In his reflection on the first week of #cfhe12, Bryan Alexander looks at the continued fervor behind MOOCs, as well as the focus of economics in the initial discussions coming from #cfhe12. Bryan somewhat laments the lack of discussion on other elements, such as technology. Looking at his perspective, I came to grips with frustration about several topics so far lacking in the class discussion, specifically learning theory and pedagogy.
And first off, there is a difference between learning theory and pedagogy…as one has to deal specifically with the way in which people learn, and the other is in relation to the methods and manners in which people teach.
cMOOCs are often based on connectivism, a theory in which learning is based on the connective networks of individuals and content rather than held in brains by people (that is a crude definition; I have yet to fully read Siemens’ writing on the topic). While there is debate to be had on connectivism, one can point directly to connectivism as a learning theory. As the learning methods from a cMOOC come through the creation of personal learning networks as well as digital artifacts, one could say the pedagogy mirrors the theory, though with no teacher involved in a cMOOC, it would seem to be that no pedagogy exists at all.
xMOOCs, on the other hand, are tough to nail down through either learning theory or pedagogy. I have found a direct link to distance education methods through xMOOCs, but these institutions and their creators don’t discuss learning theory, and seem to use pedagogy as a buzzword rather than in its intended use. Lloyd Armstrong looks at the stated pedagogies of Coursera and MITx versus their teaching activities in practice, in part to see what pedagogy means to these MOOC havens.
Coursera courses are designed based on sound pedagogical foundations, to help you master new concepts quickly and effectively. What are those pedagogical foundations? They don’t say. However, my experience with Coursera courses (and the ever-expanding blogosphere of people who have documented their journey through a Coursera course) follow a similar path: a video lecture exists for students to watch (broken into chapters). Depending on the subject, the video will embed a quiz for students to take either during or directly after viewing. There are discussion boards facilitated by TAs, where students can discuss concepts, seek clarification or share new resources. Depending on the subject, students can turn in a written assignment, which will be peer reviewed by others in the course. That’s it.
Pedagogy is the art, science and/or act of teaching. Based on this Coursera roadmap, there is little teaching that happens: more to the point, content is put out for people to take from, and it is up to the user to utilize resources to sink or swim. While there is a theoretical and pedagogical rationale for such an approach, to call that sound pedagogical foundation is disingenuous. If Coursera is following Sal Khan’s idea of the flipped classroom, that should be noted as the pedagogical foundation. The pedagogical problems with the flipped classroom are, to just name a few 1) The only aspect of “flipping” new to the past 20 years is the HD quality of the video lectures, and 2) it expects an interventionist teacher to assist students with project development and scaffolding once in the classroom, and there is no “classroom” for a MOOC, so students are on their own to mind the logic gaps.
With the video lecture/quiz/flipped method gaining a lot of traction both through MOOCs and the work of Khan Academy, more study of such pedagogical practices and learning theories is necessary. However, I am skeptical of finding much more there; Gary Stager (I will find the Twitter link later) met Sal Khan and asked him about educational research and learning theory in his methods, and Khan no-sold the question, seeing research as something for other people to do.