#MOOConMOOCs – Sir John Daniel on MOOCs

The interesting MOOC on MOOCs conducted by Dr. T V Prabhakar from IIT Kanpur and Dr V Balaji from Commonwealth of Learning is in week 3. The theme itself is reminiscent of the CCK MOOCs, which did a deep dive into the Connectivist origins of the original MOOCs. It is timely also because India is really on the verge of something special in this area.

Sir John Daniel, one of the experts in Open and Distance Learning, has the following points to make in his video lecture contributed specially for the course.

  • Open and Distance and Online learning did not start with MOOCs or even the Internet.
  • Putting courses online does not automatically improve their quality.
  • MOOCs are a good example of how computers and networks have increased the power and possibilities of ODL but they lack some of the vital ingredients of a good learning system. Many do not include Holmberg’s “guided didactic conversations” between learners and teachers and most do not include student assessment and certification.
  • Everything depends on the design of the teaching learning system around the students’ needs.That must be the next step in  the development of MOOCs.
  • In most cases, MOOCs are still simply information distribution systems
  • Why have MOOCs been so slow in tackling the challenges of interaction and assessment? Because early 2012 MOOCs were by exclusive universities.

In his 2012 article, Making Sense of MOOCs – Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility, Sir John Daniel makes some important points:

We also agree with Bates that current xMOOCs pedagogy is pretty old hat but this will now change fast. Even if Coursera gave its partner universities great freedom in course formats in order to sugar the pill of signing the contract, this will quickly produce a great diversity of approaches and much healthy experimentation.

Placing their xMOOCs in the public domain for a worldwide audience will oblige institutions to do more than pay lip service to importance of teaching and put it at the core their missions. This is the real revolution of MOOCs.

In a more recent article for the Montreal Digital Conference to be held next month, Are MOOCs the long-awaited technological revolution in higher education?, Sir John Daniel makes some important points:

  • It is unlikely that MOOCs shall be considered a revolution in Higher Education unless they are also able to perform the core functions of that system – “the authority to award degrees, diplomas and qualifications”.
  • Quoting Laurillard who questions whether MOOCs are solving global education problems like access to universities, spiraling student debt and low graduate pay, he presents MOOCs as perhaps being more useful in professional and vocational development.
  • The viability of building and maintaining MOOCs for universities are also called into question. They do not represent a significant return on investment (like the UKOU’s tracking of students who enrolled revealed that 1500 students had prior contact with its free media implying an 8% return on investment in free media) if considered for student recruitment, nor are they likely to make as much money in services like proctoring and assessments as compared to private operators. He sees certification and employee recruitment as the most promising end-uses of MOOCs.

In talking about the legacy of MOOCs, he writes:

This transformation of the methods of teaching and learning will be the primary legacy of MOOCs. It will not be a revolution but it will have a long-term impact on the way higher education operates, much like the important evolutionary stimuli in the earlier history of universities that we examined earlier.

Talking about OERs, he states:

The creation and use of OER developed steadily, but without fanfare, for the next decade. OER were the long fuse that detonated the MOOCs explosion.

On why MOOCs will not be revolutionary for Higher Education,

MOOCs are not revolutionary, both because higher education develops by evolution and also because MOOCs mostly do not lead to formal qualifications. MOOCs are, however, the harbingers of an important transformation that will lead to much greater use of online technologies in teaching, research and academic service.

Not surprisingly, he concludes:

Quality and the quality assurance of ‘post-traditional’ higher education, like the certification of its outcomes, is one of the greater challenges of these new forms of teaching and learning...Our first conclusion is that we should not await a revolution but rather expect digital innovations to transform practice in an incremental manner...Second, the present disruption being caused by digital technologies is a constructive process. We shall see a flurry of evolutionary change as institutions adapt to the new niches that innovations are creating. Third, it is important to let experimentation continue so that the viability of various models for using technology in teaching, learning, assessment and certification can be tested. This is why it was dangerous to present MOOCs as the contemporary revolution in higher education. Fourth and finally, this exciting phase of evolution poses a special challenge for quality assurance, which is caught on the horns of a dilemma.

Daniel is trying to situate MOOCs (specifically xMOOCs) in the Higher Education context, terming them an evolution and not a revolution, experiments that need far more innovation, currently unable to meet global challenges like student debt, unable to perform core functions such as awarding degrees and a logical evolution of the open and distance learning, OER, digital innovations and online learning paradigm. I think Daniel is saying that the incremental innovations in teaching and learning of the xMOOCs will bring about the real revolution over a period of time.

There is also a fleeting aspiration in what he writes:

In the long run heutagogy and cMOOCs may have a greater impact on the evolution of teaching and learning in higher education in an information age than the more common xMOOCs, some of which learners can find trivial rather than confusing.

and from the Musings article:

We quote Illich to emphasise that the xMOOCs attracting media attention today, which are ‘at the intersection of Wall Street and Silicon Valley’ (Caulfield, 2012), appear to have scant relation to those pioneering (Ed: cMOOC) approaches.

As George Siemens writes while distinguishing between x- and c-MOOCs in What is the theory that underpins our MOOCs?:

As stated above, there is overlap between our model at that of Coursera/EDx. However, Coursera/EDx emulates the existing education system, choosing instead to transfer it online rather than transform it online.

Clearly, xMOOCs are an extension geared for the traditional system of education, where at University or online, open and distance. By his own admission, cMOOCs are pioneering approaches that may have a greater impact on teaching and learning in the long run.

The contention lies in whether Daniel thinks that the xMOOCs and cMOOCs are milestones on some kind of a continuum of evolution of higher education, or whether they are, as I firmly believe, two completely different systems altogether. In my opinion, we could better call the xMOOCs something else so that we are able to focus on the potential of cMOOCs in a better way – perhaps call them XBTs or eXtended-Web Based Training, just like the earlier generations were called CBT and WBT.

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