriers. Maybe it’s the simple act of doing something that engages more deeply?

    Thanks for the posting, much to learn here.

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  31. Reblogged this on David C Roberts and commented:
    This i do like!

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  36. Much food for thought….

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  46. Please keep me informed about WikiQuals Lab. Best regards.

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  48. Hi Fred. Ref Future Learn. There was an excellent presentation about social MOOCs at RIDE2015 by Mike Sharples of FutureLearn and the Open University.

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