v6.2.3 - moving along, a point increase at a time

You keep using that word...

Recently I read an article on Your Training Edge which aims to correct misconceptions surrounding MOOCs. The title of this particular post, and I guess myth that they tried to correct, was "MOOCs Aren’t Interactive, So There’s No Real Learning Taking Place". The basic idea in this misconception is really preposterous.  I don't know when interactive became synonymous with learning, but it is clearly a flawed concept.  Yes, interactivity can aid in learning, but just because something isn't interactive it doesn't mean that learning is taking place, and vice versa - if something is interactive it doesn't mean that learning is taking place.  I can think of a lot of cases where there isn't interactivity, but learning happens never the less. Three examples that come to mind are:
  • self-paced eLearning, while you might have some  interactivity (matching games, clicking "next" on the player, and so on), this interactivity is really token interactivity to make sure you're awake.  I have yet to come across really interesting and engaging eLearning;
  • Educational Television and videos.  These only interactive thing about them is that you can pause, rewind, and skip forward.  There is no interaction with that media that is substantive, but learning can occur nevertheless.
  • Books are probably the best example of non-interaction.  They exist, containing knowledge and information, and people read them and they attempt to apply what is locked in them.  The interaction is really turning pages. Despite this, learning can, and does, happen!
The authors of  YTE however don't bring this little fact up.  Instead they bring up some suggestions about how you can make your MOOC more interactive!  I'll list them here (without the notes), for your convenience (I would say read their entire post for your own reference though, this way you see their rationale):
  1. Make interactive video. 
  2. Use discussion boards and social media.
  3. Have a facilitator lead class discussions. 
  4. Hold virtual office hours
  5. Use surveys and polls. 
  6. Incorporate projects and other real-world problem solving. 
  7. Assign learners to groups. 
  8. Use a variety of exercise types. 
  9. Set up knowledge sharing environments. 
  10. Incorporate Simulations
  11. Gamify. 
  12. Go mobile.
Reading this list it's what comes across are someone's suggestions for making a traditional online course more interactive rather than making a MOOC more interactive.  I've been participating in MOOCs of all sorts up to this point, cMOOC, xMOOC, pMOOC, rMOOC (and whatever other MOOC you want to throw in) on a variety of platforms.  In xMOOCs video is usually interactive in some way, shape, or form. Does it allow you to choose your own adventure?  Well, no - but is that desirable?  It depends on the discipline.

Discussion forums in MOOCs don't work.  We've had a good time in Rhizo14 and other cMOOCs using  facebook as a discussion forum, but that's because there are relative few of us.  In larger MOOCs offered on coursera the discussions forums are unwieldy. It's clear that the paradigm used in implementing discussion forums is that of the traditional online course which doesn't work when you have loads of people signed up. The same was true for a cMOOC called CFHE12 which ran on Desire2Learn - I skipped the forums because they were too crazy.

Virtual office hours and facilitated discussion, again, seem like really great for traditional courses, but for MOOCs, unless you clone yourself this won't work.  The same is true about assigning people to groups.  We saw in 2012 that FOEMOOC crashed and burned, and one of the reasons was group making.  Group making doesn't need to crash and burn though.  I was in a group in a NovoEd course this past summer and it worked out well, but in doing this it missed the massiveness aspect of the course.  Furthermore we were lucky in that we had 3 out of 5 members of the team interested in sticking with it and making the group work.  What happens when you have a group formed and people decide that the course isn't for them?  Group dynamics are not the same in a MOOC as they are in a traditional course. 

 From the entire list posted only two items really seem like they are breaking away from the tradition of the campus or traditional online course: gamification and going mobile.  Gamification, and by extension alternative credentialing, is an interesting concept.  Gamification won't work for all learners, but it is something that could engage those who are looking for a way to solve puzzles to get to the next step.  Tied with micro-credentials I think this has great potential in MOOCs - albeit it might take a lot of time and effort to develop something effective.  We've seen a lot of MOOCs use micro-credentials including OLDSMOOC, Introduction to Open Education (#ioe12), BlendKit, and the Open Badges MOOC on Coursesites. There is enough raw material there to look at past practices and plan forward.  Even on Coursera, on Werbach's Gamification MOOC the first time around each lecture featured changed in the environment that the lecture took place that we significant, and it was a puzzle to solve.  That got people thinking and competing for a gift give-away.

As far as Mobile is concerned - I don't disagree that mobile has potential.  My 3rd MOOC was MobiMOOC 2011, and as it turns out a pretty fundamental MOOC in my own personal socialization into this massive participant learning environment. I really liked the ability to participate in discussions through my mobile (same is true of Rhizo14!)  I don't know if this was accidental, or planned, but it worked. Google Groups, what we used for MobiMOOC, due to its connection with email, made it easy to participate while on the go for some things. Mobile, however, is not a panacea. Making things mobile won't increase interaction.

So, my advice for interaction in MOOCs? I would advise that MOOC Organizers plan for some interactions, and plan well within those limited constraints (perhaps a weekly live webcast with twitter discussion - like the DALMOOC had, or like EDCMOOC had), and then allow - and even encourage - participants to find their own spaces to engage.  I would argue that in a MOOC we shouldn't be forcing people down prescribed paths for interaction and engagement. Learners should find their own paths.  The paradigm of the traditional online course does not map well into MOOCs and people who discuss MOOCs should have the two concepts clearly disambiguated in their minds. Otherwise someone is going to come up to you and say - You keep using that word (MOOC), I do not think it means what you think it means. :-)
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