Thursday, October 20, 2011

Letting the inmates run the asylum...or not?

On of the themes that has come up time and again in MOOCs is the nature of openness. It's also come up in my twitter stream these past couple of days with Educause 11 underway, and Blackboard announcing that they are now open (I will reserve my cynicism and scoffing for other media ;-)  ).

One of the ways in which MOOCs are reported to be open is that MOOCs allow the participants (learners) to define their own learning goals and learning outcomes and what this translates to, generally, is an "everything goes" attitude from MOOC participants.

I don't disagree that having learners have their own personally meaningful goals is important. After all many research studies have shown that if a learner has strong internal motivation (as exhibited in MOOC by  having your own set goals), then the learning is much more meaningful to the learner and they take away more.  This is great, but in my opinion it doesn't absolve the instructor, the instructional designer, and the facilitator from their duties to the course.  A course is not, nor should it be (IMHO) a hodgepodge of loosely connected (or worse, non-connected) topics. While I don't ascribe to the notion that a course needs to be in class (virtual or physical) for X amount of weeks with some sort of uniform exam in order to be called a class, I do think that there is a programmatic element to the course, it is designed, it is meaningful by itself but extensible by the learner and there is some sort of assessment.

I keep coming up to the blog post from early in Change11 titled The C is for Conference. I am more ready to accept the dip-in-jump-out mechanism for MOOCs, the loose structure and the over-reliance of participant personal goals versus a balance of personal-goals and programmatic course goals IF we say that MOOCs are NOT courses but rather prolonged web-conferences.  The nature of the conference allows it to be somewhat more programmed but mostly fluid compared to the format of a course.  It may seem like semantics to most, but I think that in most people's minds there is a distinction, and people looking for Courses may signup and never participate simply because of this disconnect.
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