MOOCs and chaos

Dave Cormier has written a thoughtful critique from a cynefin perspective of massive open online courses (moocs) as an approach to learning the “basics”. I reduce his argument almost to absurdity, but it is extremely relevant to a massive open online course that I, Jenny Mackness and Marion Waite are developing. Our mooc is called “First steps into learning and teaching in higher education” (First Steps 12 or #fslt12). And, it is very much about “the basics”.

I suspect that what is at work are some unexpressed assumptions. Dave, who has a lot more experience of moocs than I, is coming from an informed and mature perspective, which emerges from and is aligned with the Connectivist principles promoted by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. I take the view, however, that a mooc  is by itself a “non-defined pedagogical format to organize learning/teaching/training on a specific topic in a more informal collaborative way” (MOOC Guide). The principles of a MOOC are: Aggregation, Remixing, Re-purposing, Feeding forward.

Recent courses that can be described as massive, open and online, but might not self-identify with connectivist principles, include the recent much-discussed Introduction to Artificial Intelligence from Stanford University, which has stimulated new learning provision through Udacity and Coursera. MITx, soon to launch is also making massive open online provision, but may not be explicitly connectivist in conception.

Like Dave, I do not want First steps 12 to “descend into anarchy”. But then I have never equated anarchy with chaos. However, I do not regard fslt12 as anarchic in conception. I would like to think that my leadership style is consultative, open, facilitative, collaborative and collegial (others might disagree!). But I do accept that First Steps 12 will be led by the course team and they will be led – to some extent – by me. If it all comes crashing down, I know who my boss will talk to! So I take some responsibiity.

I also expect that the course team will provide a core set of Open Educational Resources (OERs) that can be used by new lecturers and educational developers.

Dave asserts:

If you are looking for ‘best practices’ in a given domain, the MOOC is a fantastically inefficient way of acquiring them.

I am not sure this necessarily follows. The course team can provide scaffolding and direction, even if complicated, complex and sometimes chaotic practice is allowed to spin off.  Dave even acknowledges this.

We tend to pull together materials, and have expert centred discussions that are fairly restrictive.

In the end, his conclusion is that

The complex domain is where the MOOC really shines.

This is where I hope First Steps 12 takes us.

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