Why bother paying inflated fees to attend university? Why pay to spend three years living on a campus, attending seminars and tutorials, running up debts? What if you could get it all for free, online?
This is the compelling pitch offered to millions of prospective students from a bewildering array of start-ups and initiatives. Building on the open educational resource movement to create immersive online learning courses scalable to a global audience, and then giving them away. It seems like hardly a week goes by without another powerful announcement concerning another Massively Open Online Course (MOOC).
All share a similar business model: free content, free learning experiences, paid accreditation and additional support. A business model that ALT-C 2010 attendees may find hauntingly familiar.
(video taken from a presentation given by Heather Price and David Kernohan from JISC, Li Yuan and Sheila MacNeill at JISC CETIS, at the Association of Learning Technologists [ALT] conference in 2010)
Like any buzzword the term MOOC has shifted in meaning as use has expanded, from a specific set of pedagogic assumptions around networks and learning, to a term for any large online course with no initial fee. These initial framings of the idea drew heavily on concepts around connectivism, and saw the learner as an active participant both in the design and the delivery of the course, alongside a network of peers.
My own experience with ds106 has brought home to me the power and possibilities of this “classic MOOC” model. As a MOOC on Digital Storytelling, the course is actually taught in a number of locations to paying students, and uses the huge numbers of open participants to support, direct and encourage creativity. For me, the power has been in the community not in the course.
In the UK, the experiments of Jonathan Worth and Coventry University with open online courses around photography (for example PHONAR and PICBOD) have seen similar results. Students on the PICBOD course spontaneously organised and ran their own well received end-of-course exhibition.
Clearly the power of this form of MOOC works, in ways related to more traditional university outreach activity, to engage and inspire people outsides of the confines of an institution. And bringing the interested amateur into contact with the ideas and processes of academia can only be a good thing for student recruitment.
A parallel movement, which could be exemplified by Anya Kamenetz’s “DIYu” and “Edupunk’s Guide”, sees the MOOC as a replacement rather than an enhancement for institutional study. Courses within this tradition, despite the revolutionary trappings and “Education is broken” sloganeering, tend to be far more traditional in structure. Indeed it could be argued that only the zero cost of entry separates them from millennial initiatives like Fathom and UKeU.
The learning itself tends to be more pragmatic, with a skills/mastery rather than an understanding/practice focus, and there is a clear demarcation between tutor as source of knowledge and student as consumer.
To me, it is this revolutionary strand of MOOCs that is reinforcing the traditional model of education, and the institutionally-based pedagogic experiments of people like Jim Groom, Jonathan Worth and Stephen Downes that are challenging it.