MOOCs: A New Way to Train Your Cat

MOOC fever has broken out,  infecting the insular and sheltered world of academia and spreading to the vulnerable population at large. Symptoms include a feeling of generalized urgency (Audrey Watters calls this FOMO), a paradoxical desire to monetize free and open content, and a susceptibility to buzzwords and confident-sounding prognostication.

It won’t be long until we’ll begin to see articles about MOOCs in Cooking Light Magazine (Foodie MOOCs: The Newest Gastronomical Trend ), Entertainment Weekly (Bruckheimer Casts Cruise in MOOC-based Action Thriller, The Connectivist), and Cat Fancy (MOOCS: A New Way to Train Your Cat).

So now might be a good time to ask, “What, exactly, is a MOOC?”

Über-Canadian George Siemens distinguishes between connectivist, knowledge creation MOOCs, and Coursera-style, knowledge duplication MOOCs:

Our MOOC model emphasizes creation, creativity, autonomy, and social networked learning. The Coursera model emphasizes a more traditional learning approach through video presentations and short quizzes and testing. Put another way, cMOOCs focus on knowledge creation and generation whereas xMOOCs focus on knowledge duplication. I’ve spoken with learners from different parts of the world who find xMOOCs extremely beneficial as they don’t have access to learning materials of that quality at their institutions. xMOOCs scale, they have prestigious universities supporting them, and they are well-funded. It is quite possible that they will address the “drill and grill” instructional methods that is receiving some criticism.

Dave Cormier who, for better or worse, coined the term MOOC, describes the original idea behind the knowledge creation-type cMOOC in the video below:

Audrey Watters sees a multiverse of MOOCs:

Lately when I write about MOOCs (and I admit, I do write about MOOCs a lot lately), I feel the need to attach a bunch of adjectives to clarify what I mean by the term: the Stanford-model MOOC. New MOOCs. The OG MOOC. The ur-MOOC. The MOOCs-come-latelyVC MOOCsTech MOOCsMother of all MOOCsChange11DS106MOOCGuffin (I just totally made that up. Sorry.).

Regardless, it’s clear to me that there’s a failure of acronyms here — too bad since acronyms are supposed to serve as an obvious shorthand, spelling out the initials of exactly what we mean. As in: MOOC. Massive Online Open Course. It’s clear what we mean by the term. Except it isn’t.

David Wiley dislikes the term MOOC altogether, and explains why:

There are a number of reasons why the term MOOC is a misnomer.
–Many MOOCs are massive but not open (e.g.,
–Many MOOCs are open but not massive (e.g.,
–Many MOOCs try very hard not to be courses (e.g.,
Well, at least all MOOCs offered to date have been online – so at least there’s one thing we can agree on.

I hate this term. Almost every so-called MOOC violates at least one letter in the acronym. Why are we using this word that doesn’t describe the things we attach it to?

Bonus complaint: The MOOCs which are “massive but not open” pose a special threat to the future of OER, but no one seems to be paying attention… Before long the general public will feel that “free” is good / innovative enough, and no one will care about “open,” permissions, or licensing. The good has once again become the enemy of the best. And how to you wage a PR war against “the good?

This reminds me of the usage of the term “alternative” to describe DIY, indie-label bands in the 90’s. After Nirvana broke through to mainstream radio, the term alternative was slapped onto every new band. The term became commodified, used not to accurately describe new music, or the principles upon which that music was created, but to prepackage the blandest, most commercial bands with the alternative label to sell more records. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with George Siemens that Coursera and edX courses are valuable projects and can serve a real need. But in many ways, they are just same old tunes with a new label.

Well, I gotta go. Sebastian Thrun is on the Today Show. He’ll be sitting down with Matt Lauer to offer some fall fashion tips for educational entrepreneurs.

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