National Novel Writing Month, known colloquially as NaNoWriMo, starts today and runs through the month of November, encouraging participants to write 50,000 words toward a novel. This is the 14th year of NaNoWriMo, and the number of registered participants has grown from 21 “overcaffeinated yahoos” to more than a quarter of a million in 2011. And while media buzz for NaNoWriMo continues to grow, its press popularity dwarfs that of other massive online learning environments, specifically MOOCs. In the Twitterverse today, Ed Tech folks are focused on the move by the Learning Management System Instructure to platform MOOCs (this deserves more blog time later this week) than on NaNoWriMo. On a research front, there is about as much scholarly research on NaNoWriMo as there is on MOOCs, despite NaNoWriMo having a thirteen year head start (and there is a tempest of MOOC research brewing). Is this a bias against the humanities (NaNoWriMo is a creative writing endeavor versus the STEM-heavy MOOCsphere), do people not see learning happening via a mechanism such as NaNoWriMo, or is something else afoot?
Comparing NaNoWriMo to the xMOOC (the MOOC most commonly discussed in popular media) is an example of apples and oranges. xMOOCs come from a lecture-based, behaviorist pedagogy, often using direct instruction methodology and question/answer assessment such as tests and quizzes; NaNoWriMo gives participants a task and encourages them to go at it, but there is no formative or summative assessment, no lecture, no direct instruction. From this vantage point, there is little place for comparison. That does not mean there are not comparative elements, but rather the beforementioned lens is the wrong one to utilize.
MOOCs did not originate from the xMOOC model, however; the term MOOC came about based on a 2008 course on #Connectivism, offered free to any interested parties. Since then, MOOCs in this format (known recently as cMOOCs for differentiation) have continued to grow and prosper, happening in a myriad of subjects across a myriad of formats (as is the way of connectivist thought and theory/pedagogy). My current cMOOC experience in #oped12 and #cfhe12 is as such: there is a basic LMS to log into where I can access materials and post to discussion boards, but my assignments are to create digital artifacts (blogs, tweets, Wikis, etc.) where I wrestle with the content and can share my thoughts and experiences with others. A great deal of the work is designed to create community: hashtagged tweets, blog responses, Skype and Google+ hangouts are encouraged (though not incorporated in the design for the most part). The mirror here with NaNoWriMo is evident: NaNoWriMo encourages the development of support and community through social media (though they do more scaffolding of community-building), the assignment is not graded on formative or summative measures, and the LMS offers a smattering of assistance though primarily exists as a limited home base, with the work happening through the individual and the network they develop through the experience.
My research to this point leads me to see MOOCs as one point in an evolution of distance education measures, with various forces shaping various iterations. I have problems with the term MOOC because the two domains it serves (the xMOOC and the cMOOC) are such different creatures in theory/pedagogy/methodology/access/audience that lumping them together seems at best disingenuous. However, it is important to research xMOOCs and cMOOCs together due to their emergence in our sociocultural space and the similarities they do have. And doing that hopefully will allow us to create a more inclusive definition that looks at similarities of xMOOCs and cMOOCs, and sees the parallel to learning formats that have existed for 10 or 15 years but are not rooted in academe.