I mentioned yesterday that creating a study group (physical or virtual) out of the enrollee pool of a MOOC class (even a huge one) is tough to pull off. But that might just be because by the time a class has started, it’s too late to create a learning community to take the course together.
This probably seems counter intuitive. After all, who are you going to form a study group with if not the people enrolled in the same MOOC as you? And how will you even know who fellow students are until the class starts and the inevitable “Introduce Yourself” and “Let’s Form a Study Group” threads pop up on in online forums?
The trouble is that even if you’re fortunate enough to have dozens or even hundreds of fellow students living in your vicinity, the chance that even a modest fraction of them have similar schedules or levels of interest regarding learning as a team is pretty minimal. Which is why most physical MOOC meet-ups either never get off the ground or flop after the first meeting, and why so many online learning groups fizzle out before the end of a class.
But what if, rather than waiting for a class to begin and then trying to form a group you instead first created a learning group which worked together to determine which classes to take?
If such an approach seems convoluted, take a look at this example of a group of adult students already involved with continuing education who used the MOOC moment to dramatically expand the range and quality of classes they could offer within an existing institutional framework at no cost. Sharon Watkins’ Learning Café is just one of thousands of existing learning communities across the world (I recently gave a talk to one such group at Brandeis University) that already come together under the rubric of continuing or adult education. And rather than being a group of students looking for a classroom, they represent classrooms full of students deciding together what to study.
The most dramatic examples of team learning based on a pre-existing educational infrastructure takes place in those parts of the world where MOOCs are forming the backbone of formal education. If you read the blogs or listen to the leaders of any of the major MOOC providers, fascinating stories of schools in impoverished parts of the planet using what little electricity and bandwidth they receive each day to deliver Harvard or Stanford classes to their students free of charge is not just heartwarming, but also points out how MOOCs can provide high-quality content to teams of students ready to learn.
Now necessity might require such a team learning approach in places like the public school system of rural Pakistan. But if people can pull off the creation of functional learning communities in these distant and difficult environments, why should it be so hard to do the same in locations that don’t face similar challenges?
I’ve previously talked about the entrepreneurial organizations that are springing up to plug holes in the MOOC infrastructure. But other than MOOC Campus (which is trying to build a full-fledged college environment using MOOCs as the faculty), I don’t know of any enterprise built around facilitating the creation of new learning communities that can then go out to find a MOOC that suits their needs (vs. the many companies I’ve seen that are trying to find ways to support students who have already decided to enroll in a MOOC class).
So perhaps the next big thing will involve taking the MOOC cart and moving it behind vs. in front of the learning community horse.