MOOCs are all the hype these days on the field of higher education. They ally the convenience and flexibility of asynchronous distance education to communication technologies that have become increasingly common all over the world, generation a new model of education that brings benefits (and disadvantages) to both learners and teachers/institutions.
Among the benefits for learners are the variety of choice (if they are fluent in English, since there English-speaking countries are the main pushers of this new model), the possibility of acquiring knowledge backed by renowned institutions (Stanford, MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, etc.) and scholars, and even get certificates, the flexibility for time management given by the fact that MOOCs don’t have “classes” in the traditional sense but provide sets of instructions for learner to develop their autonomous work and, finally, the ability to access the course everywhere in the world, which makes them a truly great education opportunity for countryside regions where higher education institutions are usually more distant, and financial benefits, since these courses are mostly free to attend but may require a small sum for the completion certificate. Another benefit for learners is the ability to liaise online with fellow learners from elsewhere, since social networking is at the core of MOOCs.
There are also benefits for scholars and institutions. Scholars can reach a larger audience (+100.000 registered students in some cases), gaining recognition for them and for the institution, these same institution can potentially cut costs by assigning less human resources to a specific course (the ration of teacher/students in traditional models is obviously narrower) and have an offering for life-long learning, the desired paradigm for the present and the future.
Nevertheless, there are disadvantages as well. MOOCs are typically fast-paced, require a lot of willingness and self-motivation from the student to keep going and may be extremely for those not very digitally literate. On average, dropout rates for MOOCs are very high (they are reported to be about 90%), and fundamentally an online course (not only MOOCs, but those in particular) requires a big effort translated in terms of workload, time management and autonomous work.
MOOCs revolve around the concepts of openness (of access, educational resources employed, collaborative work, etc., but recent MOOCs are experimenting with different approaches), personal learning environment (PLE) and connectivism. The later is a pedagogical model first proposed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2005 and postulates the learning process as a continuum of establishing connections to knowledge sources that inform the learner and gain from his/her contribution, in a process where the learner is really at the core of the process and decides what, how and when we wants to learn. That model postulates as well that in our digital society knowledge is no longer static but changes every day, and the capacity of the learner to discriminate and keep updated with the latest knowledge is of the essence. In connection to this, the learner build his/her on personal learning environment, the matrix of relationships he creates with knwoledge sources, be them people, groups, institutions, machines, etc. Hence come the MOOCs, a novel way of institutions delivering courses under the connectivist banner.
The OLDS (Open Design Learning Studio) MOOC “Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum” is partially funded by JISC, a UK higher education non-governmental association, and was developed by a joint team of Professors, fellows and researchers from several British institutions. It aimed initially for a target audience of around 500-1000 learners, but the figures have been decreasing through the weeks, due to the typical MOOC dropout effect.
A lot of effort has been put on the design of the MOOC’s activities, the weekly and daily introductions are absolutely phenomenal, as well as the team’s members support. OLDS MOOC was designed as a cMOOC where the participants are active and expected to connect in groups not only on the central hub, the CloudWorks platform, but all over the world wide web.
My personal experience on OLDS MOOC was a bit mixed. Although I liked the concept, I felt lost with the pace of the activities. In my opinion they should have given more time for socializing and making groups of interest before asking for people to share their dream project, and allow for groups to present common projects. It is a bit frustrating to idealize your project and then engage in another person’s project. Even if that was the intention it was not explicitly stated, so it made people (I know I wasn’t the only one feeling this) feel uneasy and dismotivated, since those who didn’t ever had a MOOC experience were already feeling lost from the chaos of learning how to use a new tool, multiple environments to keep track of and general confusion. Adding to that, many people didn’t have the English language skills required to successfully develop a productive participation, and I bet those were the main dropout reasons.
Despite all that, I rate my participation as a positive experience. I got some valuable knowledge from the activities I engaged in. Granted, I didn’t complete hem all, but focused on the most important, landmark ones, so I was awarded the 1-week and 3-week completion badges. I wasn’t very lucky with group work, though: a group I had joined and expected to develop activities with dissolved after a while because the founder had to cease participating, and my next effort to join another group was unsuccessful due to the same reason, but in that case I decided to keep the same project going on and developed it myself. That’s why I think they should have allowed more social interaction and group-making at the beginning, even if only by starting one week earlier on the Google foruns for people to meet. Just my 2 cents.