MOOCs and Content Stores

Every instant someone is learning, or trying to learn the same thing as you are. Every moment, someone apart from you is solving the same problem. Every moment, someone is searching for the same thing that you are.

There is an immediacy in learning, in the learning at that instant, that has awesome proportions and purports for scale. MOOCs as environments with techniques for sense-making and connection-making, provide the ideal melting pot for that immediacy.

There is also the flip side.

Every instant of your learning someone has encountered before. Every problem that you solve, someone apart from you has solved before. Every thing you search for, in all probability someone has searched for the same thing. At least, in general, more or less.

MOOCs have the potential to operate as massively linked content and artifact stores. The amount of knowledge, information and analysis that I have seen in the MOOCs so far, are crying out for someone to figure the semantics for (rather than Instagrok-ing or Wolfram-ing our world).

The challenge is in the nature of the MOOC, an initial unwillingness to stereotype either content or interaction in terms that we have known before (Learning Objects, DITA, SCORM and so on) – which is both good and bad. Good because it does not enforce standards (which are anyways antithetical) and bad because, seriously, this has massive potential.

In fact, I think a measure of the success of MOOCs should perhaps be the quality of connections and sense-making experiences that the MOOC has engendered. Did the MOOC help learners in their sense-making and does it allow them to make connections to people and resources in a way that aids the learning experience (whatever that may be).

To measure that, MOOCs would need to have underlying principles that allow this measurement. For example, learning analytics attempts to capture data about visible elements of the learners’ experience (in fact, as I write this, I am listening to George’s audio recording at Change11, and he is talking about how information elements gets lost in the mass of learners!). One of the underlying principles is, as George says, the principle that there is an adaptive, changing structure that is influenced by the participants of the MOOC.

My own sense is that a certain “understanding” or “framework” can be usefully constructed at two levels. In ways, as Stephen metaphorically said, we are drawing our lines in the sand rather than wondering what the sand really is. Here is my interpretation of the sand.

  1. One, at the level of net pedagogy, there are conversation capture mechanisms (I call these native collaboration) that can be created or become more intelligent without imposing on the open and distributed nature of participation. We already have audio recording, elluminate recording, individual and course blogs and a variety of other social media tools among other platforms as part of the MOOC environments. I think it is time that the structure, connections and content behind the learning experience are studied to devise a shared understanding.
  2. Two, at the level of technology, there must be ways to allow that kind of capture, to consolidate learning experiences, to even connect one MOOC with another on several dimensions (people, content, experiences and other patterns) of the network. George makes the important connection – learners have evidenced their preference for creating their own personal spaces (and identity) on the MOOC. In a way, this ties in with a load of conversation around Personal Learning Environments.

Further, I don’t feel that these are necessarily unique to MOOCs, but that these elements of pedagogy and technology, could in fact be used seamlessly in other systems as well.

Building environments for MOOCs to anchor themselves to, and to enable connections between MOOCs that can benefit from shared experiences, connections and content, can (IMHO) have a transformative impact, if balanced with an open architecture that allows autonomy, extensibility and simplicity. It will be important to provide core technology services that will enable capture, sharing and analytics among other things to enable an entire generation of teachers, facilitators and learners to adopting the MOOC style.

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