Open as in door or open as in heart? #mooc

A note on the end of Steve Carson’s post about MOOCs and the liberal arts prompted a brief conversation about the two different meanings of “MOOC” with Brandon Muramatsu. Steve’s original post drew (based on his conversation with Brandon) a distinction between the Edx/Coursera/Udacity “MOOCs” and the Change11/ds106/wileyMOOC “MOOCs” – he suggested using MOCs as a description of the former (as they are not, in the strictest sense, open). But Brandon felt, on reflection, that the real distinction concerned how massive the courses were.

As a primer for those of you who read this but don’t live it (you lucky people!) MOOC stands for “Massively Open Online Course”, basically a big global chunk of online learning that doesn’t cost you (the learner) any money. It’s the big noise in university-level education as it’s got that game-changing disruptive innovation feel about it right now.

At the basic level, you could just take your standard online course (crappy managed learning environment, some professor doing a video lecture, discussion forum with tumbleweeds(*) and take off the paywall. Obviously everyone involved still needs to get paid (because isn’t that what game-changing disruptive innovation is all about?) so there are a range of models around to ensure that this happens. Most commonly you’ll see lots of advertisements everywhere, because that’s totally a sustainable business model, or the “open” students getting to pay for accreditation or similar extras.

These get called MOOCs because of some earlier work (Siemens/Downes/Cormier/Wiley and so on) that also involved learning for free, coined the term, and the four words in the acronym seem to fit. But really there is not much else in common. The earlier MOOCs were built around the ideas behind connectivism, which could be (slightly controversially) unpacked as the suggestion that much valuable learning happens because of the connections and networks that learners build during a course. If you want to disappear further down this rabbit hole of networks and educational theory, check out rhizomatic learning.

So – for your first version above you could see something like:

learner -> guy(**) in a suit who used to lecture in the ivy league -> knowledge

and for the second an unASCIIable mess of learners connecting to each other and discovering knowledge in all kind of places, with a smelly hippy educator generally helping out and making sure it all stays lovely.

But fundamentally there are two kinds of MOOC because there are two competing cultural conceptualisations of the learning process, both of which have value and relevance but which have become politically (small P) polarised. The first, I guess, is easier to monetize as it treats the idea of an expert as a saleable resource.

Hence my categorisation, drawing on Stallman’s legendary “free as in freedom/free as in beer” (libre/free) dichotomy.

Some courses are open as in door. You can walk in, you can listen for free. Others are open as in heart. You become part of a community, you are accepted and nurtured.

For many the first is and will be enough. For me, having tried the second, I’m not sure I could go back.

Post represents my own opinions only. Available under a CC-BY license

(*) no. not your online course, that’s great. It’s just all the other ones. 
(**) and it is always a guy

9 thoughts on “Open as in door or open as in heart? #mooc”

  1. > Others are open as in heart. You become part of a community, you are accepted and nurtured.

    Oh yes, that’s a wonderful feeling. But of course there will always be the outsiders who are not accepted, not nurtured. What of them?

    I ask, because that’s usually me.

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