Comparing MOOCs

My dissertation chair pointed out a problem with doing a dissertation on MOOCs…unless the scope is specific enough, the venture becomes an attempt to define a moving target.  This is evident in the manner in which we define MOOCs…in this blog I have begun looking at the MOOCs of Siemens and Downes as urMOOCs (coined by Bryan Alexander among others), although there are many who refer to them as cMOOCs (for Connectivist MOOCs).  That leaves the Udacity/EdX/Coursera model as MOOC, and any good sociologist or cultural theorist will tell you that by defining one as standard and another as derivative, we have already set false assumptions and beliefs.

C.O. Rodriguez wrote a paper for the European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning on the differences between the cMOOC and what we refer to as only MOOC, and even he had difficulty defining the terms, using “AI-Stanford Like Model” to delineate.  The paper is an ideal start for scholarly research on the topic, and as I read through his citations and continue to look over the work I will share those outcomes.  A few initial points I found noteworthy:

  • Rodriguez works a brief history of MOOC into the paper, and focuses on a four-part growth in distance education.  It’s easy to forget that distance education was not invented with the Internet, and correspondence courses have been around for generations.
  • Rodriguez also casually mentions that MIT has put its lectures online for 10 years, yet only through EdX has it received sustained attention.
  • There is a debate on what the Open part of MOOC stands for; is it about open access and open source and open learning, or is it opening the door of the university and letting anyone see in?  cMOOCs tend toward the former, Udacity-like MOOCs the latter.

Rodriguez classifies the cMOOC as a connectivist learning theory, and the Udacity-like MOOC as a behaviorist-cognitive model, but does not link this part to the literature (to be fair, there is no real literature on the learning theories behind the Udacity-like MOOCs).  I have trouble linking behaviorism and cognitive theory, mainly because the second grew out of the first, and so there are noticeable differences that should be considered.  Also, there is debate as to whether or not connectivism is a learning theory, and I have met a great number of educational researchers and theorists who were unaware of its existence outside of this debate.  

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