Why #CFHE12 is not a MOOC!

As you can imagine, writing this with the awareness that it may be read by even a few people in the Siemens, Downes, Cormier MOOC, The Current/Future State of Higher Education is a bit more like skating on thin ice than I care to think about. More importantly, the purpose is not to question the value of MOOCs or Connectivism or the course creators. This is about understanding [my own] learning in the context of MOOCs relying on some consideration of accepted practice in relation to higher education courses, and then comparing these inputs with the experience so far in undertaking #CFHE12. From there I hope to gain further understanding into what contributes to effectiveness in a MOOC and how they may become a useful and accepted part of the future of education.

The Premise and Origin of MOOCs
George Siemens in his interview with Howard Rheingold makes many points that are interesting in terms of the origin of MOOCs, the learning theory embedded within them, the technologies, interactions etc, and even alludes to how they may be sustainable in current higher education models. The most important aspect for this post concerns the idea that MOOCs are essentially an “amplification” of the course being experienced by the enrolled students in a class and that this can occur at “little or no increase in cost”, provided of course, the labour intensive activities such as tutoring, assessment marking etc are not made available to non-enrolled learners.

This means that since the MOOC is simply an “opening up” of the course, the course itself should be mostly the same for non-enrolled learners that will not be assessed or credited as enrolled students. The sustainability of this type of cMOOC is made possible because delivery of the course is effectively paid for by the enrolled students. (This is a different financial model to xMOOCs.) In return for “subsidising” the non-enrolled learners, the enrolled students receive the full support entitlements, will have their assessment works graded and will receive credit. (These factors point to the potential for value-added (or Freemium) models for higher education courses.) The enrolled students also get access to a large and experienced knowledge network from which they can crowd source information and compare their own understanding. Since that aspect actually works both ways, it is a very useful win-win scenario.

It’s not about “Massive”
“Massive” is a relative term. A course that is highly specialised and/or at an advanced level may be described as massive with a few hundred students whereas a foundational course at first year level may not be considered as massive until it includes tens of thousands of students. In either case, however, the hype about “massive” emanated from the “opening up” of the course and the potential it represents for non-consumers of education, not the actual numbers themselves. While course numberers are relevant in addressing the inability of our current education models to scale (see reports at UNESCO UIS, OECD), the attribute of massiveness is not the greatest value of a MOOC. Of course, having said that, one of the values espoused in connectivist (and connectionist) approaches is that the size of the network of people involved will, up to a point, have an impact on the variety of knowledge sources, and therefore, network value.

What is a Course?
There is no doubt that #CFHE12 is both Open and Online but is it a course? In higher education there are accepted requirements for a unit of study to be accepted as a course or subject for credit towards an award. I randomly selected some examples of information that conform to University Guidelines for Program Approval with the only selection criteria being an education course that is local and one that is at Athabasca University, for obvious reasons. (TCHE2112 Orientation to Teaching at RMIT; and, MDDE601 Introduction to Distance Education and Training from Athabasca University)

Courses are required not only provide the general course information but also information on the objectives (goals), learning outcomes, learning activities, resources and assessment. (The formal versions of these actually become a legally binding contract between provider and student.) Good course outline documentation assists learners in managing their learning and in understanding the relationship between the learning and the assessment. The Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne provides Core principles of effective assessment and points out the benefits to learning that can be achieved through well structured assessment.

While there is no assessment component to #CFHE12 for non-enrolled learners, the absence of the framework for learning that is normally associated with a course does [in my experience] negatively impact learning. I accept that the “Learning Activities” are one way in which learning is assisted but they are different. They would most likely not constitute the same form of assessment tasks undertaken by enrolled students.

A more direct criticism of #CFHE12 would be that the “Learning Outcomes” are not all learning outcomes. They are a mixture of activity description or syllabus and outcomes statements. This together with an absence of assessment information makes it difficult to understand from a personal perspective whether one actually is likely to have achieved the course objectives/outcomes.

It’s not about Connectivism!
Before I get the flood of an email from the person who may have read this… The criticisms above are not from a lack of understanding of the way cMOOCs are intended to work, or the opportunity to “find our path through the chaos” as we proceed to acquire new knowledge. My key point is that the way this MOOC is structured, it could not be regarded as an authentic course by higher education standards and approval requirements. If MOOCs are not authentic then they cannot be regarded as a viable replacement for traditional online courses. In a sustainable model for MOOCs (or any other form of open education) it would be expected that while the opportunity to undertake an authentic learning activity may be free, the things that incur costs at a ‘per student’ level will be offered as value-added services, and this should be the only difference. This approach is clearly stated in the commercial or xMOOC business models. Notwithstanding any of that, the primary requirement should be around an authentic substitute for a course.

The enrolled students vs the non-enrolled learners
Given the situation described above, and that it is assumed that the enrolled students will be doing assessments, it would be interesting to know the nature and structure of those assessment tasks. On balance, the non-enrolled learners would have to treat this MOOC as a crowd sourced research activity rather than a “course”. That does not detract from the substantial value of interacting and learning in #CFHE12 but it does, at least in my mind, assist in defining the difference between those types of activities. On that basis, I would have to say that #CFHE12 is not a MOOC (course) for non-enrolled learners.

Of course, I may have all of this completely wrong and would welcome criticism and feedback.

There are also some definite implications for the future higher education and its structure and organisation if MOOCs or similar open education approaches were to be incorporated into the normal operations of institutions.

11 thoughts on “Why #CFHE12 is not a MOOC!

  1. In fact, your analysis is on target. One might characterize this “event” as the equivalent of a series of seminars which might appear on a campus within a department where there is an open invitation to participate and discuss. As you point out, individuals could be enrolled in one or more courses where participation in these events could be part of the assessment of the individual for credit or certification and where each of these “courses” would utilize the events to meet the objectives of the course.

    The events in this case could be “virtual” in the form of readings or other materials rather than traditional lectures. The key idea of a “course” or an evaluated “program” is to define or certify some level of achievement, such as a competency in a practice or demonstration of understanding or capabilities of articulating some increased capacity. The idea of connectivity, however defined, may, in fact, not prove of value in such an evaluation and, in fact, might create some ceiling given the participants and, in a worst case scenario, lead to a path which might be contrary to the objectives intended. The latter being an interesting case with the subject matter here.

    One might consider what could happen in such a c-MOOC exploring the impact of climate change as a science topic if presented in the format we see with this “MOOC” and the participants do not have the skills to grapple with the complexities of the issue. We have the same issue with academics wanting to be public intellectuals. Who determines the validity when the participants are not within the frame of the registered experience and can challenge.

    Academics sit on both sides (or many nuance sides), Nicholas Carr has questioned this as passing much as other technologies have come and gone and there are many others viewing this through lens of different colors.

    In this case, the creators of this event have a vested interest not just in this event but beyond, as do their colleagues, the administrators, sponsors and funding agencies, including, for public institutions, government, regardless of who participates.

  2. I tend to agree with you, but maybe it’s just that our old-fashioned definitions of “course” haven’t kept up with the times. Rather than a course, it seems like a social learning experiment.

    If we hyphenate social-learning into one word, we have a MOOSE – Massive Open Online Social-learning Experiment. I much prefer that acronym over the unwieldy MOOC, and I find it to be more accurate.

  3. Hi Allyn – thanks for your reflections on CFHE12. Just a few quick points:

    1. the word course has been an issue since we started with MOOCs back in 2008. I recall a lengthy discussion of trying to find an appropriate name (including “experience” or “happening”). The word ‘course’ is so firmly embedded in education, that it’s hard to move past it. I agree – by traditional standards, CFHE12 is not a course.

    2. Finding your way through the chaos – I believe that happens in every course. Generally the faculty provide this structure and process (path through). With MOOCs, we’ve emphasized the importance of learners making these decisions, supported by faculty feedback and peer direction. Packaging all the elements of a course in a nicely contained unit takes some of the valuable learning experience away from individuals…

    • Hi George

      Many thanks for taking the time to clarify on the points above. With respect to 1) I did read that post and agree that it is hard to find the right terminology at this time. Maybe after some further evolution it will be clearer…

      I can only agree with Point 2). While this does happen in traditional courses as we internalise knowledge, it is probably greatly emphasised in connectivist approaches, and I really like that. It is an authentic knowledge gathering experience on the web to take that approach.

      As a clarification from my side, I hope it was clear that in actual fact whether #CFHE12 is a “course” by traditional measure or not is somewhat irrelevant. It is really about the learning and the frameworks that are available to the learner to self evaluate their progress, but also, that if MOOCs are to take a place in the future of education then there must be a valid replacement of the credit system that is currently in place. This is a real challenge to higher education, but it is inevitable given the pressures. If the credit recognition or badging is undertaken by a third party then my comments will probably become irrelevant because they will set the rules. Equally, current universities would have less of a role in that model, which would create a different set of tensions around the role of higher education into the future.

      I really appreciate #CFHE12 for what I am learning… outcomes or not…


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  5. I participated in the Change11 MOOC and reflected a lot of time about MOOCs. For me the term “course” does not describe cMOOCs — but maybe our interpretation of “course” should change?

    This would mean that probably our understanding of “learning outcomes” should further develop as well. In the connectivist approach the learner should connect with other learners and ressources – and gain individual learning outcomes. In my case f.e. publications and talks about MOOCs, the creation of a journal club at my university, the development of an open training (interesting experience!), and so on.

    • Hi jupidu

      And thanks for your comment. You make some good points, partly addressed in the discussion above with George Siemens. When one considers a more personal learning journey then we do have to reframe our points of reference. What I am interested to discover or work out, however, is how the accreditation systems will change and what impact that is likely to have on education.

      On the one hand I agree with those who say that predictions of the demise of higher education as we know it is not going to happen as a result of MOOCs, and as a single pressure point, that is undoubtedly true. Multiple pressure points, changes in accreditation providers, reduction of cost, increase in scale etc are likely to combine to change the world of higher education in the same way that the music and newspaper industries have been unbundled in a very short time. It could happen if the right forces align and I just wonder if they will.

      Thanks for you comments and I agree with what you are saying.

  6. I think something can be a MOOC without necessarily fulfilling all the criteria. I outlined some of the dilemmas in a post here:


    But I agree that it should be possible to make one’s participation part of a larger course of study. But does the MOOC have to change or does how we define outcomes in education?

  7. Pingback: Outcomes are not predictable in complex adaptive systems « ZML Didaktik / Innovative Learning Scenarios

  8. Hi Allyn;
    I agree with Tom; this is very similar to my participation in graduate seminars and this format is generally where I found the greatest opportunity to learn in deep and meaningful ways. If and when disruption is recognized, I think it is likely to come at us from an unexpected direction. That is, disruption is as likely to involve a “non-course” as it is to be a new way of traditional “course” delivery. As Yogi Berra said, ” The future ain’t what it used to be “.
    My predilection is to question the general separation between learning and doing in education (based mostly on a Vygotskian and Wittgensteinian styled pragmatist / social constructivism). I’m most interested in the ways that MOOCs are placeless in design and yet highly adaptable to the student’s place, circumstances and activities. I also think that there are many way that the validity of accreditation systems can be questioned (as a form of measurement). Who is it that is well served by the current accreditation system?

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