Archive for March, 2013

I came across an article by the progenitors of #EDCMOOC on their initial thinking around MOOC pedagogy (MOOC pedagogy: the challenges of developing for Coursera). Riding on the Coursera engagement with the University of Edinburgh, the team designing the eLearning and Digital Cultures MOOC on the Coursera platform (that I missed enrolling for, though) was seeking to engage with the medium and pedagogy, planning and development and the wider implications for the practice of and research in eLearning and Higher Education.

The article makes a promising start by articulating the “digital mimicry” of the xMOOC platforms by calling out the fact that their models are digital extensions of the conservative education system. The authors also demonstrate their understanding that the MOOC innovation as one that questions and loosens the traditional notions such as institutional control, learning outcomes and assessment criteria.

They do acknowledge the precedents set by the cMOOCs, but dismiss them as being “populated by committed e-learning enthusiasts and remain untested as vehicles for delivering alternative, less ‘reflexive’ subject matter”, “pedagogically interesting, may not fit so well across other disciplines…radical fringes of what the Higher Education sector might be prepared to more fully endorse”.

Their focus is to preserve the “construction of the teacher that has an immediacy that can succeed at scale”, with the belief that the teacher’s role is somewhere in between “over-celebratory fetishizing of the teacher” and “(writing) the teacher out of the equation altogether”. They don’t subscribe to the hype that MOOCs (and the Open Education movement) will achieve grand visions of democratizing education or freeing of the world’s knowledge, but do believe that the MOOCs have some merit in terms of scale, diversity, experimentation & research, and augmentation to physical offerings of higher education institutions.

There intent is to see how the MOOC can operate in conjunction with traditional practices. Essentially, they base their interest on:

Online education is a trend-ridden field, and MOOCs might be seen as just another – rather high-profile – piece of ed-tech du jour. However, in their sheer scale, in the rapidity of their rise and in the profound issues they appear to be raising regarding the purposes of higher education and the future of the university, they are clearly something genuinely new, something more than simply modish. For this reason, they are surely worth serious engagement on the part of anyone interested in the digital futures of educational change.

IMHO, this is a very cavalier approach to think about MOOC pedagogy and I am sure the authors will want to defend their approach based on the learning they have had from actually putting this into practice.

Why do I say this? At the outset, you cannot think of cMOOCs and Connectivism from within the system – they are a disruption – xMOOCs being the (rather limited) innovation. cMOOCs questioned the existing paradigm, demonstrated an alternative (raised many questions that are still unsolved like, for example, assessments in a cMOOC environment) and laid a strong foundation for thinking about the disruption through the theory of Connectivism.

It is not enough to state they cannot fulfill grand visions of democratizing education or cannot work in less-reflexive settings. There must be an effort to quantify the “why” behind these assertions. There must be an awareness that networks that are democratic do not exhibit power laws, rather they are horizontal line graphs that require certain critical literacies (not only those found in “elearning enthusiasts” – dislike being called that).

There must also be a concerted effort to understand that the alternative to instructor-mediated “contact and dialogue” at small scale, towards preserving the quality of these interactions at a much larger scale, must have necessarily to leverage the power of the network (witness Alec Couros’s experiment to call for external mentors online for his physical class) and does not exist in the spectrum between “no-teacher” and “over-fetished teacher”, but rather in different conceptions of what a teacher can be (Atelier, Weaver and so many others that were discussed in CCK08).

It is also important not to bypass the role of technology in unearthing the progress, direction and quality of learning and acting as tools for the network itself to evolve and progress. Therefore, discussions around Learning Analytics, Complexity, Network evolution & collaboration, design of emergent environments for learning and new ways of implicit and explicit assessments must foreground any new design of a MOOC or any conversation around MOOC Pedagogy (if that is the right term – heutagogy was considered as more appropriate in some conversations).

What would count is if the authors directed their design efforts towards exploring the new paradigm from a new paradigm perspective, rather than force-fitting it to existing notions of what they think works and what does not. Their kind of MOOCThink confuses and perplexes me.

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Finally got the video recording for a really interesting session that I had the privilege of steering at the FICCI Higher Education Summit in November, 2012.

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Democracy requires intellectually armed political activism to succeed. MOOCs (cMOOCs) provide an unprecedented occasion to demonstrate the power of connective learning for democracy, just as much as they demonstrate the democracy of connective learning.

The four letters that make up the MOOC abbreviation are as apt as a stage for political protest as for our education system. The Massive, Open and Online aspects of the MOOC lend themselves well to democratic deliberation. It is the “C” which provokes this post and fuels my hopes of leveraging MOOCs as instruments of democracy.

The C in MOOCs stands for “course”. It is rather loosely and controversially defined, because the MOOC looks nothing like its traditional namesake – the closely bounded, rigidly structured component of a curriculum. Perhaps that it why it requires the first three letters to qualify it. Of course, there was much deconstructive debate about this in 2008, particularly around the notion of the “un-course” which did gain some momentum.

What if democratic debates were structured as MOOCs? So far, most democratic conversations end up as inaccessible and lost footnotes to a blog post or a FaceBook like. Frequently they are tokenised into signature campaigns or opinion polls, as a measure of democratic discourse.

Most of the current instruments suffer from severe deficits. They do nothing to promote connectives of citizens who engage with vast linked networks of “knowledge”. They do not allow sustained, visible conversation. Nor do they allow citizens to build the necessary level of competence to understand the complexities of any issue being discussed. They do not scaffold citizen learners in ways that promotes their own learning. And they certainly do not reflect much more than the immediate, surface reactions in any debate.

MOOCs as political instruments would overcome deficits such as these and promote democracy. They would act as opinion-shapers, citizen-competency builders and massive hubs that collate the huge amount of information being generated today by individuals and the mass media.
The mechanisms of the MOOC will ensure that the networks these MOOCs create will result in credible outputs – something no xMOOC or traditional course can ever dream of achieving, placed as they are in the traditional system of education.

What will these credible outputs be? Firstly, any one passionate or interested in building an independent thought-competence over an issue will instantly be exposed to networks that has diversity of thought, opinion and conversation. Next, these networks will allow smaller networks of people to coalesce based on their thinking and capabilities, leading to  cohesive multi-faceted thinking and learning on various aspects of an issue. Thirdly, and most tangibly, these networks with their (ideally) open nature, will not sport specific political agendas, making them a strong force within democracy.

And why stop here? Why not consider MOOCs for health, poverty and many of the ills that surround us today, locally and globally? Thoughts?

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Jay Cross anchored a fascinating conversation on Google Hangouts recently. Thinkers and practitioners on both sides of the MOOC divide (x-MOOC and c-MOOC) such as George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier, Lal Jones-Bey, Jerry Michalski and Terri Griffiths came together. The purpose was to discuss how MOOCs could possibly be used by businesses.

Dave (at around 44 mins into the discussion) responded to my comment about how business regards MOOCs as being non-deterministic and thus non-reliable (the cMOOCs at least), by saying it depended upon the type of organization, really. If businesses want to survive and grow in the years to come, they must embrace uncertainty.

So let us look at what the past couple of years has taught us about online learning (or what it could be).

The first thing initiatives like Coursera have certainly taught us is that there is an audience out there that is serious about online learning and sees clear benefits from it – not just students, but also institutions. The second thing we have learnt is that this audience is global in nature (4-5% of Coursera’s 1 mn+ students are from India itself). The third, slightly implicit insight, is that this audience is ready to engage on learning that impacts them here and now. The fourth insight is that power laws are explicit here as they have been in the past, not just in online learning but elsewhere as well – so scale free networked behaviour is very visible in the interactions we see online. The fifth insight, key for many reasons, is that brands, institutional linkages and employer acceptance are external factors that have a potential to shape/alter the behaviour of the network and release both learning and commercial opportunities.

They haven’t taught us a whole lot about how to design for plasticity, resilience, reliability and growth, but that is because we have really not yet made critical breakthroughs, in any large way, on our understanding of how learning networks (and their environments) operate. This is partially the promise of learning analytics, of communities and networks of practice and the cMOOC experimentation, and partially the further development of the theory of Connectivism and the design of Connectivist environments.

So, there is an appreciation, but as I bemoaned back in 2008 in CCK08, there isn’t a direct connection between what business is looking for and what MOOCs are offering.  Dave’s response to my question seems to indicate that business needs to transform itself (to embrace uncertainty and chaos and to get away from the determinism it is so used to) to really appreciate the power of massive open learning. I think this is a tough ask because it needs some fundamental transformations in how business operates. Some, as Dave pointed out, have done it, but for the most that transformation is not on the radar. It is the same for educational institutions or the enveloping government policy, for whom it is the buzzword that they have needed to replace the existing one – ICT.

So, on the business side, as also most academic institutions and governments, the practice of MOOCs is really the practice of reframing MOOCs to situate them in current operational contexts. On the other hand it is clear that current operational contexts cannot reap the benefits of MOOCs without transforming themselves rather than the MOOCs. This is the status quo.

The two obvious ways that this status quo could end – existing businesses/academic organizations/government policy in need of transformations can transform or die and be replaced by institutions with the DNA that embraces uncertainty and chaos, or MOOCs can be marginalized or die a quick “bubble burst” death. Perhaps a not so obvious way in which both can survive needs to be determined.

I think that the way out is for business to quickly adopt cMOOCs as the underlying system of learning – as the system within which are embedded, and that governs, all “events of learning” (read traditional training courses and xMOOCs). In doing so, the notion of the “Course” in the MOOC moniker, must then be expanded beyond a single structured eventedness, to a larger “systemic” dimension.

What would that really mean? Businesses, academic organizations and government policy makers must live, breathe and eat the MOOC system by being embedded within it and treat existing traditional methods as legacy that will be replaced in future by something more meaningful. By doing so, these actors will build new practice, technology and theory, establish long staying resilient networks and become open to external influences.

In practice, the adoption of the MOOC as a system approach will resolve many things – reluctance to embrace new methods, determinism as key, inadequate training and lack of technology. As the system stabilizes, legacy or traditional xMOOCs will disappear since the system will start evidencing reliable and resilient networks and learning patterns. So today, what requires a 15 day face to face session or a certificate xMOOC program online, will simply become a pattern that the Connectivist system reinforces through certain systemic mechanisms (where that somebody to teach or that face to face experience may be one important, but not the only, factor in learning).

Even here and now, through informal learning, some of these mechanisms are at work in building great organizations and policy.

What organizations should do to adopt this system are the following things:

  1. Invest in designing the system – systems with emergent (aligned) outcomes can be designed with your business goals as the context
  2. Establish massive, open networks and relationships through your people
  3. Invest in technology and resources that will analyze, shape and feed the growth and trajectory of these networks
  4. Create networks of practice – a continuum of weak and strong ties around practice areas that may also potentially control information that is business sensitive to within a network strand. These networks will be the primary environment for learning.
  5. Phase-out traditional learning events – start with the less time and mission critical events, aim for building a network that is so reliable that it meets your existing time-based and expertise-led goals (serviced by current training modes), strategically demonstrate power of the network for learning in a few business mission critical initiatives (particularly at the leadership levels)
  6. Establish or conform to standards of system operation (you must look at it as you would look at any other complex system) and enshrine best practices

This, in my humble opinion, is what businesses should do with (c)MOOCs.

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