Massive Open Online Course

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"Massive Open Online Courses — known as MOOCs — a tool for democratizing higher education. While the vast potential of free online courses has excited theoretical interest for decades, in the past few months hundreds of thousands of motivated students around the world who lack access to elite universities have been embracing them as a path toward sophisticated skills and high-paying jobs, without paying tuition or collecting a college degree. And in what some see as a threat to traditional institutions, several of these courses now come with an informal credential (though that, in most cases, will not be free)." (




" Building a Search Engine, is taught by two prominent computer scientists, Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford research professor and Google fellow, and David Evans, a professor on leave from the University of Virginia.

The big names have been a big draw. Since Udacity, the for-profit startup running the course, opened registration on Jan. 23, more than 90,000 students have enrolled in the search-engine course and another taught by Mr. Thrun, who led the development of Google’s self-driving car." (



"Consider Stanford’s experience: Last fall, 160,000 students in 190 countries enrolled in an Artificial Intelligence course taught by Mr. Thrun and Peter Norvig, a Google colleague. An additional 200 registered for the course on campus, but a few weeks into the semester, attendance at Stanford dwindled to about 30, as those who had the option of seeing their professors in person decided they preferred the online videos, with their simple views of a hand holding a pen, working through the problems.

Mr. Thrun was enraptured by the scale of the course, and how it spawned its own culture, including a Facebook group, online discussions and an army of volunteer translators who made it available in 44 languages.

“Having done this, I can’t teach at Stanford again,” he said at a digital conference in Germany in January. “I feel like there’s a red pill and a blue pill, and you can take the blue pill and go back to your classroom and lecture your 20 students. But I’ve taken the red pill, and I’ve seen Wonderland.”

Besides the Artificial Intelligence course, Stanford offered two other MOOCs last semester — Machine Learning (104,000 registered, and 13,000 completed the course), and Introduction to Databases (92,000 registered, 7,000 completed). And this spring, the university will have 13 courses open to the world, including Anatomy, Cryptography, Game Theory and Natural Language Processing.

“We’re considering this still completely experimental, and we’re trying to figure out the right way to go down this road,” said John Etchemendy, the Stanford provost. “Our business is education, and I’m all in favor of supporting anything that can help educate more people around the world. But there are issues to consider, from copyright questions to what it might mean for our accreditation if we provide some official credential for these courses, branded as Stanford.”

Mr. Thrun sent the 23,000 students who completed the Artificial Intelligence course a PDF file (suitable for framing) by e-mail showing their percentile score, but not the Stanford name; 248 students, none from Stanford, earned grades of 100 percent." (


  • see: Taking Stock: Do MOOCs Work Best For Educated People? [1]

MOOC's don't work

"MOOCs do not work, either commercially or pedagogically.

Much of what’s being lauded as ‘revolutionary’ simply involves videotaping lectures and putting them online!

As the Economist article acknowledges, MOOCs do not yet have a business model. The fact that they are free is nothing to get excited about – it is easy to give things away until the money runs out.

When it comes to pedagogy, the article is hopelessly optimistic. It skates over the drop-out rate (which is in the order of 90-93%), blaming this on the lack of a proper qualification (which students will discover at the end of the course, if they did not realise it before they start). It should blame the drop-out rate on the poor pedagogy, which is what they discover during the course.

The Economist article states that that

- MOOCs are more than good university lectures available online. The real innovation comes from integrating academics talking with interactive coursework, such as automated tests, quizzes and even games.

But, like the Khan academy before it, “lectures available online” is predominantly what they are. As Audrey Waters writes in a characteristically well-researched post, “much of what’s being lauded as ‘revolutionary’ and as ‘disrupting’ traditional teaching practices here simply involves videotaping lectures and putting them online”. Audrey has attended 15 MOOCs in 2012, so she should know.

The lesson of the UK Open University and University for Industry is that while distance learning addresses the problems of the isolated learner (predominantly the adult in the workplace), it does not come cheaper than face-to-face delivery owing to the need for expensive one-to-one tutoring support.

At a speech at Online Educa Berlin in November, Gary Matkin, Dean of Continuing Education at the University of California, commented that many were signing contracts with with the MOOC companies that were not compatible with their status as leading universities, in that they were losing control of the quality of the courses that they were agreeing to certify.

Robert Cummings, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Mississippi said that many universities were getting into these contracts due to the advocacy of individual faculty members, who were motivated by a combination of vanity and a desire to publicise their own books. He summarised, “Everyone wants to jump on-board and no-one is quite sure what they are jumping onto”.

Before jumping on-board, the MOOC-enthusiastic universities should consider the words of William Cory, Assistant Master of Eton, who wrote in 1861:

- You go to school at the age of twelve or thirteen and for the next four or five years you are engaged not so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism.

If this is true of schoolboys in 1861, how much more true should it be of undergraduates in 2012. And yet those following MOOCs have no opportunity to make mental effort under the criticism of anyone except their peers—i.e. no-one who can relied on to have domain knowledge superior to the learner.

An academic education is not equivalent to a trip to the public library, digital or otherwise!

Diana Laurillard, Professor of Learning with Digital Technologies at the London Institute of Education, highlights the same misconception in a book published earlier this year:

- There is a danger that technology could undermine formal education…Arguments against formal education are now current again but, uninformed by any understanding of the theory of teaching and learning, they plunge us back into traditional approaches. Technology opportunists who challenge formal education argue that, with wide access to information and ideas on the web, the learner can pick and choose their education – thereby demonstrating their faith the transmission model of teaching. An academic education is not equivalent to a trip to the public library, digital or otherwise. The educationalist has to attack this kind of nonsense, but not by rejecting technology." (

Pro's and Con's

Where do you see the value in opening up classrooms to the world through the concepts of open teaching and Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs)?

1. The sceptic, Max Fawcett

"I think there’s value in opening up the black box of higher education, but that it’s ultimately limited in nature. There’s a huge difference between knowledge and information, and while massively open online courses (MOOCs) might satisfy the demand for the latter I’m skeptical about their ability to do much to produce more of the former.

Education, after all, isn’t an acquisitive process, an exercise in procuring and storing information. Instead, learning is a social process, one in which people get from point A – ignorance – to point B – enlightenment – through a messy combination of challenge, failure and consolidation. While there might be a few people who can (and should) take advantage of open-source learning models, there are, I suspect, far more who can’t. Information, in the absence of the ability to apply it, isn’t very valuable, as anybody who’s ever tried to fix their own car using only the supplied factory manual understands only too well.

More important, I think, is the fact that concepts of open teaching and MOOCs marginalize the role of the teacher and the importance of the act – the art – of teaching. In my experience good teachers aren’t so much conduits of information (as the MOOC model implies) as they are mediums of it, essential participants in the dynamic process of learning rather than passive instruments in transmission of information. And teaching, for better or worse, is a corporeal activity that can’t be replicated with the suite of technologies to which we have access today. Until we find the tools that allow us to replicate the classroom experience in an online environment, MOOCs will remain simulacra, hollow and atonal echoes of what the educational process is really about."

2. The advocate, George Siemens

"First, I would ask you to define “information” and “knowledge”. I have my views, but I want to answer your declarative statement with a better understanding of how you use the terms – particularly in reference to how an participative social course would generate information, but not knowledge.

To your first paragraph: actually, education *is* an acquisitive process. Education – from the design of outcomes, to curriculum, and to assessment, strongly asserts that learners must duplicate the knowledge within a textbook or a professor’s head. Learning, however, *is not* an acquisitive process. We learn constantly, experientially, socially. I can sit in a lecture hall for an hour and leave with a dramatically different understanding of a topic than the professor wanted me to have. A useful illustration of the disconnect between education and learning is the Private Universe study ( Basically, a group of graduates and alumni from Harvard, on graduation day, were unable to explain why we have seasons (most thought it was due to distance between the earth and the sun). The system of education is not always compatible with the desire for learning. It is precisely for this reason that we *do not* want tools that “replicate the classroom experience”. We want tools that address the weakness of education models.

MOOCs, in contrast to traditional education, require engaged, active, and participative learners. In open courses, learners encounter fellow learners from other countries and other disciplines (in CCK08, we had dozens of countries represented). An open course requires students to comment, to create, and to engage with others. Passivity reduces the quality of learning as most learning occurs in the process of doing, creating, sharing, and dialoguing. The model is particularly effective because it utilizes social and information sharing methods that many individuals are familiar with in their personal lives. Social networked learning has a long history – information flows in social networks, parents teach their children, masters teach apprentices. Many of the technologies available today augment this natural human social capacity and MOOCs are particularly valuable in this regard. The sound bite phrase you use to conclude your statement – “hollow and atonal echoes” – is quite lovely. However, you are casting it at MOOCs when your target should be the existing university lecture and test models." (

The full debate at

(Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives)

Stephen Downes: What Have We Learned From MOOC's?

Stephen Downes:

"What this talk is about - it's called "Education as Platform" - is the idea of exploring some of the experiences we've had with massive open online learning, and exploring some of the criticisms that we've experienced, some of the criticisms that we've seen, and trying to understand what elements of the design are working and what elements of the design are not working, and to use this understanding to try to advance our perspective on the way online learning is proceeding and should proceed.

Now, a couple of caveats, and they're not in the slides, but I do want to bring these out, because George (Siemens) mentioned them a bit. One of the caveats is the idea of education as solving mobility problems, social problems, employment problems, poverty problems, and I think it works the other way around. I don't see education as being the means to solve these problems. I don't think it's an automatic thing. I know it's a really good selling point for education generally and online learning in particular, but I don't think that the root of social problems lies in a lack of education, and I don't think that the solution will be there.

If we look at the actual literature, there's a very strong correlation between poverty and educational outcomes. Solving poverty solves the problem of education, not the other way around. And that's my experience.

That said, education has a role, and a significant role, in the quality of life that people who are educated can have. A person can be out of poverty and uneducated and have a very poor quality of life, but I think it's very difficult to be educated and to have a poor quality of life. I think education creates ways of seeing, ways of doing, ways of becoming that are not possible otherwise. And these are the things that make a life worth living and make a person willing to work more diligently and more forcefully toward having that life.

I raise these considerations because the idea of the Massive Open Online Course, and the theory of connectivism that George coined the title for and that George and I and Dave (Cormier) and a whole pile of other people have worked together to create, is largely about self-education, is largely about how we create our own learning. And I think a big part of that has to be why we create our own learning, why we educate ourselves, what are the motivations here.

There's this thing about education being what is needed in order to get jobs. As though there's enough jobs at the end of it. And I think that's a fallacy. People respond - and this happens in our country - they respond to the doctor shortage by educating more doctors. They say, "this will solve the problem!" But they don't create new doctor positions. And so we've educated a hundred doctors and still have a doctor shortage after because nobody's paying for doctors.

And George mentioned robots. I love robots. I think robots are really cool. But I'll tell you: robots take jobs. And more and more we are in an environment where the machines are the productive entities in society. And that's true not just in Canada; it's also true here. And it's true not just in manufacturing but across the board: in agriculture, in education, in government.

George talked about learning analytics. Learning analytics is using machines to count numbers instead of using people as we used to. So we have to come to grasp, as educators, with the reality that education is not going to change that. And that if we are educating people for jobs that don't exist, then we're not being honest with our students. And that the problem of wealth and distribution in society isn't going to be solved simply by educating.

George made some interesting comments about disruption in education and was saying that some of the new programs, the new initiatives like Khan Academy, Udacity, Coursera, and others, are not disruptive enough. I think he's got that right. And what we've tried to create with the massive open online course is something that is, as he said, transformative, something that takes what we know of as education, sets it aside, and rebuilds it for a world that is dramatically changed, complex, changing, difficult to understand, difficult to comprehend, difficult to work in. And what we've created is called the MOOC, the Massive Open Online Course.

There's been a number of MOOCs over the years. We claim - and I think it's a good claim - to have created the first MOOC, Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2008. And it was very recursive because the topic of the course was how to create courses that are about that course kind of topic. So it was a course that studied itself. And that's the perfect kind of course, for some things.

There has been a variety of other MOOCs. Rita Kop and I did a MOOC on critical literacies. Jim Groom has done a MOOC on digital storytelling; he's done that a few times. Dave, George and I (and Rita) have done Personal Learning Environments, Networks and Knowledge. Right now we're going the Change Online MOOC, where each week we introduce participants to a leading figure in educational technology. There have been the MOOCs by Stanford University on artificial intelligence.

What's characterized these MOOCs most of all has been the large number of participants, and that's something that makes it very interesting. In an environment where you need 60, 160, whatever it is, new universities, being able to offer an education to thousands of people at the same time using relatively straightforward technology is something that's very attractive.

Probably the major defining feature of the MOOC, and certainly the place where we started, is the fact that it is open. Anybody can enter a MOOC. Well, OK, I have to be a bit careful here: anybody with a computer and an internet connection, or access to one, can enter a MOOC. These are types of online learning. I'm going to emphasize this a little bit later as well, but what we built is a type of online learning. And it requires a certain infrastructure.

It takes advantage of that infrastructure to do things that we could not formerly do without the infrastructure. You might say, and you'd be very reasonable in saying, well what if you don't have that infrastructure? Well then probably you're not going to want to do a MOOC, because it's going to be a lot more difficult.

Openness also means that novices and experienced people are able to merge together in the same space and communicate and interact with each other. And this is one of these things that you can do online that you can't really do offline. Online, the Prime Minister of a country can have a conversation with people from all over the place; offline, that's a lot more difficult, because the Prime Minister's always surrounded by advisors, and then media, and then other media, and then a crowd of people, and that prevents the Prime Minister from talking to people directly. It is this directness, this immediacy of communication, that you can do online that allows a MOOC to be open, that is one of its defining features.

The MOOC is structured as a network. And again, this is the sort of thing you can't really do offline. But online - I see people laughing at the diagram, that's a creative representation of a MOOC, by one of our students in a MOOC - and the idea here of a MOOC is that it's not one central entity that everybody goes to, it's not like a school or a classroom or a book where everybody would go to this one thing. It's distributed. There's a bit here, there's a bit here, there's a bit here, there's a bit here - there's my website, there's George's website, there's Dave's website, there's Rita's website, there's Helene's website, there's Nancy White's website, Grainne's website even (it was only created recently), and it's the website of this student, this student, this student, it's the website of a person in Spain, a person in Brazil, a person in India, a person in Canada, the United States, wherever.

And all of these websites are connected through the mechanisms of the MOOC. As George said, it looks like the web. It is the web. And we use different technologies to bridge the gap between these individual websites. And the way we conduct a MOOC, the way we conduct learning in a MOOC, is through interactions in this web. The first - simple - iteration of this is, you send a message to me, I send a message to you, you send a message to you, I post a blog, you comment on it, and the messages go back and forth.

Now that's different, and I want you to understand how substantially different that is. Look what we're doing here. This (indicating the conference room) is not a network. This is one guy at the front who through luck and happenstance got the podium, not that he deserved it, and is broadcasting. One person talks, everybody listens. And that's the only way we could do it, because if everybody were talking we wouldn't have an educational event, we'd have a party or something like that, and nobody could follow what's going on. But online, when we draw these connections together, we can create a learning experience out of it, and we know that because we've done it.

The MOOC is also about aggregating or bringing things together. Not to unite them into being one single unified thing, it's like George said with the crowds, right? We don't want 100 people in the room to all come to the same belief, but we do want the 100 people in the room to each come up with their own beliefs, but then bring them all together.

The MOOCs that we've run have used software that I've written called gRSShopper, and what gRSShopper does is it goes to your site, your site, your site, your site, your site, and brings everything together, organizes it - it analyzes the content, extracts links - creates a web, and then creates a variety of ways of looking at that web, for example, a daily newsletter that we send to every member, and that allows people to work as individuals, to communicate one-to-one with other people, but also to feel connected to the MOOC as a whole.

The newsletter is probably the single most defining feature of a MOOC. A MOOC is characterized by an abundance of content and that has challenged people because when we approach a subject we basically give then access to - well, not all, but as much of we can think of - the content in that field. Volumes and volumes of content.

Our current MOOC, Change11, has right now 2600 participants. When you have 2600 participants, if every person writes a blog post, that's 2600 blog posts. Nobody can read that. Nobody should try. And we don't want them to. And people say, "well what am I supposed to do?" And it's really hard to get people to stand back from that and say "I don't need to absorb all of this."

That's the old way, right? That's school the way it used to be, where the authority at the front of the room will present you with the content you must have and then you absorb it and remember it. But what this is like is an entire society talking together. And you would not expect to absorb all of that.

And I have some metaphors up here to help people grasp how they should understand this. Football. Following football. There must be some football fans here; I've heard it's popular. And there are teams all over the world. How many of you follow the South American leagues? What, nobody? Some of you may follow the European leagues, Manchester United, yeah? How many of you follow Australian football; have you been following what Brisbane's been doing lately? No! Well how can you be a football fan if you're not following all of these? Aren't you tearing out your hair? You just can't keep up? Of course not. You are a football fan by choosing those football games, those teams, those associations that are interesting to you. And you know that there are ten-year olds playing football in the back yard, but you don't feel compelled to go out and watch just because it's football. You learn to let it go.

Or, recipes. There's a lot of food in the world. More food than any person could possibly eat. But, because of that, we don't give up eating. That would be absurd. There are mechanisms both external to ourselves and internal that have us focus on the food that we can access and that we want. We choose what to eat. There are more recipes that we could ever possibly make. There are thousands of recipes for bread. There are more kinds of bread than you could possibly sample. That doesn't mean we give up eating bread. It just means we pick and choose the types of bread that we eat. You get the idea?

Similarly, places to visit. There are more places in the world than you could possibly visit, but that doesn't mean you stop traveling. It just means you pick and choose the places where you're going to go.

So the Massive Open Online Course has a different attitude with respect to content. You're not expected to absorb and ingest the content. You're not expected to remember stuff and repeat it back. The content is the medium that we use in order to do the actual learning but it is not the stuff that we learn. I'll talk more about that as we go on.

The MOOC sets up this contrast, and it's an interesting contrast, and Clark Quinn, who's here, maybe in this room even, maybe in the first row, wrote a post the other day talking about the distinction or the pull between the solo approach to learning and the social approach to learning. And he talked about the Stanford AI course, which really is a bunch of videos, some online interactive exercises, and some tests that you do, as being predominately solo. Predominately you working by yourself with the material. And he contrasted that with the social kind of course that we see in Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, or the MOOCs that George, Dave and I have put on, where the action of the course is predominately interaction with each other.

And I think it's an interesting divide, but I think we need to be careful not to represent the world as two polarities, social and solo. The group or the individual. Because there's a midway point that I've characterized as the network, and it's this midway point that we want to get at. And I'll talk about that as well. But there is this aspect of the Massive Open Online Course that involves not just you and the material but you working with other people. And that's crucial to the definition of the Massive Open Online Course.

Dave Cormier, who might also be in the room - he's in the back doing his hallelujah wave - has done a number of really nice videos about what a MOOC is and how to be successful, and again, it's like I said before, success in a MOOC isn't just remembering content. Success is very much what you define success to be, and that sounds a little anti-intuitive. How can you get a job if success is what you define it to be? Then again, that comes back to the purpose of this in the first place. What is success in a MOOC? Dave defines five steps:

- orient (figure out where stuff is),

- declare (and what that means is, setting up a place for yourself, setting up an identity for yourself, even, a little but, using course tags to identify that part of your material that you're contributing as part of the course),

- and then network (because once you set up your space and write some posts nothing happens; it's when you begin to connect with other people),

- and as you network you begin to find people you have affinity with (not necessarily people who are the same as you, but people who you can talk to, people who have an interest in a subject that corresponds with your interests),

- and then finally and most interestingly, find a purpose for the work that you are doing (why are you in this educational experience, where are you going to apply it).

And I was looking at that, and it says 'success in a MOOC', and it seemed to me that it's success in life as well. You know, a MOOC is like the web, and the web is like society, and society is like life, and it's not about remembering stuff.

Tony Bates did a criticism of us recently, and we make the claim that we're not just disruptive, we're transformative, and Bates says, "well, yeah, but on the other hand, MOOCs follow in this tradition - and we certainly acknowledge this tradition, people like Ivan Illich or Paulo Freire - of self-education and education as empowerment, education as being able to determine your own life. I think of it in terms of self-governance, as opposed to self-interest. And he's representing it as this great socialist struggle. I certainly don't see it in exactly that frame at all. But I think there is an element about personal development and personal learning that is central to a MOOC.

One of the first things people ask me is, "how can I apply this to my classroom?" And I respond, "you weren't listening." You can't apply this to the classroom. And then people ask, "well what use is it to me?" And my answer is, "This isn't about how you can go out and be better teachers. It's about how you can learn." And you begin learning this way yourself, you begin learning by connecting yourself, and eventually later on it becomes relevant to your classroom. And it doesn't become relevant in a way that I can say and you can remember, it becomes relevant in a way that you can understand you can apply because it's your experience and your context.

Knowledge isn't something that is given. It isn't something that is acquired. It isn't something that is poured into you like you were an empty vessel or written onto a blank slate like you were a blackboard. It is - you. It is your self. It is what you become. It is how your brain shapes itself as a result of the experiences that you have.

And this is really crucial to understanding what learning is. This is a bit of an aside - people talk about how great the traditional university was - Oxford and Cambridge, they had the best professors and the best content - and they had really smart people there, no question about it. But what made these universities great was not the content (often it was wrong, you go back 50 or 100 years, what they were teaching was pure… wrong; we know a lot more now than we did then) but it was the exposure of the students to the minds of these great thinkers and how they thought and how they reasoned and how they inferred. What these universities produced was not people who had a lot of knowledge, it was people who were very good learners, very good perceivers, who could recognize things, who could perceive patterns, find trends, make their way in society even if it changed. Not because they remembered a bunch of stuff.

That is the core of the MOOC. That is what we're after in these courses.

And we're not completely successful. And I'll be the first to say that. And I see George in the back kind of grinning at that because I think he knows too. There are criticisms of the MOOCs and they are good criticisms and I want to take these seriously because it's easy to get up here and say "knowledge is stuff you grow" and "you form connections" and la-di-la-di-da and everybody comes out of it and still nobody is employed.

Well. What are these? Tony Bates again, I'm going to quote from his post ,

MOOCs themselves are highly dependent, as Stephen acknowledges, on students already having a high level of understanding and an ability to learn independently, and to think critically. This is exactly what good quality formal education should be doing: developing and fostering such abilities so that learners can participate meaningfully in MOOCs and other forms of self-learning.

So what he's saying is, MOOCs are good if you're already educated. But if you want to become educated, you've got to go to a traditional school.

I think that's a pretty serious criticism, because if the whole point of a MOOC is to provide an education, then it needs to be useful, the form needs to be useful, for people who are not already educated. Now, against Tony Bates, I think our standards aren't quite as high as he suggests. But nonetheless I think we need to address head on the bootstrapping problem.

Other people have trouble with navigation. One critic writes, "We often found navigating the MOOC waters frustrating. Once we got started it was not difficult to find the course materials and a few other participants, but where was everything else?" And so on. The navigation issue - finding stuff, finding content, et cetera - they say, "if you don't use Twitter you can miss a vital discussion or a thread." And just - there are no vital discussions and threads.

And you see, here, the problem here, the navigation problem, isn't a problem of navigation, it's that we have not been successful in explaining to people that half the process of learning in a MOOC is learning how to explore, is being an explorer. And that it doesn't work if you already know where everything is, because you're not going to learn how to explore if we tell you where everything is.

She writes, "There's a lot of missed connections, synchronous forums are also prone to limited participation, while many blog posts lack comments," and then "the problems with architecture and tools often subvert the promise of connectedness that MOOCs should provide. And that one I totally agree with. The connectedness isn't there. And I don't think it's a navigation problem as she says, but I do think it's a connection problem.

I think that in the MOOCs that we've done, to some degree, and in the MOOCs that others have done, to a much larger degree, too much of the interactivity has been focused around the facilitators. In the Stanford AI MOOC, it's all about the facilitators, who are famous names in Artificial Intelligence. That's not networking. And in our MOOCs as well people line up to - well they don't really line up - they gather in small clusters to listen to George and Dave and myself and it's hard to get them to gather in small clusters to communicate among themselves. So it all becomes centrally focused, and if you can't find that centre you become lost.

Another problem: the size. And again, it's the same sort of thing. People feel for some reason that they need to make a personal connection with all 2000 people in the MOOC. And then they worry that they can't. And they worry that they're missing out on the important people. As though there are important people. And the larger the MOOC gets the more difficult this becomes.

We would like to see this model apply not just to 2000 but to 10,000 or 100,000 people, but if people go into it with the expectation that they have to develop a personal relationship with 100,000 people it's not going to work.

Again, we need this middle point between the solo and the social. We need this middle point - maybe aimed at Dunbar's number of getting to know 150 people - a middle point that allows us to network without necessarily becoming a part of this whole crowd of 100,000 people.

There's the accusation of elitism. That began with Connectivism 2008 with some nasty criticisms, but Tony Bates cites an anonymous academic, a university administrator, who says, and I quote:

Those who will not reach the academic level set by the organizers will remain lurkers who can only profit in discussing with the those in the crowd that can argue at the same level. But they cannot increase their skills…

Again, that's a constant refrain with these criticisms.

What's that good for? The courses silently separate the elite from the mass. It looks like democracy but is quite the opposite of [real] teaching. Education normally tries to help people to enhance their understanding and make up their minds. MOOCs don't take care of this. They are a non-educational approach. The new freedom and openness is a freedom for nothing.

That's a direct quote from, as I say, an unnamed administrator, and it's something I take very seriously because I'm the least elite person around. I think. And it strikes to the core when someone says "what you set up is for the elite." But - it's accurate. That's what really stings about that criticism, is the MOOCs as we've set up, again, foster this clustering of people around the central core, and those in the central core are going to define the themes.

I criticized DS106 recently - that's Jim Groom's course - and I actually criticized Alan Levine because he was going on, "DS106 forever!" and creating chants and posters, and the whole idea of these projects in that course was that people would begin to identify with DS106. And it became like a political cult. And I know they're just playing at this, and I understand that, and I know it's just in good fun, but when the structure of the course comes to be about this central concept or content, then the actual intent of the MOOC to distribute and democratize learning has been subverted. So, this is a serious criticism to me.

The other concern - and I need to address it squarely - is effectiveness. I say constantly to everyone who will listen to me, "learning isn't about the content." And usually people ask me, "well what is learning then if it isn't about the content?" And if it's not about the content how do you even know that you've learned? And I think that's a serious question as well. I mean, people take our MOOCs, they come out of our MOOCs, they have no credential, no certificate (mostly, if you sign up and pay for a University of Manitoba you might get a certificate credential, but most of the people don't). And even if they did, other people would assume, "oh yeah, they've learned a certain body of content," which they haven't. And we don't want them to. So it really does raise the whole question of, "what is it they're learning at all?"

So on the one hand we have critics saying "they don't support learning," which is kind of true, and on the other hand, there is no learning, which is also kind of true, and it really makes one question the effectiveness, the entire purpose, of having these things. Maybe it's just so Stephen and George and Dave can have a nice career.

Well I don't think that's true. I really don't. But I think that we can only grasp the solutions to these questions if we grasp the concept of what a MOOC is, and I address that as much to ourselves - because we drift away from it - as I address it to the external critics. I can live with the external critics but I can't live with getting the model wrong.

So what does it mean? Let's reconceptualize.

MOOCs are open. What does 'open' mean? Open means that everybody can participate. But not simply that. There are many ways to participate. And I identify a couple here, because I think these are important. Open means, not simply 'doing', but being able to watch while other people do. Open means being able to participate, not just at the expert level, but at your own level.

It's kind of like carpentry, right? You don't have to build the Taj Mahal in order to enjoy carpentry. You can build a little bookshelf. That's all I've ever built. I liked it.

Open means participating or doing things publicly so other people can watch. You hear a lot of talk about education creating this "safe" place. What that really means is education creating a place where you can do things where nobody else is watching. But if nobody else is watching nobody else is learning, and nobody else can learn. Openness means doing things openly, publicly, sharing them, watching them, and being able to be watched. It's a hard concept. It takes a little courage.

Online - it's the third letter in MOOC and it does mean that it's connective and it's online, as I said before. And that poses a challenge in societies where not everybody is online, not everybody has access to a computer, and we need to understand that. But it also means you can't take a MOOC and put it on a DVD. You can't take a MOOC and apply it in a classroom. There are limits to what you can do with this form.

But on the other hand, it's not about the fact that all the communications are in digital bits or electronic signals and fibre-optic fibres or whatever. The MOOC is about the process. And the process is greatly aided by being online. In fact it is aided so much it's really difficult to think of doing it offline. But conceptually you could.

Online, a lot of the tasks - like gathering content from around the world - can be done fairly easily. Online, I can communicate with somebody in Spain instantly, not a problem. Online, I can access more data about more people, I can count links, I can draw charts a lot more easily than I can do it offline. It's not that it has to be online, it's just that if it's not online it's going to be really slow and really cumbersome, and not nearly as good a learning experience.

The third essential point is that a MOOC is connective. And I think where we are failing is that we're losing this point. To the extent that a MOOC is about content, the MOOC fails. And the more our MOOCs are about the content that's in them, the more our MOOCs are failing. And I think our MOOCs have been drifting that way.

It's like, as the slide says there, it's like confusing the learning of the game, or the playing of the game, with the memorization of all the rules of the game. It's like we have a MOOC for football and more and more our MOOC is drifting toward talking about the rules of football. Well who cares? After a certain point. There's a ball, there's a net, you kick the ball at the net. And everything else is details. But we get caught up in trying to get everybody to remember the rules as though that's football.

It's like confusing enjoyment of food and knowing how to cook with the memorization of recipes. It's like confusing the experience of travel with knowing where things are on the map. There's the different between the (remembering) and the doing and the MOOC is about the doing. But as our MOOCs focus more on content they become less and less about doing, and that has been a weakness of them.

Our MOOCs - including Change, including Connectivism, not to mention the artificial intelligence MOOCs and MITx and the rest of them - are insufficiently connective and they're tending to slip toward an emphasis on content. And that's where they stop being effective.

And there are some reasons for this. When you sit down and analyze this, well why is this? and (you see) our MOOCs are based almost entirely on conversation. And there are reasons for that, there are good historical reasons for that, there's the whole Cluetrain Manifesto "markets are conversations" etc. etc., which is a really bad analogy on a certain level. And the more our MOOCs become about conversations the more they become about content, and this distracts us.

What we need to be doing is looking for other ways to connect. DS106 connects brilliantly with artwork. I wish I could take that further. We've tried to have activities or projects in our MOOCs, but our follow-through has been pretty minimal. Honestly. They've been very poorly defined.

So we need to rediscover our process. We need to rediscover the connective aspect of MOOCs, because the further we drift away from process, the further our courses, the more our courses, become like traditional courses, and if they're traditional courses online they fail. Because all they do is get people to remember content. And it's not that we don't scaffold learning enough, it's rather, we don't give people in our courses enough opportunity to participate, or to play.

So - I want to say, "MOOC, meet game." And on the other side, "Game, meet MOOC." You're both about the same thing. In fact, I think it was Viplav (Baxi) asked me, "what would a MOOC be for a 10-year old?" And I said, "It would be a game." And I want to take that seriously. Not that I'm saying "all games are MOOCs, all MOOCs are games." But there is an intersection here that is very illuminating, and one both sides can learn from.

I talked Viplav's ear off the other day about chess. And he assured me that, yes, people do play chess here. I thought that was encouraging. Think about chess. Think about how people learn chess. Think about how we recognize learning in chess. Now, the rules are pretty simple, but memorizing rules is not 'learning chess'. You could memorize chess openings, but that's not the same either.

Well, I thought, let's go searching for 'chess net'. And see what the world of chess has done online. And I found "" - it's a commercial online service - you have to pay then $4 per month, you have to log on, and they'll set you up with chess opponents. OK, not really what I had in mind.

"Chess world." This is a "dedicated correspondence style" site. So it supports emailing moves back and forth. I used to play that way - in fact, I got kicked off one of the world's largest computers in 1980 - it was like a multi-million dollar computer system owned by Texas Instruments and communicated with other computers around the world for seismic processing, and I played chess by message back and forth with people in Australia, and they kicked me off. I can't understand why. So this is chess by correspondence - pretty good, but not what I had in mind.

Then I found "net chess". And again this is correspondence chess with time controls and everything on the site is free, and the design looks it.

Then I found something more along the lines of what I was looking for, "Babas Chess". Now this is interesting. Instead of sending you to a 'chess world', it's a client you have on your own computer that will take care of connecting to other people. You're still playing with people all around the world, but the client's on your computer. Now that's more along the lines of what I'm thinking about.

Now, let's think about chess again. Chess is open; anybody can play. It's very accessible. You can learn the rules, but that isn't having learned chess. In fact, the measurement of your skill at chess has nothing to do with tests, or anything like that, but is entirely due to your playing other people at chess. That's your measurement. But it's not just a count of the number of games that you've won or lost. Because then you could become an expert simply by playing your little brother over and over and over, and not let him quit. That's what I did. I thought I was becoming a chess expert, but I wasn't.

Chess has rankings; rankings are based on the skill level of your opponent. And yourself. And if you're just beating lower skilled opponents over and over you don't advance. You have to beat better opponents in order to advance. And - well - and that's it.

Chess is connective. Chess is learning in the way that I've been describing. And we have a type of learning that is based on interaction with other people, that's measured this way, that isn't measured with tests, that isn't traditional learning, and might even have (there have been studies) applicability outside your domain.

I also looked at budget games. Same sort of thing; I don't have time to linger on these. But you can have, instead of chess games, budget games. But you need to be careful with these games, because a lot of these games try to 'teach' a certain subject rather than just be a game. And as soon as the game begins to be about the content, it begins to fail.

I looked at a really interesting interview by Henry Jenkins of Kurt Squire and Squire talks like a programmer but if you get past that - he's talking about this one game about rehabilitating a lake, and he says "we show you the bad lake, and we show you the things you need to do, and the people you need to lobby, and da-da da-da da-da, and we hope that a whole mass of people will learn about how to fix lakes and will go out and do it."

That's exactly wrong. And it's exactly wrong because it converts a game from being a form of interacting with other people to being a form of propaganda. And propaganda isn't learning. Propaganda is getting people to memorize stuff you want them to memorize. Two very different things.

But there are ways we can think of interactions online as game-like, as supported by interfaces like the personal learning environment, where we're not trying to build content, where the skills and the attributes come as a result of playing these games or having these conversations or whatever, that aren't the content of them.

And so when we think about these connective courses we should be thinking about the connectors. in chess, it's the chess game. In football, it's the football game. In cooking, it's the recipe book. Or the restaurant. Third party services, plug-ins - whatever these connectors are, these are the mechanisms that foster the learning. And that's what we're missing in these connective courses - the connectors. Blogs and discussion lists are not sufficient. But again, the connector isn't about teaching people a certain subject, it's about giving them a field, or an environment, on which they can play their own games in their own way for their own purposes, and they will learn in that way.

Language games - I could do a whole one-hour talk on this. Understanding games as the languages people use to communicate back and forth with each other. Understanding MOOCs in terms of those same languages.

And our assessments? Well it's not like chess, because in chess there's just one game and there's a ladder, but we can picture or imagine in our mind multiple ladders, multiple dimensions, and it's a bit of a leap, but think of a network as a multi-dimensional ladder where your position is your closeness to other people in the network. I'm sorry I don't have time to talk about that in any detail, but there is a concept there, trust me.

Badges are not sufficient, analytics are not sufficient, it's the interactivity, it's the relative position with everybody else in the network, that represents learning in this sort of environment." (

The Weakness of Peer Assessments in current MOOCs

Audrey Watters:

" the peer assessment — at least in its earliest applications — didn’t work out so well.

University of Oklahoma professor Laura Gibbs chronicled many of the problems in the Coursera Fantasy and Science Fiction class on her blog: students were unprepared to give feedback to one another; there were language barriers; there was no opportunity to give feedback on the feedback; the anonymity of the feedback process caused lots of problems and often highlighted the lack of community (and responsibility to it) in these massive classes.

Issues with the peer assessment process prompted some instructors to drop it as part of their course requirements." (

High Dropout Rates

Audrey Watters:

"The ease with which you can drop in is echoed in the ease with which you can drop out.

And there’s a lot of dropping out. Sue Gee highlighted this in her post “MITx — The Fallout Rate” with some statistics about the completion rate of its first offering: over 150,000 sign-ups; 7,157 certificates awarded at the end of the class — a 5% pass rate (that compares to a roughly 14% pass rate for Sebastian Thrun’s Stanford AI MOOC). Of those 150,000 signups, just 69,221 people looked at the first problem set. Of those, just 26,349 earned at least one point on the first problem set. 13,569 people looked at the midterm, 10,547 people got at least one point it, and 9,318 people got a passing score. 10,262 people looked at the final exam,, 8,240 people got at least one point on it, and 5,800 people got a passing score.

Looking at the numbers for Coursera’s Social Network Analysis class, Alan Levine notes a similar drop-off. 61,285 students registered. 1303 (2%) earned a certificate. 107 earned "the programming (i.e. ‘with distinction’) version of the certificate (0.17%).” (

Connectivist cMOOCs vs. hub-and-spoke xMOOCs

Audrey Watters:

"The differences between xMOOCs and xMOOCs are also evident in their respective pedagogies. In June, George Siemens outlined the “theories that underpin our MOOCs,” highlighting some of these differences.

He writes,

- The Coursera/EDx MOOCs adopt a traditional view of knowledge and learning. Instead of distributed knowledge networks, their MOOCs are based on a hub and spoke model: the faculty/knowledge at the centre and the learners are replicators or duplicators of knowledge. That statement is a bit unfair (if you took the course with Scott E. Page at Coursera, you’ll recognize that the content is not always about duplication). Nor do our MOOCs rely only on generative knowledge. In all of the MOOCs I’ve run, readings and resources have been used that reflect the current understanding of experts in the field. We ask learners, however, to go beyond the declarations of knowledge and to reflect on how different contexts impact the structure (even relevance) of that knowledge. Broadly, however, generative vs. declarative knowledge captures the epistemological distinctions between our MOOCs and the Coursera/EDx MOOCs. Learners need to create and share stuff – blogs, articles, images, videos, artifacts, etc.

As I note in an earlier post about the Flipped Classroom, much of what’s being lauded as “revolutionary” and as “disrupting” traditional teaching practices here simply involves videotaping lectures and putting them online. While xMOOCs might be changing education by scaling this online delivery, we need to ask, “Are they really changing how people teach?” (

MOOCs and Labor and Gender Discrimination

by Herminia Ibarra:

"Soon, your MOOC performance will be sold to online recruiters taking advantage of the kinds of information that big data allows—fine distinctions not only on content assimilation but also participation, contribution to, and status within associated online communities. But what if these new possibilities—used by recruiters and managers to efficiently and objectively get the best talent—only bake in current inequities? Or create new ones?

Lauded as purveyors of equality, the data not only show that most MOOC-takers are well-educated, employed, young and male —but that most of the teachers, especially the “stars,” are men. And as a recent article entitled “Masculine Open Online Courses” warns, MOOCs may be taking academe back “to the days of huge gender gaps, when senior scholars overwhelmingly were men.” Yet who teaches us is important in more ways than one. Look at any piece of research about the subtle, systemic or “second-generation bias” holding back women and minorities in business and you will find lack of role models at the top of the list. After all, who are among our first role models (after the parents, if we’re lucky): Our teachers. Speaking from experience, I know that I would not have ended up a Yale PhD if my department head at the University of Miami, Dr. Robert Tallerico, hadn’t personally encouraged and mentored me from day one.

Far from democratizing education, critics argue that MOOCs will only reinforce those with power and weaken those without it. Early evidence from MOOCs suggests huge falloff rates. After Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun’s very public defection from the MOOC church, he was lambasted for conducting a for-profit “experiment” at San Jose State without thought to whether completion rates might differ across racial and class lines. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened to me if my first year at university was all MOOC. Did Thrun and his colleagues consider the possibility that the issue might not have been a “difficult neighborhood without good access to computers” but lack of contact and identification with the faculty?

And let’s look more closely at those online games that Don Peck reports on in his Atlantic piece. As more recruiters use gaming data for hiring decisions, are they inadvertently ensuring a homogenous workforce? Males rack up many more hours of practice at these kinds of games than females, a recent Sex Roles study demonstrates. Gaming is also associated with less time spent doing homework, i.e., working hard—the essential ingredient girls, minorities and immigrants (I know, I tick all 3) rely on to get ahead. I cannot imagine my parents saying “honey, put away those textbooks and work on your games or you’ll never get anywhere in life.”

And yet recruiters are taking this data seriously. “How long you hesitate before taking every action, the sequence of actions you take, how you solve problems,” says one purveyor of workforce analytics, “all of these factors and many more are logged as you play, and then are used to analyze your creativity, your persistence, your capacity to learn quickly from mistakes, your ability to prioritize, and even your social intelligence and personality.” Even after only twenty minutes of play, you will generate several megabytes of data that “compose a high-resolution portrait of your psyche and intellect, and an assessment of your potential as a leader or an innovator.”

There’s more. The Sex Roles study’s co-author says another possible contributor to girls’ lack of interest in gaming is the scarcity of women working in the game-design industry. “88 percent of game developers are male,” Heeter says, adding that “games designed to optimally appeal to women might minimize in-game performance pressure, provide real-world benefits such as stress relief, brain exercise or more quality time with family and friends, and be playable in short chunks of time.”

Which leads to another question: What if “in-game performance pressure” triggers stereotype threat?" (


  • "Less than 10 percent of MOOC students, on average, complete a course. That’s the conclusion of Katy Jordan of Open University, who published her analysis, pulled together from available data of some Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs." [2]

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The Forgotten History of MOOCs

Audrey Watters, on the two kinds of MOOCs:

"Back to Cormier, the guy who coined the term “MOOC” back in 2008, long before Stanford’s massively-hyped online artificial intelligence class. That’s an important piece of education technology history that’s been overlooked a lot this year as Sebastian Thrun and his Stanford colleagues have received most of the credit in the mainstream press for “inventing” the MOOC.

But MOOCs have a longer history, dating back to some of the open online learning experiments conducted by Cormier, George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Alec Couros, David Wiley and others. Downes and Siemens’ 2008 class "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge,”for example, was offered to some 20-odd tuition-paying students at the University of Manitoba, along with over 2300 who signed up for a free and open version online.

In July, Downes made the distinction between “cMOOCs,” the types he has offered, and “xMOOCs,” those offered by Udacity, Coursera, edX and others. The terminology is very useful to help distinguish between the connectivist origins of MOOCs (and the connectivist principles and practices of open learning and online networks) and the MOOCs that have made headlines this year (with their emphasis on lecture videos and multiple choice tests). While cMOOCs are strongly connectivist and Canadian, xMOOCs, as Mike Caulfield contends, exist “at the intersection of Wall Street and Silicon Valley.”

While a lot of the mainstream press’s attention to MOOCs has focused on the content, the class sizes, and the (potential) credentials, the technology that underpins these online courses is incredibly important — and something too that highlights the differences between xMOOCs and cMOOCs.

The cMOOCs rely on tools like Downes’ gRSShopper, which as he describes it, “is a personal web environment that combines resource aggregation, a personal dataspace, and personal publishing. It allows you to organize your online content any way you want to, to import content – your own or others’ – from remote sites, to remix and repurpose it, and to distribute it as RSS, web pages, JSON data, or RSS feeds.”

Rather than driving users to a course website or a learning platform for all their interactions, the users on gRSShopper “are assumed to be outside the system for the most part,” writes Downes, “inhabiting their own spaces, and not mine.” xMOOCs, on the other hand, look an awful lot like an LMS.

There’s more too under the hood of the xMOOCs when it comes to assessment. With their origins in the Stanford CS department, with an early emphasis on CS classes, and with the scale that many of their enrollments are reaching, it makes sense that many of these course utilize automation to assess students’ quizzes and homework assignments." (



"Of all the bubbles listed in this post, only MOOCs really deserve the label in terms of attracting real investment. After 160,000 students enrolled for Sebastian Thrun’s course on Artificial Intelligence in the autumn of 2011, three new MOOC-delivery platforms were established in 2012: Udacity was set up by Thrun with more than $15m venture capital; Coursera was set up by Stanford with $16m of venture capital; and edX was set up by MIT and Harvard with $60m funding provided by the founders. In December 2012, a consortium of UK universities led by the Open University declared its intention to set up FutureLearn to rival the US initiatives." (


Audrey Watters:

"A brief timeline of the what the New York Times has called “The Year of the MOOC”:


Googler and Stanford professor (and professor for the university’s massive AI class) Sebastian Thrun announces he’s leaving Stanford to launch Udacity, his own online learning startup.


MITx opens for enrollment. Its first class: “6.002x: Circuits and Electronics.”


Stanford professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller (also involved with Stanford’s fall 2011 MOOCs) officially launch their online learning startup Coursera. They also announce that they’ve raised $16 million in funding.


MIT and Harvard launch the edX initiative, each chipping in $30 million to create the non-profit and eventually open-source platform. Indiana University professor Curtis Bonk offers a MOOC — Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success — through the Blackboard Course Sites platform.


Udacity announces it’s partnering with Pearson, which will offer onsite testing for its classes. Google offers a MOOC on “power searching.” The Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia fire president Teresa Sullivan, in part reveal emails, because they see her as slow to jump on the MOOC bandwagon. Following a huge outcry by faculty, students, and alumni, Sullivan is reinstated; UVA joins Coursera the following month (in a deal that was already in the works before Sullivan’s ouster).


12 more universities join Coursera (University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, University of Michigan and Stanford are Georgia Tech, Duke University, University of Washington, Caltech, Rice University, University of Edinburgh, University of Toronto, EPFL - Lausanne (Switzerland), Johns Hopkins University (School of Public Health), UCSF, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Virginia.) This brings the number of universities involved to 16.


University of California, Berkeley joins edX. P2PU, OpenStudy, Codecademy, and MIT Opencourseware team up to offer a “mechanical MOOC” to teach introductory Python. MOOC MOOC — a meta-MOOC, if you will — runs for a week.


17 more schools join Coursera: Berklee College of Music, Brown University, Columbia University, Emory University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Ohio State University, University of British Columbia, University of California at Irvine, University of Florida, University of London, University of Maryland, University of Melbourne, University of Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt University, and Wesleyan University. Coursera announces it has also raised an additional $3.7 million in funding. Google open sources Course Builder, a platform it had used to run its own “power search” MOOC earlier in the summer. The Saylor Foundation announces it plans to utilize the technology to offer courses. George Mason University professors Tyler Cowan and Alex Tabarrok launch MRUniversity, an economics MOOC.


The University of Texas system joins edX. Coursera strikes a deal with Antioch University. The latter will license courses from Coursera and will offer these for credit to its students. Udacity announces it has raised $15 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz. The LMS Instructure launches the Canvas Network, a catalog of free, open online classes run on the Canvas LMS by Canvas customers.


The American Council on Education says it will initiate a credit-equivalency evaluation of several Coursera courses. Several Massachusetts community college partner with edX to offer “blended” versions of MIT courses through an effort funded by the Gates Foundation.


Wellesley joins edX Georgetown joins edX Coursera announces Coursera Career Services to match employers and students 12 British universities (Cardiff University, King's College, University of London, Lancaster University, The Open University, University of Birmingham, University of Bristol, University of East Anglia, University of Exeter, University of Leeds, University of Southampton, University of St. Andrews, University of Warwick) join forces to create FutureLearn LTD, a new MOOC platform." (

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