Defining the MOOC phenomenon from an educational perspective starts with theoretical foundation, and in order to build a theoretical foundation, one must look at the history of a movement. This develops over a course of weeks and months of reading articles, fishing out noteworthy citations, reading those articles, and over time finding a path to various historical movement, seminal authors, and moments in time considered relevant by the community crowd. Over the past two months, this journey started with MOOC, dove into aiMOOC and urMOOC, and started to gel around cMOOC and xMOOC as the two primary MOOC formats, with a collection of similarities but a wealth of differences. Comparison study on historical, theoretical and pedagogical levels is my attempt to work on defining what MOOCs are and (perhaps more importantly) why they arrived and where we are going because of this moment in time.
The MOOC movement has exploded over the past nine months, and my assumption was that the media narrative of MOOC was too clean for the explosion happening, that we needed to start to delineate between xMOOC and cMOOC, and perhaps MOOC was the wrong monicker. However, it was naive of me to think that the explosion would be so clean that it would fit under xMOOC and cMOOC. Over the past several months, the following learning models/methods/approaches/infrastructures have either aligned themselves as MOOCs or have been aligned by others under that umbrella (and I do not present this as a full and complete list):
- Ed Startup 101
And there are pre-existing learning spaces that have distinct relation to MOOCs or the MOOC movement through theory, pedagogy and/or history:
- Khan Academy
- University of the People
In an effort to define, it might be easier to focus on the two main groupings, try to lump some of the third-party MOOCs into those structures, create an us vs. them mentality, but that seems disingenuous. Perhaps we are focusing too much on the term MOOC because it writes easily and sounds topical yet hip, rather than considering the changes happening to education and/or learning in these spaces in an effort to place it in an historical context and determine what the future holds.
For example, I have long credited George Siemens and Stephen Downes with creation of the first MOOC, a course on connectivism offered in 2008 that was unique both in its hyperreal merge of content and structure. And the Siemens/Downes offering is the first MOOC, or at least the first cMOOC…but David Wiley’s offering of his courses at Utah State University for free to online participants in 2007 could also be considered the first MOOC. Wiley’s courses were not connectivist in nature; rather, Wiley’s focus was on the open aspect of the work, providing not only curriculum and instruction to the online contingent but direct feedback as well. We could argue Wiley’s offering was the first example of an xMOOC, though the definitions of open utilized by Wiley would likely differ from those utilized by Sebastian Thrun or the folks at Coursera and edX.
Finding differences in all of these elements is easy; finding the similarities between various iterations is the true work. And we should also consider the failed initiatives that have come before it, and see what changed between an initiative such as AllLearn and one like Coursera.