My life is a MOOC

I have been meaning to catch up with the interesting discussion happening around MOOCs. I believe that there will be and should be plurality of approaches and intentions – they are the inevitable accompaniment to change itself. The top tensions in the conversation are:

  • How do MOOCs compare with other initiatives like the Stanford AI? Should they be compared at all? How is the MOOC experience different from the others in both design and execution?
  • Should MOOCs be seen as disruptive and liberating futures of education, or as incremental improvements to existing educational systems? Should they be posted at all as alternatives to degree or continuing education programs?
  • What skills do learners require to navigate these new learning environments? Does it require that they be motivated, socially enabled and have certain Critical Literacies? Should we worry about motivation or presume it? Is learning an art that can be acquired through reflection and practice or is it a science that can/should be rigorously taught?
  • Is there intentionality in the design/conception of a MOOC? Should we be moving away from the assumption that MOOCs exist to teach something (as opposed to arguing whether learners can chase their own goals)? If so, how is it different from the way things are today on the Internet and with social media?
  • Are theories other than Connectivism able to explain these phenomena accurately? Can/should existing theories be reframed effectively for these types of experiences? Is the Connectivist mode, just as for other theories, like the principles behind the steam engine – evidenced anywhere, anytime?
  • What are the benefits that can be derived from such open systems? Are these benefits comparable to the perceived benefits from traditional closed, semi-open systems?

George indicates that this is a process of experimentation, rather than a prescription yet. But not necessarily one that should or does preclude entrepreneurs from adopting it or universities using and promoting their brand to differentiate themselves with. Stephen indicates that we would be better off thinking afresh, rather than treating them as another way of doing the same thing. Dave indicates how the Cynefin framework and the Rhizomatic learning approach can be interpreted in the context of what a MOOC can help one achieve.

The goals of education are variously defined to include a humane & progressive society, inclusive & equitable development, growth & innovation and a host of other goals that arise from awakened and aware individuals. The goals of training are to ensure repeatability in performance and the ability to handle emergent situations.

Theory and Practice are clearly differentiated by challenges of scale, diversity, infrastructure and operations. While Theory may predicate how things should be, Practice dictates what things are – and there are substantial gaps between the two that cannot be resolved by changes in Theory or Practice alone. This is true, not just in Education.

Thus while theories may suggest that Connectivism or Cognitive Apprenticeship or any other theory be the best way for someone to learn, the practice may leave much to be desired. In fact, trying to systematize any theory/philosophy at scale has always been a challenge. This is the core problem that faces us today, so much so, that we have questioned repeatedly the industrial nature of the education system. Of course, there will always be much to be said and debated about one theory over the other.

Which is why it makes sense to experiment with another paradigm which is closer to the way things are and much more in tune with what our goals from Education and Training are. Such a paradigm embraces complexity, questions the existing design and intentionality, while at the same time attempts to meet the same overarching goals. It is necessarily incomparable and requires a new acceptance from people willing to experiment, to craft it into Practice.

The new paradigm is at once more scalable, more respectful of diversity & personal needs, more inclusive & progressive, and most importantly, addresses just those issues that are really crippling the existing paradigm.

In Practice, there is still a long way to go to see how that acceptance can occur in an emergent manner. There are questions around the temporality of learning for specific needs, the need to assess (internal or external) learning for performative reasons, the assurance of learning in such environments, the use of technology, heutagogical considerations and many other important areas. These cannot be answered by rebuttal, but by cooperation. And it must be done by mechanisms that respect complexity and open-ness.

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