MOOC: “What’s in a name?”

MOOC:  What’s in a name?  I was so very happy to learn that MOOCs take on various “flavors” supporting different instructional models as discussed in MOOCs and Open Education Around the World, Bonk, et al (2015).  I’ve come to a meta-understanding that MOOCs and other learning technologies enable the optimization of constructivist learning systems. These technologies amplify the access to education but also create richer, deeper, and globally connected learning. So, the principles of social, PBL, constructing, sharing, and confirming knowledge are amplified exponentially through the use of MOOC instructional systems. This was a big moment for me. Meaning, understanding how the technology and instructional delivery system for MOOCs is supported by learning theory principles.

Get your MOOCs here, we got all kinds to satisfy your needs… I think the first step in MOOC integration is to provide the HE/K-12 community with greater insight as to what MOOCs really are and define them as distance education models that can be used in whole or in part with other instructional models. I’ve read the first chapter of MOOCs and Open Education Around the World, Bonk, et al (2015) and I believe that this is a resource that should be leveraged and shared with all institutions interested in learning more about, planning, and implementing MOOCs. I think this will help many learning technology professionals and administrators to get beyond the buzz and really understand the current state of MOOCs and the potential for these learning environments. For example, and very enlightening to me was how Bonk et al (2015), citing Watters (2013) and Davis (2014), segmented MOOC delivery models (“acronyms”), or “derivatives” of the MOOC based on their learning principles or niche focus, for example:

  • cMOOC: Connectivist style of learning (by the way, Athabasca video)
  • xMOOC: Massive quantity of students served
  • pMOOC: Project-based learning
  • MOOD: Massive Online Open Discussion
  • PD-MOOC: Professional development
  • Others related to remedial education and advanced placement

So, it’s the learning objective and instructional design that determines the selection of one or a hybrid MOOC delivery model and enabling technologies – it’s not the technology that dictates the instructional design and delivery decisions.

“Lighten up, Francis”. Yes, there has been a lot of negative press surrounding MOOCS and their initial implementations. However, I completely agree with Siemens (2011), in that MOOCs have the potential to: “Rebalance the power of knowledge” by distributing it among learners and not consolidating it in a central repository (university).  This power resides in a student’s ability to create knowledge structures by flipping the emphasis on content as the center of knowledge to interacting with MOOC content such that it initiates as student’s learning journey and provides a “conduit” to learning and sharing connections – thereby creating deeper and continued learning.

Siemens (2011) also offers a really good explanation of MOOC evolution to-date, emphasizing the point that this is a new delivery model and we don’t yet really understand the full potential of this model. He offered other insights, caution, and explanation in this area that caused me to pause and think: Before MIT, Stanford, EdX, Coursera all joined together to provide the first MOOCs, this had never been done before. Theoretically, learning technologists, researchers and educators could see the possibilities of opening access to and creating deeper engagement with the MOOC model – but it had never been done before! So, the MOOC craze has trended similar to LMS, ePortfolio, CBE, eTexts, etc. Basically, Lots of high expectations at first, with innovative educators and learning technology and services providers rushing to meet the new buzz and market focus. Then, as we start to learn from these new models, criticism and scrutiny begins. That’s ok because we need to understand the obstacles (retention, amplification, credentialing, reaching underserved students) to establishing an effective MOOC delivery model. But just because there are obstacles, let’s not lose sight of the potential to optimize the principles of constructivism through the MOOC model.

Also, we should stop saying that MOOCs are free. They’re not. Or better, they’re like a “free puppy”. For example, Stansbury (2015a): “We estimate total costs per MOOC, including facilities, equipment, and overhead, of $38,980 to $325,330”.  What is open is the access to knowledge and a path to learning connections. In most cases, student access is free, but the delivery of a MOOC is not. Even if you achieve economies of scale, leveraging existing university technologies and support services and faculty, there still is a cost and someone has to bare it. As we learned in the early weeks of this class, MOOC providers are trying to develop a funding model around credentialing and charging for premium content. OK, so now we’re starting to centralize content/knowledge, again – defeating the purpose of the MOOC!

“We don’t need no stinkin’ plan”. Would you settle for best practices? Stansbury (2015), after a review of the literature and outcomes, identified emerging lessons learned for MOOC delivery that should be reviewed by those planning to or currently involved in MOOCs:

    1. There is a cost – as I discussed above. For more information on how to incorporate a MOOC into an institutional strategy, click here. (Links to an external site.) (Stansbury, 2015b).
    2. Access is not a given – students must have a reasonable chance to succeed in MOOCs if they work hard to achieve their education goals
    3. The MOOC is to Education as the Hammer to Nail – I think this works for this lesson learned. As David Wiley in Stansbury (2015) cautions, we should not be swinging the MOOC hammer at every educational need. If so, we do this at the detriment to the student and the credibility of the MOOC
    4. Like the laptop – MOOCs are going smaller – “EdCast– (Links to an external site.)a personal learning network platform– developed what it says is a new social media platform that allows people to post mini-MOOCs, or video snippets of educational content; the new functionality is called “EdCasting.” While I haven’t conducted an exhaustive review of EdCast, why can’t we just use YouTube to accomplish this?
    5. It’s an art form –

“1) Static PowerPoint slides are an engagement killer;

2) Fast-talking professors proved much more engaging than educators who spoke at a decidedly slow pace. MOOC professors with the highest engagement rates said 254 words per minute;

3) Lengthy online videos had low engagement rates, while short videos kept students’ attention. Students typically stopped watching the online lecture after six minutes;

4) While fast-talking professors were key, long pauses for students to better digest complicated diagrams were vital in maintaining engagement; and

5) Videos designed specifically for web-based audiences fared much better than existing videos that were simply chopped up and shown in snippets. For more information on CSAIL’s study, click here (Links to an external site.).”

In summary, MOOCs will eventually be categorized as an optional learning delivery model for informal and formal settings. What we are experiencing now is the typical evolutionary path of theoretical implications for MOOC delivery into practical and repeatable models. “Operationalizing” MOOCs will take time and research and the innovators’ fortitude to withstand the constructive and negative criticism. It seems we are headed in the right direction, balancing theory, practical research, lessons learned, and use determinism to select those technologies that support the instructional model – atleast that’s my assessment of the landscape. What do you think?


MOOCs and Open Education Around the World.” In C. J. Bonk, M. M. Lee., T. C. Reeves, & T. H. Reynolds, T. H. (Eds.), MOOCs and open education around the world (xxx-xlii). NY: Routledge. Retrieved from (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.) and (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.) or (Links  (Links to an external site.)

August 11, 2015, massive MOOC lessons learned by colleges and universities 
Posted By Meris Stansbury On August 11, 2015 @ 12:20 pm In Featured on eCampus News,MOOCs,Research,Resource,Top (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)

Denny Carter. August 5, 2014. Learning from MOOC mistakes, one click at a time. (Links to an external site.)

(2011). George Siemens on massive open online courses (MOOCs) [Online Video]. May 5, 2011: (Links to an external site.)


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