Archive for July, 2011

Is there anything between self-directed learning in MOOCs and universities’ curriculum driven instruction?

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Our North American colleagues (one, two, three, four) are having somehow heated discussion on “massive open online courses” (MOOC). The idea of MOOCs is simple — from Wikipedia:

“More like an online event, MOOCs invite open online participation around a schedule or agenda, facilitated by people with reputation or expertise in the topics, relying on successful formations of learning networks to assist people studying the topics.”

Like often in online discussions, in this one too, there are very few shades. You either support MOOCs or are against them. You are with us or against us. I am not willing to choose any side, because I think there are more and better options than MOOCs and self-directed learning or classical campus universities and curriculum-driven instruction.

I personally think that if a university or college course can be replaced with a MOOC (or something similar) it should be.

What I don’t like in the MOOC is the “M”, the massive. Why an online learning should be massive? Why couldn’t we have small, middle-size, pretty large and large open online courses. I think aiming to be massive is a sign of some kind of large-number syndrome.

I think we need different kind of online courses — more diversity. More courses using different pedagogical approaches with different terms. There could be courses with different quality and we could have different quality assurance mechanisms, from governmental accreditation to peer-to-peer recommendations.

What is important is the “openness”, the transparency of operation that will make many kind of quality assurance possible.

Different kind of online courses could be funded by governments, universities, foundations, companies and who ever have social responsibility. On some courses people themselves or their employer could pay.

I have an example. Last autumn I hired a new researcher to my research group. For the beginning I asked her to take part in the Howard Rheingold’s Introduction to Mind Amplifiers online course. Before doing this I checked the Syllabus and found it good. By knowing that Howard is a great educator mastering Socratic method (and asking a lot from his students) and that there are only 35 “seats”, I found the price reasonable.

So is it an open course if I one must pay for it? I think it is open, and even more than open – they are free. I think these are free same way as free is defined in free software movement. Let me explain.

Howard’s syllabus is free. If I want to use it, I am free to use it and all the other freely available resources linked in to it. I can study with them and learn – no problem. In addition to that I may find it reasonable to pay for a service, in this case Howard’s time. The monetary investment will guarantee that the syllabus and the resources are used well.

Between the MOOCs vs. universities there is at least some alternative approaches: small and intensive open online courses. Let’s have more of these. Is there anything else that could be located somewhere between the MOOCs and the universities on-campus lectures?

I think labeling all university education bad is wrong. A lot of universities are able to provide courses that are truly inspiring and engaging experiences for students with projects and classes in seminar style. The point is that the teaching is encouraging (and asking for) class discussions. Why all universities are not doing this?