Open and distributed learning

MOOCs are receiving considerable attention from those of us who study higher education these days. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to browse the Chronicle of Higher Education without seeing an article or a blog post about MOOCs. This flurry of attention in the media is making for some interesting discussions in a “Technology in Higher Education” course I am teaching this term.

Related to this, I showed the following video in the course a couple of weeks ago:

We had an interesting discussion about the distributed nature of MOOCs, and many thought it was interesting that having folks on different pages is a feature in at least some MOOCs (although those offered through for-profit ventures seem to be much more structured and much less distributed).  We discussed the value in allowing flexibility and ownership of learning, but we also discussed whether students could end up feeling out of the loop, missing out on the conversation, missing out on the learning. Is distribution an asset to or detractor from community? It was a very good discussion in which folks who hold a variety of different perspectives were able to share ideas and information.


7 thoughts on “Open and distributed learning

  1. Dr. Major, I enjoyed this conversation about MOOCs. These types of courses continue to grow and attract learners of various ages. I would like use MOOCs for resources and continue to learn skills and knowledge on topics that interest me.

  2. I’ve been thinking about MOOCs more since we first discussed in class…still trying to figure out what the institutions sponsoring these hope to gain. In reading about this issue, I’ve found a few I think I would like to take (you know, in all my free time). There’s some really interesting stuff out there!

  3. That whole question of distributed versus centralized is an interesting one. The first MOOC (PLENK2010) I joined had a central discussion forum, plus they encouraged us to blog “in the wild”. Often participants would post links to interesting blog posts in the forum. When the next MOOC (Change 11) was operated without a central forum, I missed it. I had to work harder to find what other participants were saying. The stated reason for dropping the central forum was that a few individuals had been dominating the discussions causing more timid voices to become silent. By making it totally distributed, the danger of any one individual trampling others’ ideas was diminished – so they said. I’m not sure I agree. Yes. There were some strong, contentious voices, but they mainly contended with the course facilitators and participants who set themselves up as “authorities”. They did not really interfere with the exploration of ideas by the engaged learners. What I am now finding is that engaged learners will form their own discussion forums in Facebook or other social media, whether or not the MOOC provides a central forum. RSS readers and Twitter feeds notwithstanding, many of us seem to have conversations.

    • Hey Jim,
      I really appreciated your comments about this, both here and during the community session. I think I might like a more centralized discussion a bit more, and it is making me rethink my views about discussion boards (which I’ve never been able to do well, but now I’m starting to think they may have some use after all and that I need to just get better at doing them!).

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