Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 56 seconds

MOOCs – now this is sounding ridiculous…

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 56 seconds

I was reading an article by Jeffrey R. Young On the Chronicle of Higher Ed on MOOCs beyond the hype (paywalled, so I am quoting some parts here), which cites George Siemens in some parts (the good parts).

Note: after a cool discussion about Laura Gogia’s exciting live-tweeting journal club, i’m doing sthg i do often… Blogging as a way of taking notes and writing out responses to an article i am reading.

MOOC articles always get my hackles up and I think I get a little mean for some reason. Some are still stuck in the hyperbole or the opposite of it. Many seem to be written by people who have a very narrow view or experience of MOOCs. I will be the first to admit I am no visionary and I am more of a micro-thinker who likes to focus on personal experience first, but I also like to look at intersections between the macro picture and the personal. I think I manage to do it. The problem is that I think writers who interview someone like George Siemens (someone who has a great perspective on all dimensions of MOOCs, big picture and personal experience and all) don’t necessarily have enough depth of experience themselves to write the kind of article I’d love to read. Oh, hey, maybe I should interview George πŸ™‚

But anyway, I don’t have anything against the writer. He’s mainly reporting and integrating stuff from the MOOC Landscape and it’s a good article to give me a distant perspective instead of my immersed one.

Also: the comments here do not imply the author is unaware of some of what I say; he just didn’t write this here, and maybe it wasn’t his objective to analyze too much. So i’m not criticizing, just recording my responses. (This para here, of course, was written after i wrote most of this post).


Perhaps the biggest legacy of free online courses is unintended: increased pressure on colleges to spend more money on teaching. Colleges spend $39,000 to $325,000 for each MOOC they make, according to an analysis last week in eCampus News. And many colleges are building new infrastructure to help produce the courses, hiring instructional designers or putting up studio facilities.

Is it just me, or are others thinking: well if you have that money to spend, shouldn’t you be spreading it across more of your teachers in order to meet the needs and improve the learning of your own enrolled and paying students???? Instead of a select few star teachers?

Later in the article:

He [Siemens] also argues that focusing on cost and efficiency is the wrong way for nonprofit colleges to evaluate their efforts to improve teaching. Teaching, after all, is full of intangibles, and it’s linked to academe’s mission to turn out responsible citizens. “The experiment will have failed if we talk in terms of management, in terms of efficiency, instead of advancing the ability of everyone to learn,”

No kidding. I agree of course. I am not making fun of George. These are REALLY important points he is making. I still don’t understand why educational institutions need to be constantly reminded of this. I guess there is a view that at least MOOCs have opened up this convo, but it seems that those who wanted to talk efficiency and management still want more of the same. They’re maybe trying to fit MOOCs in the frame, like they did before with online education 10 years ago.

Moving on… Young interviewed others so I am just recording my reactions.

Thrun now calls what Udacity does “nanodegrees”. Such a cutesy term. Sooooo obviously the opposite of MOOCs in “nano” vs “massive” and focus on “degree” vs MOOCs that offer no degree. Makes me feel a bit weird. But I do admire Thrun’s willingness to change his mind and change course. Wonder how this is going so far?

Coursera, not to be outshone, has introduced the “microdegree”. Oh, I see, so they’re BIGGER than nanodegrees. Oh no, wait, is it cool to be big now, or cooler to be small? This could get confusing real fast πŸ™‚ Of course it is the massiveness of the people coupled with smallness of degree. Oh, right. The opposite of college, where, you know, a select small group of people learn a lot of stuff and get a big degree. So let’s do something for loads of people, make it a really tiny learning experience so they can handle it, and call ourselves innovative πŸ™‚ It’s not a bad idea actually. We all do this kind of thing all the time. Break things into small manageable chunks for busy working people looking for professional development (the article alludes to this as well). We were just talking about it in the last #ELIweb meeting yday. So even though my tone is sarcastic (oh wait, you couldn’t hear it? I just outed myself?), I’m not really making fun of the idea. I kinda like it. Just in a flippant mood.

Now check this out:

Anant Agarwal… is fond of repeating key catchphrases to promote MOOCs. These days he often calls the technology platform his team is building to offer the free courses “a particle accelerator for learning

Ok, i had to look up the definition of particle accelerator so i could make fun of it properly πŸ™‚

A particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams.

Just, you know… Device, propel, speed, contain, well-defined, and beams. I don’t think I need to elaborate further.

Now this one always makes me wanna cry (this article is a great report on latest MOOC rhetoric, and the rhetoric makes me sad or angry or frustrated or any combo of those):

All the attention to MOOCs seems to have brought attention to the need for better teaching methods.

Of course conversations about improving teaching should be had. ALL.THE.TIME. But not because of something like MOOCs. Face it, many if not most xMOOCs don’t have amazing pedagogical methods even tho i actually look at some to get teaching ideas. cMOOCs offer me much more inspiration but translating to non-adult learners esp if not digitally literate is hard. Not impossible but hard. We know a lot about online education from 10 years plus of research and xMOOCs went ahead ignoring all of it. They still have potential i suggest, and they’re a natural progression from OERs and iTunesU … But they’re not, you know, models of good teaching. Nor should they be, imho, threats to college teaching (it’s facing enough threats as it is). It saddens me that univs would spend on MOOCs instead of giving secure jobs to adjuncts.

Oh my.

It saddens me that univs would spend on MOOCs instead of giving secure jobs to adjuncts.

No wait.
It ANGERS me that univs would spend on MOOCs instead of creating secure jobs for adjuncts.

And no, I will not comment on Daphne Koller’s suggestion to do an “accounting trick” so the MOOC cost is considered marketing. Err, learning, anyone? Teaching anyone?

I’m off

7 thoughts on “MOOCs – now this is sounding ridiculous…

  1. Hi Maha,

    The search for lucrative “revenue train” is ultimately behind xMOOC development and none of the big platforms – Coursera, Udacity, or EdX – have made any attempt to conceal this from anyone. Just because their products are free doesn’t mean they aren’t intended to make money. And, just being “for profit” doesn’t mean that a venture is suspect either. In fact, an organization that is fully supported by tuition is more likely to be independent of crazy intervention political and venture capitalist stakeholders than an organization that is dependent on external funding simply to make ends meet.

    From very early on, two very distinct conceptualizations of MOOCs began to emerge and these were based on different interpretations of the word “massive”. For the original connectivist inspired cMOOCs, massiveness referred to openness and individual learning opportunity, while for the commercial, xMOOCs, massiveness referred to class size and potential revenue.

    Naturally, the xMOOCs were more successful in organizing training type learning opportunities with narrow and well targeted objectives following traditional, sit-down-and-listen-to-me teaching strategies. The only MOOCiness was provided by an equally massive “discussion forum” with 30,000 people providing something akin to the cacophony of noise at a football match. These are the MOOCs that the press consistently notices. The cMOOCs remained small and marginal, noticed only by a fringe of people who interested in learning for its own sake or learning science specialists.

    Both varieties are making significant contributions to emerging our emerging understanding of online and distance education – cMOOCs are challenging traditional pedagogical practice in HE, while cMOOCs are providing viable alternatives to people looking for training and education outside of traditional, institutional channels.

    1. Well put, Mar! That could serve as a good intro to an article on this. Agree w every eloquently written word πŸ™‚ why don’t you write something like this with a bit more detail “MOOCs for the lay person”? For the Chronicle or Fanar?

  2. Hello Maha,
    Interesting thoughts, I wish I am fluent in English to echo what exactly went in my mind after reading ur piece( I always do not miss ur articles.;)

    Also after reading the Jolt article – I saw we have some similar expereince sometimes you sound radical than me;)

    Anyway as Mark commented “successful in organizing training type learning opportunities with narrow and well targeted objectives following traditional, sit-down-and-listen-to-me teaching strategies” —
    I see the users perspective than the teachers perspective because I am a devoted user for xMOOCs. πŸ˜‰

    Yes you are right. There is a serious issue about the quality , not all the MOOC provide same level , some aren’t even closer to its objectives. I do not understand why they spend too much as that if they can not produce quality course.

    for example – sometimes a cat behind the screen, sometime only text through out the course with no video, sometime there is no instructor involvement at all not mails no reminders no feed back in forums

    One major concern is do MOOC actually facilitate real learning – or it just again transformation of information like a typical teacher does. I really hope teacher understand their role as to give the student to create synthesize and evaluate their learning than trying to spoon feed, out of 24 completed MOOCs I would say only very few allowed that .

    I am not a fan of cMOOCs either as I get distract of unstructured information, I prefer something in the middle X and C which is hard to find.

    Anyway I still have this question Why Universities want to run a MOOC? famous, increase student intake by promoting its advantage, I dont know but as a student Its great to see the learning in other part of the world for free of charge, otherwise people like us would not have a voice.

    1. Thanks for commenting. Thanks fir often retweeting my stuff and I am so happy you commented. All your comments make sense and I agree that somewhere between x and c is good. #edcmooc from Edinburgh was great at this.

    2. Good idea having a hybrid of x and c MOOCs. I took a free open course on Complexity from and due to sickness was unable to complete. Now it’s available again and I can try all over again.There’s value in a course that repeats itself – an opportunity for more people to participate and more viewpoints applied to the subject. Ideas often refresh themselves and become MORE relevant and it isn’t wise to judge things by the date of their first being brought to the world’s attention.
      I’m starting to see cMOOCs as valuable events or clusters of activity that may evolve without settling on a fixed identity. Like Woodstock or cafe conversations that sustain interest by being here then gone a cMOOC may violate the permanence of ideas being their highest value?
      Is it permitted for me to change my opinions on xMOOCs to something more considered?

  3. I think there’s a strong connection between the cMOOC popularity and HE becoming more expensive (thus more exclusive and harder to access) and the notion that intellectual “recreation” (using your brain to express the sheer joy of having just having a brain) is a common need for humans. It isn’t that education has failed so much as it’s become restricted and narrowed into a product that supplies predictable results, like a toaster.
    Also I think there could be found a strong connection between educational administration being populated by a business management mindset. At the college where I worked the executive book cases are full of guides to understanding the world by metrics appropriate to the ebb and flow of, well, toasters–functional products. It’s easy to see students in this environment being manufactured to numbingly familiar and easy to measure base-models and then xMOOCs coming in to “customize” by adding features like degrees of crispness or extra wide slots for Texas Toast.
    The xMOOC is a perfect solution for a world seeking only employability from education. The Udacity Fordist Familiarity Featurizer.
    By the way I grew up less than a mile from one of two particle accelerators and hardly noticed anything.

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