Coincidentally, the last three courses I reviewed in the weekly Degree of Freedom News (to which you can subscribe by punching in your e-mail over there to the right) all elicited similar commentary regarding whether a course felt like a college class vs. something else.
Canvas.net’s Cheating in Online Courses, for example, seemed more like a symposium than a course, while Udacity’s Introduction to Statistics reminded me of one of the many computer-based training programs I’ve taken over the years. And a 58-part Art History Survey course from Udemy was similar to the educational experience I had watching Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting on PBS (albeit without the wimple).
This is not to say that I didn’t learn a great deal from all three programs (as I have from most if not all of the 20+ courses I’ve either completed or am currently taking). And given that we still lack a formal definition of what a MOOC consists of, who am I to say which classes are inside or outside the club?
I suppose we could say that only courses delivered via edX, Coursera and Udacity get to “count” as MOOCs, but this strikes me as far too narrow and artificial a definition.
It’s true that courses taken from one of these three providers are likely to have more elements built into them (not just lectures, but assessments, reading and homework assignments, all built around a syllabus and common schedule). So perhaps we should be looking for classes that want to be considered MOOCs to be ready to deliver a complete “package” of materials we commonly associate with a college-level class.
And this is just a personal preference, but I like courses to have a focal point (which tends to be a single professor tying together the disparate elements of a class). I realize that (having had a traditional teacher-based K-12 and college education in earlier years) this may be a generational preference. But having ploughed through four weeks of fairly demanding reading and lectures for my Saylor.org Existentialism class, the one thing that seems to be missing (along with non-lame assessment questions) is a single voice (that I’m free to agree or disagree with) guiding me through the material.
Now given that I have already made the decision to pull MOOCs and other learning sources (like iTunes U and Saylor.org courses) under the heading of “free learning” and use this wider variety of resources as the basis for my One Year BA, I have already opted out of the “If it’s not a MOOC, it’s not a real course” attitude.
But absent a more rigorous understanding of what we mean when we say “MOOC,” we stand the risk of watching the term get seized by marketers vs. educators, and applied to any set of training tools of any depth on any subject (so long as they’re presented on a web site as a series of square tiles – the emerging design language of the MOOC provider).