cc licensed flickr photo shared by crowdive

At first it was just one stray.

Then another.

Make it three or four.

Now they see each other, and its a herd, movement… stampede?

cc licensed flickr photo shared by crowdive

Yup, there are MOOCs on the moooooove.

Okay, enough of the bovine innuendos. But what is one to make in a slight uptick in talk of Massive Online Open Courses? One might feel like it is a rising tide, but it doesn’t register a blip in google trends.

The M
George Siemens had a really good set of questions in What’s Wrong with (M)OOCs?

I like that George put the parens around the “M”- its been a question of mine about the “massive” part. It’s interesting toi have large numbers in an open course, especially when it triggers international network effects like CCK08 and PLENK2010 had — but is it really a necessary condition? I doubt anyone thinks so- the point of having the first “O” (open) is to enable the participating of at least a few more people than might be taking local class.

Then again, the “M” makes the acronym more palatable. I am not aiming to get caught up in the definitions, but for me the “M” could be almost anything “micro” “macro” “meaty” “might” “mumbojumbopalumbo”

The O (first one)
It is surely the “Open” that makes what we are trying to talk about interesting. It is not ripping down the walls of a class, but certainly making them more transparent and translucent. It’s everything from letting people anywhere who are interested do all of a classes activities, and contribute to the discussions, but also just letting people peek in and get a flavor. Few can really do this more elgantly and effectively than Alec Couros in his EC&I 831: Social Media & Open Education class which has played the game several rounds– he pulls his vast network in, like with calling for mentors, but also effectlivey connects his students outward. It’s a very powerful recipe.

The O (second one)
A throwaway. What can you do without it?

The C
Here is where I think we can do quite a bit more. Pretty much the examples we’ve seen so far are very “course-ish” in structure, they are obvious extensions of the genus and species we know as a course. We have registration, start and end dates, a syllabus, weekly assignments, and usually some sort of synchronous lecture-ish experience.

I also have to cringe a little about thre concern over “drop-outs”. To me, the word really does not even belong in the conversation. If my entry into a MOOC is open, and really my participating optional, on me to invest, I can hardly be considered a “drop out”- I have chosen the amount I want to do, why is that considered bad?

it’s the wrong view of the glass- the focus should be on all the parts that have been down be those that have “dropped in”.

In addition, the subject matter itself in most MOOCs I have seen out in the field, is pretty much within the fences of educational technology. Many people are mooing and wondering what a Math MOOC would like, where a Art history MOOC is grazing, etc.

It’s a matter of time, likely- this is all so new and appeals to people close to the techno barn.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by orangebrompton

The Problem With the Question
So what is moving around is the question, What is a MOOC?— and my hat and many others are off in salute to Dave Cormier and Crew for the video created to answer the question:

Maybe we’ll call this style “CormierAnimate”.

But isnt there a problem in trying to define “a” MOOC, like there is a singular entity? I like Lisa Lane’s take on it in her Got MOOC? post, where she outline Open-Open, Open-Close, and Closed-Closed variants.

But then where do we get when we think about SCoPE seminars that Sylvia Currie leads? It’s open, online, somewhat massive. Where does a MOOC end and a networked online open community of people who share common interests? Heck, while looking for truck parts today, I joined a community of Ford F-150 enthusiasts. Is that MOOC-ish or not?

And even stretched again, long ago in the 1990s I sort of ran an open online course in HTML – this is the pre-blog, pre-social networking, web 1.0 era. Is that a proto MOOC?

What’s Missing
If it is one small quibble I have with Dave’s video (and what I’ve described as the gaping M shaped video in DIY learning) is the very beginning – it pre-supposes the person already knows what they want to learn. The icon learner has the question mark over the head, and knows what it stands for,

That’s the stuff that makes DIY easy. I know my toilet is broken and I want to fix it. I have a bicycle with a gear I cannot shift into, so I want to learn how to adjust my derailleurs. I know I need to cut a piece of wood at a certain angle, how to I get the line drawn using geometry. I start with a clearly identified need, so I seek to fill it.

But we we think of as getting an education or become learned is not just te stuff we know we want to learn. Were that the case, I would have never taken an Art History class (and missed out on my appreciation of gothic cathedrals). I would have never taken a Philosophy logic class. I would have never taken a Photography class as my last under graduate elective.

Unless we get to the area of helping people figure out what they dont know they should learn, and what it takes to sustain their own intrinsic motivation through an open online course, I dont think MOOCs will get too far- they will work for people who know they want to learn about Connectivism before they enter.

Like it or not, the archaic system of schools and degrees compel us to go beyond what we would seek to learn on our own. Where will that happen left to just choosing to learn what we know we want to ahead of time?

What Matters
I don’t expect answers to the questions above- it does not even matter that we define the boundaries of MOOCs, though the work by the researchers around the latest courses, and Dave Cormier’s video series are helping elevate the awareness and coming to somewhat of a sense of what MOOCs might be.

What matters is that more people are experimenting with the middle part- the OO.

And I have no platform to really stand on not having even organized a MOOC (heck, I have yet to participate more than ata 10% level).

And here I have gotten this many blabbering down the page with mentioning my excitement about first participating but also helping feed ideas to Jim Groom’s ds106 Open Digital Storytelling course that spawns January 2011. For one thing, is a bit farther afield in topic than the current herd. But also, it is madly organic (how could it not be with Jim), but is looking like it is going to be a bit less “course-ish” in structure.

During the webinar led kast week by the Five MOOC-ateers, George Siemens, Dave Cormier, Stephen Downes, Alec Couros, and Jim Groom, the question came to Jim about the lack of planned synchronous sessions laid out so far for ds106. First of all, the cement is not even mixed on ds106, much less poured and cured.

However it seems, the limit of what synchronous means is the 1 hour Eluminate sessions- no criticism, but that is not the only way to be synchronous. We are tossing around some alt.ideas for how to get the synchronous effect, but frankly to me, Elluminate (and its ilk) are not OF the web, they are over to the side (can I embed a recording in a blog?), watching them again requires going to view big bulky media, and honestly, the participating levels are skewed more towards the facilitators than the participants. It is a classroom model.

While we all crave the idea of an @jimgroom show, it should be about ds106 (with groom flavoring of course). We think it should be short, like YouTube length. We are thinking of a weekly “This week in ds106” video that could overview the assignments and/or the work people were doing. The synchronous part would be in having it released/posted at an announced time, and people could than chat in via comments (were it YouTube posted), or maybe it could be live streamed via Or it could be announced in twitter, and we’d ask people to comment back via the hashtag.

But what it could expand to is to ask the participants in ds106 to do YouTube-sized highlight reels of other participants work- rather than Jim doing all the production, the class would.

The other idea is something like the #lrnchat or #educhat sessions that spill out on twitter- we could have a time slot when we talk about the work that was done the past week or two, push out links to stories created, and have the conversation there.

I just think we can brainstorm more web-friendly, embedabble, native social networking syncronicity than the box that is webinar software.

Regardless, there is more than a handful of MOOCs forming- its going to get interesting.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by RobW_

yeah, got mooc?

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. The question I keep coming back to for free online courses is how do the leaders earn a living?

    Do they use it as a “loss-leader” in the hope of future paid-for work that’s more bespoke to an individual or orgnisation?

    Or do they gain funding from an altruistic organisation that’s set up to fund educational activity (whether government or charities)?

    Or do they rely on enough people paying for the certificate?

    It’s interesting for me as I sit outside of the academic sector in workplace training.

    1. Hi Mark,

      I cannot say I have a business recipe.

      I would say that “loss leader” is a misnomer, as that assumes there is a cost to doing something that one is forgoing to gain profit elsewhere. Several of the academic examples that we have seen so far are ones where there is a traditional class where students are paying tuition– the addition of an online open opportunity on top of this is not an additional cost as the instructor is using the same materials for the paying students- and gets the gain of input/participating from outside (yes of course somewhere there are costs for prep time and technical infrastructure).

      There is a definite advantage to the paying students in terms of direct access and attention from the instructor, at a level the OO learners likely will not have (plus some sort of certification/accreditation).

      This was the realization I hade in 1994 when I prepped my first HTML workshop for teachers. I could have done traditional materials (slides, print handbook), but it made so much sense to use the subject areas itself, the web, as the platform for creating materials. So I made all of the lessons in HTML and put on a web server. It hit me that there was no extra cost or effort to make this available to ANYONE, since it was self contained, and this was my first project that took off in terms of use/adoption elsewhere ( -what was gained beyond the first 8 lessons in 1994, was feedback and ideas that expanded it to 30+lessons; volunteer translations into other languages, invited speaking gigs to Australia and Iceland..

      That said, I would avoid obvious bait and switch approaches, like you get a little bit for free, and then you ask people to pay to see the full course/training. That is not open, that is like being sort of pregnant.

      And certainly, a free, open offering is a demonstration of skills, services that can be offered for fee based beyond the open course.

      I really do not see why anyone could not do a MOOT (massively open online training)– the materials are free but that is not where your value is in training- it is what you can do with people who are willing to pay for more close support/instructions/certification. Just done make the free experience a cheap one.

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