Friday, February 8, 2013

MOOC Fail: Tempest in a teapot edition

Last fall, when I was on an xMOOC-binge, I decided to sign up for a MOOC called Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application (#foemooc). I knew the subject matter, but I decided to participate so I can compare notes. After all, I am teaching what is the same course online this semester in a non-MOOC format. I was also curious how it would be done in a MOOC format because I've been thinking about designing some courses that could work "natively" in the MOOC format, like Connectivism and Connected Knowledge where some students take it for credit, while others just take it because they are interested in the course.

In any case, work got the better of me, and instead of focusing on xMOOCs, I decided to focus on good ol' cMOOCs, since those are the MOOCs that are pushing the envelope on pedagogy; so I dropped #foemooc in January. It also didn't help that #foemooc was misunderstood by some (and therefore advertised among the blogosphere and twittersphere) as the MOOC to learn how to design MOOCs (my reaction to that).

In any case, even though I wasn't participating in this MOOC, I decided to keep an eye out on it. Wow, it didn't fail to disappoint, and not for a good reason either! It was such an epic fail that someone decided to pull the plug on it! Now, I don't really wish to reiterate in great detail what others have written, but it's worthwhile to note that a week after the epic fail, this is no longer news. It had its moment in the limelight, and now it's gone. What's worth noting are these few points:

1. MOOCs, for better or worse, are now in the scope of the mainstream sites.  Sites like mashable and huffington post. Slow, progressive, understanding of what MOOCs are, the pedagogy behind them, the continuous refinement of the design and implementation are lost.  What sells in these places is sensationalism: big numbers and epic fails. The in-between, what really pushes us forward does not count. If you  really want to know more about MOOCs, pick up an academic journal (the upcoming JOLT issue has a special focus on MOOCs for example). Don't just listen to the pundits, in academic sites, and in popular sites.

2. What was really amiss in this #foemooc fail was the presence of the learner. On of the first things you do in Instructional Design is a learner analysis: who is in your classroom, why are they there, what do they bring to the table, and so on. This #foemooc, like many coursera MOOCs, are not really designed (in my humble opinion) but ported, like software, from one modality to another. Software porting isn't always bad. You can have a great port, and a really bad one that doesn't fit into the paradigm of the platform it's on.  In coursera MOOCs, and #foemooc in specific, I think that there hasn't been a great deal of though given to the effect that "masssiveness" has on the learning design. A course designed for 20 students is not going to work for more than 20.

Furthermore, the learner has been disintermediated in this MOOC. The decision was made to kill the MOOC for improvements because it didn't work well. Well, you can't just do that to learners! You just don't have the right to pull the plug when the learner's content is in your system!  In traditional classes, even if the class stinks, no one pulls the plug! Great efforts are made by instructors and instructional designers to salvage things when they go bad and move on.  I believe that this is what should have been done in #foemooc - fix things while they are on course. Adapt!  Shutting down is not the answer.

3. Some struggle is fine! People seem to not be OK with struggle in learning, especially in MOOCs.  If you don't struggle a bit, you don't learn.  If you struggle a lot, then it's important to reach out to organizers (something you can't do in  xMOOCs) and more knowledgeable peers (MKP) for assistance. If it's content related, you might be able to succeed by working through the struggles.  If not, some pre-requisite knowledge may be needed.  If it's technology related, perhaps a support group can help. The point is, that working through the issues is one of the elements that leads to acquisition.

4. Finally, institute some pre-requisites, please! In cMOOCs you generally don't see pre-requisites, and that's fine. Most cMOOCs that I've seen are designed to not be part of an overall curriculum, so maybe they don't have to think of all the pre-requisite knowledge. Then again, you see MOOCs like OLDSMOOC that specify who the target audience for the MOOC is, that at least gives you some ideas for pre-requisite knowledge.

xMOOCs, also never seem to have pre-requisites, but this is very odd. Most of these courses come from curricula that have pre-requisites, so why don't the MOOCs have pre-requisites? There should be an indication to the learner what sort of background knowledge and skills they need to have in order to be successful in the xMOOC. Without this, you aren't adequately preparing learners to be successful in your xMOOC. Some pre-requisite indication (and perhaps a full syllabus) would go a long way to prepare learners before the MOOC begins.

Just some (snowy) Friday thoughts on MOOCs.
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