Distance Education – Where MOOC Theory Hides

The initial problem with writing this dissertation was tracking down the learning theories behind Coursera-like MOOCs.  These business models are incredibly new, and their PR focuses on issues of access and affordability rather than theory and pedagogy.  Most searchable MOOC research focuses on cMOOCs, the connectivism-inspired MOOCs sired initially Siemens and Downes (which we will explore more heavily in the future, such as DS106).

It’s easy to forget that the MOOC is an extension of distance learning; in some respects, it is a fancier correspondence course.  Thus, the theory exists, it’s just hiding in the world of distance education.  Terry Anderson and Jon Dron explore the learning pedagogies (and theories) behind the evolution of distance learning, viewing the evolution of the field as in tune with the sociopolitical and sociocultural climates of the world at the time.  For Anderson and Dron, initial correspondence courses fit a behaviorist-cognitivist model (I’d prefer to just say behaviorist, but they insist on putting the two together re: Distance Ed) because technology only allowed for one-way communication (you could watch a video on your TV or read a book, but that was it).  More recent distance learning through online means (such as learning management systems) are social constructivist; technology offered two-way communication and a greater sense of community, and learning could involve creation and deliberation on a greater level where an instructor could scaffold information to individual learning objectives.  The cMOOCs follow a connectivist model, where learning is about networked information:  computing and processing should be left to machines, having free and ubiquitous access to networks and information is vital, and learning happens through connection to and interaction with various social networks:  Twitter, Facebook, Second Life, LinkedIn, etc.

On first read, what stood out to me:

  • It’s easy to forget that MOOCs are an extension of distance learning.  Their ancestors include Sally Struthers hawking TV/VCR Repair courses on late-night cable.
  • Perhaps this is why Coursera-like MOOCs are so adherent to behaviorist models.  Distance ed started as behaviorist; social interaction wasn’t possible, nor was teacher interaction.  Success required clearly defined learning objectives and a great deal of material to consider.  These objectives superseded environment and personal learning styles/prior knowledge/personality and social cues were at best ignored and at worst considered superfluous.
  • Anderson and Dron mention that distance ed research has not yielded a difference between instructor-heavy education and instructor-absent education; however, this only applies to behaviorist-inspired courses and curriculum
  • A critique of connectivism is that the wisdom of the crowd can lead to mediocrity, as well as greater opportunities for charismatic individuals.  I am just entering my connectivist readings, but those were initial concerns of mine as well.

2 thoughts on “Distance Education – Where MOOC Theory Hides

  1. Pingback: Siemens on MOOC Theory / Classifying MOOCs | All MOOCs, All The Time

  2. amarocksgroup

    Very informative for distance education. The new methodologies in distance learning are becoming popular day by days.


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