xMOOCs vs. cMOOCs Revisited

For reasons known only to the sprites living under the hood of search engines such as Google and Bing, the story on this site that continues to get more search engine traffic than any other is this piece on the distinction between xMOOCs (MOOCs based on professor-centric courses, usually associated with established universities and companies like Coursera , Udacity and edX) vs. cMOOCs (MOOCs based on an earlier connectivist vision of courses involving enrollees acting as both students and teachers).

I have still not found a cMOOC to take which would provide the basis for understanding the experience more deeply, but I have been thinking about how the distinction between the two visions of massive online learning may become difficult to maintain as the MOOC experiment continues.

During my recent interview with Cathy Davidson of Duke University, for example, she talked about how her upcoming online course (to be delivered via Coursera in early 2014) will try to leverage the tens of thousands likely to enroll by involving them in a series of joint projects (such as the construction of a shared timeline tracing the history of local educational initiatives), rather than just leave her course a series of professor-focused lectures and quizzes.

Similarly, a “contest” that asked the thousands of students participating in another Duke course on argumentation to contribute their own arguments for voting and analysis turned out to be one of the most successful components of the class (one that will be built into a reboot of the course this fall).

Both of these cases involve a professor acting as a facilitator for creative joint projects primarily driven by students interacting in ways more directed than you’d find in standard open-ended discussion forums accompanying most MOOC classes.

And while I’ve criticized those discussion forums in the past for getting so overcrowded that they become more a source of monologue than dialogue, I have caught glimpses of the cMOOC collectivist vision when questions I’ve asked about obscure matters have been answered by fellow students in possession of esoteric knowledge relevant to issues I’m thinking about.

Now none of these experiments in massive joint projects or good student-to-student experiences on discussion forums add up to a full embrace of the cMOOC connectivist vision by traditional educators creating their own MOOCs (or xMOOCs, I should say).  But it does point out the fluid nature of an educational project that is fundamentally pragmatic (as well as experimental).

For if connectivist-style projects prove successful, there’s no doubt they will find their way into more MOOC classes (especially as the tools and procedures needed to create and manage such projects become systematized and built into MOOC platforms for easier automation and replication).

And I fully expect new ways for students to form groups (either through advances in message-board technology, or low-tech methods of self-organization into smaller educational cohorts) will provide new openings for students to educate one another (not simply help each other with homework).

Perhaps I’m missing something, but I haven’t gotten the sense that creators and advocates for one type of MOOC vs. another have divided into warring camps dedicated to building walls around their mutual visions for online education.

Which is as it should be.  For the road to getting the new online courses to fulfill their potential is still very long and very fraught.  Which means any idea from any person or field that can be leveraged to improve individual and group learning experiences should be embraced and assimilated, with worries about how this or that vision or feature should be labeled left for later.

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