Posts Tagged ‘pedagogy’

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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Over the past few months, I have seen the signs of what could be the next generation of teaching – learning experiences, the signs that show how traditionally accepted models and conceptions of tools are being superseded and are gaining focus and importance from education companies, vendors and users, not just innovator-entrepreneurs who have a good idea. It seems that the hype is over and there is serious enough interest to put money and focus into production from large players.

Let us look at the top challenges/needs that are being addressed by this serious interest.


Web 2.0/Web 3.0, Cloud computing, HTML5, Tablets and Smartphones have really evolved during the past year or so, with a lot of new products and platforms emerging that have a direct relevance to how content and collaboration can happen in the education context. Even as the world over people are predicting the death of the LMS as we have known it, the major objections to the shortcomings have been addressed by the LMS vendors.

Features such as the ability to integrate with social networks and media, the ability to use informal learning pedagogy within the structured confines of the traditional environment, the ability to apply traditional business analytics to the learning process, the ability to work with mobile devices for content delivery and interaction and the ability to be open and adaptive to learning needs, are now surfacing in products. One needs only to look at the change in platforms and products for companies such as Blackboard, SABA and Mzinga to witness the transition. Somewhere education companies are signalling their intent to provide, as George Siemens says, platforms for education.


While net pedagogy has made a tremendous mark with the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), there are other initiatives like the Khan Academy (which perhaps does demonstrate the power of a good instructional technique, but that is about as far as it goes), traditional open universities and the OER movement seem still to be lagging behind the change.

The struggle within traditional systems to embrace the newer and perhaps more relevant pedagogical modes will be shaped by the availability of tools and techniques that are simple to adopt and implement. That is, one of the important factors will be the availability of an institution-mindset compliant technology replacement for the LMS.


Assessment remains a sticking point – particularly for informal network based modes – that has not been fully resolved. Part of the reason why it is (and promises to remain) an unsolved challenge is the contradiction in terms with an entire process of accreditation and certification that is the foundation of the traditional system. Network based assessment places far greater responsibility of demonstrating and assessing competencies on the main protagonists – the learner and the employer (/task).

In the traditional scheme of things, however, I do see some interesting moves towards new assessment techniques. One is the evolution of standard forms to more complex forms of assessment – task based and even collaborative. The other is the use of immersive simulation platforms  and serious games, not just for learning but also for assessments.


There has been sufficient movement around standards as well. With TinCan and LETSI, there are some interesting ways of looking at the learning experience. IMS is also evolving new specifications that accommodate the newer realities (Learning Tools Interoperability, Learning Information Services and Common Cartridge). There is hope that standards will support a shift to easier and more efficient creation of new learning experiences, assessment modes and administration support.


There is also the realization that costs must be contained/reduced (especially in developed countries) and this is placing great pressure on the traditional players in businesses such as educational publishing. And we see them responding to the challenge in a variety of ways – all digital. I think people do realize that these solutions may perhaps be one set of the solutions for the developing countries (over the next 10-20 years) and perhaps the only solutions for the countries that are going to contribute the bulk of our learners worldwide by 2050 – the less developed countries of today. But somewhere, I have felt that policy has been too slow to respond to these change trends and this is a missed opportunity.

In Summary

I believe that we have crossed an inflection point over the past year and now it is a period of growth and consolidation. The contours of the next generation learning experiences are clear in intent, although there will be numerous successes and failures on the way. It is going to be an interesting time for entrepreneurs, because new ideas will find a playing ground.


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