Stephen Downes

Anyone who has played this side of the street for even a little while will have run into Stephen Downes, one of the earliest participants in something that can (and was) called a MOOC and tireless champion for the vision of connectivist learning that makes up the “c” in “cMOOC” (which contrasts with the xMOOCs I’ve been taking, with the difference between the two described here).

In addition to serving as Senior Researcher for the National Research Council of Canada, Downes is one of the most prolific educational writers on the Internet whose OLDaily newsletter reaches thousands of people across the globe (articles from which can be found on his site along with what looks like every paper he’s ever written and every presentation he has ever given).

That first MOOC project I just mentioned was a connectivist learning experience taught by Downes and his fellow Canadian George Siemens in 2008 which used social networking technology as the basis for an open course that had over three-thousand participants.

To watch Downes in action (as I did last weekend when he talked about The Habits of Effective Connected Learners) is to see the connectivist approach to education made real.  For despite his well-earned reputation as a sage, his teaching is anything but one-way.

Most of us have probably participated in online classes and presentations that allowed participants to comment freely while the session is taking place (comments that are largely ignored by the presenter, or used as the basis of a Q&A session at the end).  No so in the case of a Downes presentation where he responded immediately to every comment as soon as it hit the feed, taking the discussion in new directions based on feedback he received from his crowd of classmates.  And a number of “slides” used during his presentation turned out to be things we audience members could write on ourselves (for all to see), highlighting the two-way participatory nature of networked education.

And did I mention he studied philosophy in college?

To give you a fuller sense of the man and his attitude towards the current state of MOOCs, you should try to watch this somewhat more conventional presentation he gave to the Saylor Foundation earlier in 2013 (just as an FYI, I’ll also be presenting to Saylor in November – more details coming soon):

The more I work in the field, the more it’s becoming clear how much online education stands at the crossroads of technology, pedagogy, economics and politics.  And the more I realize that the ideas I thought I was discovering were said much earlier (and much better) by the remarkable Stephen Downes.

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