Here a MOOC, there a MOOC

A couple of things came together recently, which is almost always my foundation for a blog post.

First, Stanford University is about to offer an open, online course on Artificial Intelligence.

Then, George Siemens posted about it in Google + (hey, cool, a G+ post has a permalink!), and wrote a post about it on his blog.

At roughly the same time, discussion in the EduMOOC Google Group had two interesting threads, one about the work a few of us are doing trying to expand the Wikipedia page on MOOCs (see my last post), and one about what a MOOC is.

Then yesterday, I was part of a fun MOOCast Hangout with master bringer-together-of-people Jeff Lebow and some cool people from the EduMOOC.

My definition of a MOOC sticks to the basics:

  • M = Massive: needs tons of participants (this is why my own History MOOC failed)
  • O = Open: all resources must be available on the open web to anyone who wants to join
  • O = Online: no on-site attendance required, everything is online
  • C = Course: has a course structure, with set facilitator(s), topics and timeline

That’s it. During the discussion, some individuals have considered that a MOOC must have other elements to be a MOOC. These elements include:

  • connectivist pedagogy
  • no cost to participants
  • a structure set up to deliberately encourage connections among students
  • an intention to encourage lifelong learning

I see these as good ideas, just not required for a MOOC. The argument about Stanford’s AI class, and whether or not it’s a MOOC, is based on the extent to which it complies to these desirables rather than whether it is Massive, Open, Online and a Course. It qualifies (if a bunch of people come) on all four, even with a pricey textbook, no set structure for student communication (so far as we know), and no clear intention to encourage learning beyond the course.

Jeff Lebow asked during the Hangout why it matters how we define MOOC? My answer is that the MOOC has been presented as a model. I have participated in several of them, and tried one myself. It failed to fit the model. I am now part of offering another open, online class that should by rights be a MOOC.

This is our POT Online Teaching Certificate Class, which starts September 1. It is open, online and a course. It will likely again fail the Massive test (we have 32 people so far, and I expect a total of no more than 50). As I’ve mentioned before, I have a theory that general education courses will always have trouble succeeding as MOOCs, because unlike all the previous MOOCs, we do not have:

  • promotion and support by the leaders in the field (the ones I chided for not helping out on Wikipedia)
  • fame ( I am known online only among a small group of diverse educators, and the efforts of a small group of committed, volunteer faculty like POT just won’t be seen as an effort worthy of the same kind of attention)
  • a large technical support system (it’s mostly just us with our free tools)

If I were to add such things to the definition of MOOC, people would rightly say I was nuts. The simpler the model is, the easier it is to discuss it, the more broadly it can be applied, and good discussions like this can happen more often.

5 thoughts to “Here a MOOC, there a MOOC”

  1. Hi Lisa,

    I definitely agree with your simple model – only I’m not sure if a pricy textbook qualifies as open. But alas that is another discussion.

    Why do I think a definition matters? Because without a consistent definition, we can’t measure – we can’t say it was or it wasn’t. From there, we then can’t determine design principles. How do you determine what is good MOOC design if you can’t determine if something is or isn’t a MOOC? The same statement can be said for any kind of research – you just can’t compare to anything if you can’t put a box around it.

    Now for your massive problem. I think your Online Teaching Certificate Class could get the numbers – you just need to engage social media. That being said, I think what is likely to deter people is the commitment – 24-weeks is a long time. I think it is easier to get people to sign up for 6 or 8 weeks, then for longer MOOCs (unless you are George, David, or Stephen).


    1. Given past experience, it’s not really about engaging social media so much as being connected to people who would be interested. I advertised my History MOOC several times, but no one came. And the commitment is only for people who want the “prize” of a POT certificate — otherwise it’s open in the same way as DS106 and other classes.

      Interesting perspective on design principles. I have trouble with saying a design is good or bad for any class, but you’re absolutely right that it’s impossible to track or research anything without some kind of base!

      Thanks for your comments!

  2. I like your definition of a MOOC. I agree with Rebecca that a shorter time period is better than a longer time period…unless you are studying a MOOC while running it :-). We talked in the MOOCast at one point about how to add a little more structure to the MOOC. We agreed that telling people they had to post or respond in some way each week was a little too structured. Stephen Downes told us in one of the gatherings that he thought a daily newsletter that is emailed and posted to all participants is what keeps people engaged. I look forward to lurking in your online teaching certificate course.

    1. Happy to have you lurking about, Rob! Our MOOC is very structured because in some ways it wasn’t intended to be one, and it obviously doesn’t have a connectivist pedagogy. Stephen discovered in CCK08 that participants were more dependent on his newsletter than on other more distributed aspects of the course. To me, that spoke to a need for traditionally imposed structure, even in the preferred means of communication (most subscribed by email). His newsletters picked and chose from other people’s posts, which also permitted an aspect of competition. The traditional aspects of the MOOCs seem to provide people with comfort as they explore. In our class, the weekly post with video introduction should serve the same purpose.

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