xMOOCs: Labeling the Big Higher Ed MOOC?

Came across an interesting piece from Bonnie Stewart, providing a potential answer to a definition I was grappling with:  she calls the Coursera/EdX/Udacity model of MOOC an xMOOC (perhaps because of MITx and EdX?), delineating it from the cMOOC and providing clarity when discussing the different options in learning.  NOTE:  I have seen xMOOC thrown around, but in a haphazard fashion:  people have utilized it to refer not only to Stanford-model MOOCs, but connectivist MOOCs as well.  

I linked to Stewart earlier discussing the geeking out of media and ed folks over the possibilities of xMOOCs; the post on xMOOCs as Business Model rather than Educational Best Practices is similar in tone.  How this post differs is in a discussion of conviction.  xMOOCs and cMOOCs differ considerably in scope, pedagogy, theory, application, instruction, assessment; the differences are so stark that my literature review has turned up two separate histories for these MOOCs which only converge in a present, general place (Internet-based asynchronous learning).  Why does that matter?  There are reasons that relate to access, openness, theory, economics, etc.  But at the heart of the difference is a debate on how we define learning.  If xMOOCs are a business model rather than a learning model, we have defined learning  (a substructure which, until very recently, has been considered a public good and an individual right) in purely business terms.  From Stewart:

The more I think about the xMOOCs in terms of power relations, the more I note that they preserve and consolidate those of traditional academia. They take the sedimented prestige and name-brands of elite institutions and open up new markets for them, even while undermining many of the structures that those institutions have operated on for generations. The xMOOCs convert the capital carried by academic reputation into new value, at a new scale, in new forms…XEducation brings courses to the world. But it also brings the world under the brand of the institutions and corporations running those courses. If you are on the Board of Governors of one of these elite institutions, your interests are protected. If you are not, you may find the situation looks more complex.

Stewart does not go into the history of distance learning, an effort to get content to masses understanding the limitations of geography and technology.  With geography now not as much of an issue, xMOOCs are replacing the correspondence/radio/video learning methods of the Industrial model of learning with it all wrapped into one place, plus an expert branded with institutional clout and prestige.  Stewart again:

They assume what needs to be known is known. They don’t even begin to address the emergent domain of knowledge or all the cultural shifts occurring as hierarchy is challenged by heterarchy.  xMOOCs are higher ed circling the wagons of its own sedimented power relations, against the challenges of participatory pedagogies and the logic of the Internet.

Hierarchy vs. heterarchy is something I dealt with considerably when looking at the future of museums and education programs, and looks like one of the dominant educational questions of the next decade.  And while Stewart makes a passionate (and strong) point about the fight between open access and lord-based content access, ignoring the theoretical base of xMOOCs cuts the theoretical legs out from under the model, rendering it as the Other and making it easy to throw stones rather than debate logistics.  An argument in a similar style against cMOOCs would refer to them as hangouts of navel gazers making no headway in measurable goals except within this hangout community.  That is not an accurate assessment as it ignores their history and theory.


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