Siemens on MOOC Theory / Classifying MOOCs

George Siemens starts a June 2012 blog post by celebrating the advancement of massively open online courses via platforms such as Coursera and EdX (noticeably absent from his praise is Udacity) as methods of providing excellence in education on a global level (an effort that is written about in great detail throughout popular lit, but not so much in research).  The purpose of the blog, however, is to note the theoretical and pedagogical differences between MOOCs and Coursera/EdX MOOCs (and he notes that he has chosen to signify the larger model as the “other”).  What about similarities?

There are many points of overlap, obviously, as both our MOOCs and the Coursera/EDx MOOCs taken (sic) advantage of distributed networks to reflect changing educational practice.

As I have noted in previous review of research, the assumption that MOOCs share ancestry is likely faulty.  That does not mean the two lack overlap, but any foundational work needs to address pedagogical and theoretical histories, of which MOOCs and Coursera/EDx MOOCs only share recent commonality.

NOTE:  The MOOC term is not working, and I hate to say that, as I am a disciple of Bryan Alexander, who is credited with helping coin the term MOOC.  Right now, most scholars refer to the Siemens-based MOOCs as cMOOCs and the Coursera-like MOOCs just as MOOCs.  Again, however, subjugating one lessens it in relation to the whole.   Subjugating both is the likely course in the short-term, but gaining acceptance of that is daunting.

The only theory Siemens approaches is connectivism as the lens to view his brand of MOOCs.  He does address its similarities to constructivism, but says that constructivism will eventually be viewed through the lens of connectivism (ironically, people today view connectivism through a constructivist lens).  Siemens then posted an old blog about the unique ideas in connectivism (and, ironically again, it is a response to Gary Stager, a firebrand constructivist who I had the pleasure to take doctoral coursework from last year).

The next six points are pedagogical in nature (though there is a link to Vygotsky and social learning that Siemens does not follow; he discusses it as resonance but it exists in the lit):  knowledge is organic (and environment is vital), instructors are guides and not Gods, interaction is encouraged in multi-dimension, and it addresses immediacy rather than sticks to tried-and-true.

The last piece views motivation; Siemens says MOOCs can create self-directed and autonomous learners.  This somewhat contradicts the Annand article I read recently, where Annand sees a break between cohort (where you are lead by another) and independent (where you have to drive yourself).  Perhaps this is a middle ground, or a completely new circle in a new strata; a place where you can learn in cohort yet also be independent.  Theoretically, this is a place where literature is limited and would be great research ground.

Comments are interesting (though turned off to new commenters); Jon Dron, who collaborated on an article in my lit review on the history of distance learning, really hits theory that Siemens leaves out (to be fair, blog posts for great numbers are not the ideal places to get terribly theory-heavy):

Your thoughts on resonance, as you describe it, seem to resonate with related concepts such as the ZPD, SDT’s notion of competence, the logic behind Bruner’s scaffolding, various similar ideas found in Knowles’s variant of andragogy and Dewey’s thoughts on informal learning, as well as many others. It strikes me that the ‘connect’ part of ‘connectivism’ relies on there being something old to connect with something new, or to connect ideas in new ways. If there’s nothing to connect with, then no connection happens.

Siemens is very appreciative of Dron’s comments, but again returns to terms like resonance.  Perhaps Siemens is a creator whose job is to build and innovate, and it is up to others to see the links to theory and history.  As a diss student, I have to determine why that link to theory and history is important.

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