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Theoretical links to MOOCs

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on October 29, 2012 at 6:15:46 am


Emerging from OER movement wherein educational resources, “enabled by information and communication technologies”, are openly provided for “consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes” (D’Antoni, 2008, p. 7), MOOCs incorporating OER share the philosophy of widening participation and the assumption that education is a right that should be freely accessible for all (Conole, 2011, 2012).This principle is also highlighted as the New York Times acclaims MOOCs as a tool for democratizing education (Lewin, 2012). On approval, Mak (2012) points out that in MOOCs, it’s learners who decide to join or leave the offered open, distributed and diverse networks, based on their interests and goals.  He also adds that MOOCs encourage people to raise their voices, share their ideas, provoke others’ thoughts, and hence, enable them to further enrich their learning experience through interaction and conversation Mak (2012).


In addition, Mak (2012) also suggests two sets of assumptions about and behind cMOOCs and xMOOCs as follows:


cMOOC assumptions  xMOOC assumptions
  •  people would learn in a self-directed and organised manner
  • Knowledge is distributed
  •   Knowledge is negotiated
  • Knowledge is emergent
  •   Knowledge is rhizomatic
  • Learning is capacity to construct, navigate and traverse across networks
  •  personal learning networks would be a far better way for people to learn
  • people like to learn via social networks
  • people know how to connect (people have the communication, literacy and critical literacy skills)
  •  people know how to use the technology to connect
  • people are self motivated (intrinsic motivation)
  • people like to accept challenges, chaos and complexity is just part of the learning process
  •  people don’t need to follow a course or qualification for learning to be effective
  • Learning is emergent, and is based on connections, engagement and interactions
  •  Learning is open 
  • Identity in networked learning is based on individual’s “participation, interaction” in the networks, and is reflective of ones involvement in the media, it’s dynamic, adaptive
  •  Individual and social learning is emphasised - cooperation
  •  Sensemaking and wayfinding are important
  • people need to learn in a structured manner, in a course (face to face or online), with teacher’s instruction (zpd) zone of proximal development,
  • people construct knowledge via a constructivist pedagogy - with an expert.
  • Knowledge is acquired
  • Learning is about acquisition of knowledge, skills and experience
  • people like to learn with Learning Management Systems (LMS)
  • people prefer to learn independently (in a closed environment) (behind the walls in schools) or learn collaboratively in a group or team
  • people don’t have enough skills, knowledge and experience to use technology to connect, formal training/education is the solution
  • people don’t want chaos, complexity - don’t want to be overwhelmed with information or knowledge
  • people need to be motivated with rewards (extrinsic motivation)
  • people need to follow a course or qualification for learning to be effective
  • Learning is based on instruction by the teachers
  • Learning is closed (in a closed classroom or closed online network)
  • Identity is based on the association of oneself as a student or that of the group - it’s static
  • Group learning is emphasised - collaboration
  •  Teaching and close mentoring are important 


Noticeably, there are certainly some blurring boundaries and overlapping between the two sets of assumptions and they are not necessarily true to all MOOCs (Mak (2012). And yet, the theoretical principles underpinning these two genres of MOOCs are distinctly different, which is pinpointed by Siemens (2012) with an 8-pack of MOOCy distinctions.


Obviously, cMOOCs value ontology first and epistemology second, as Siemens (2012) argues whereas, on the other hand, xMOOCs with primary innovation related to scale and economics, focus more on knowledge development than ontological development. In the same light, Morris (2012) asserts that cMOOCs fundamental goal is knowledge production rather than knowledge consumption, and that this automatically shifts the pedagogy from teachers or facilitators to learners or participants. In this sense, cMOOCs demonstrate a more personalized learning and learner-centred approach (Mak, 2012). 


In essence, cMOOCs embrace connectivist learning whereas xMOOCs follow the more formal pedagogical structure of traditional (online) learning approach wherein mastery learning is central.  In other words, connectivism is the key theory underlying cMOOCs whilst xMOOCs tend to base more on behaviourism, cognition, and constructivism, which is illustrated in the following figure:



     MOOCs, Walled Gardens, Analytics and Network: Multi-generation pedagogical innovations by Forsythe (2012b)


Nonetheless, all of these theories, to some extent, are evident in both cMOOCs and xMOOCs. In both types of MOOCs, participants need to do some given tasks (behaviourism), reflect on the suggested materials (cognition), build their own understanding of a topic based on their prior knowledge and experience (constructivism), collaborate with others by engaging in network of communities and learning together (social networked learning or connectivism). 


Drexler (2008) offers a comprehensive explanation of networked learning in MOOCs in the video below:




Another great video about how knowledge in a MOOC is formed, shared, distributed, and developed is produced by Cormier (2010a):



Apart from the above-mentioned theoretical links, MOOCs seem to adopt other associated approaches such as collaborative learning, experiential learning, collective learning, self-directed and lifelong learning. 


N.B.: The following two videos are interesting interviews with Siemens on MOOCs including their underlying philosophy and value. 


     Interview with Siemens by LE@D (2011)


     Interview with Siemens by Rheingold (2011)


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