Thursday, March 10, 2011

Trend: Technology Based Delivery Systems--the MOOC

Canadian educational research guru Stephen Downes outlines the beginnings of a new trend--the massively open online course (MOOC).

Key Points:

1. The MOOC is not just an online course with lots of students. Downes characterizes it as one that has 'connectivist' philosophy at its heart. Also, the course is free to all and open to all. Nothing is required and participants can participate as much or as little as they wish. Everything is optional.
2. Downes and fellow professor, George Siemens, model the work of the course (Connectivism and Connective Knowledge or CCK11) together and welcome others to join in.
3. The course reflects the underlying philosophy of connectivism.
4. Connectivism has as its major tenet that learning is not acquired nor is it transmitted; instead, it is the process of making connections across a distributed network of connections. In such a learning environment you situate yourself in a place where you can make connections among a community of practitioners.
5. There are four parts to the MOOC
a. Aggregation--Since immersion is one of the necessary conditions for maximizing connectivity, Downes stuffs the course with lots of contents of varying degrees of difficulty including a dailyk newsletter, blogs, articles, videos, podcasts, collected Tweets from Twitter, bookmarks, discussion posts, and any kitchen think he can come up with. The idea is for each person to create his or her own stance toward the material and others who want to talk about it.
b. Remixing--Once immersed the next step is to make connection within the course much like your neurons which learn by firing together. This associating is very loosely governed by rules if at all and might be said to resemble spiral learning models. The only suggestion Downes makes is to reflect upon the associations that form and to share that content with others.
c. Repurposing--Downes calls this the hard work of the course. At this stage the idea is to get beyond 'reception and filtering' and begin to create. Like an artist's pallette, the colors and canvas come from the materials already gathered together in the first two steps. The pattern is simple: watch the facilitators and adapt and practice with them. Seymour Pappert called this 'constructionism' and tradesfolk call it apprenticeship. Practice is at the heart of connectivism.
d. Feeding Forward--This is what we called "sharing" in kindergarten. It is public and difficult, but it is worthwhile. Feeding forward provides the grist for feedback which you will get from those who appreciate the risk you have taken for their benefit.

Quote from Daniel Pink: "Rewards, by their very nature, narrow our neglecting the ingredients of genuine motivation--autonomy, mastery, and purpose--they limit what each of us can achieve."


One of the conclusions we need to draw from this is that learning is communal. While this is not a new understanding the affordances of new technology make its practice possible in tribes of folk who happen to want to be together to learn something. New pedagogies based upon new theories may be the most disruptive technologies that have every existed. The overturn existing paradigms almost unintentionally and by their very existence constitute a profound challenge to the status quo. Connectivism is a challenge to every existing idea that does not make as its reason for being the goal of maximizing the availability of connections in the system.


Credentialing as we know it is very hard to do under this regimen. Carnegie units are cottonwood fluff for connectivists. Grades make no sense because the only person who can tell you if they have learned something is the connected learner. But this is not at all impractical or impractible. We can still assess mastery. If someone can do it, they can be a practitioner. This is akin to what we used to call "reading law at the bar". Lincoln was a connectivist.

Also, I don't think the MOOC works outside of the philosophical framework of connectivism.  


Downes, S. (2011). “Connectivism” and Connective Knowledge. The Huffington Post. Blog, . Retrieved March 10, 2011, from

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

No comments: