What is a MOOC?
Dave Cormier, a recognized leader of the MOOC movement, defines these unique learning opportunities as:
An online phenomenon gathering momentum over the past few years, a MOOC integrates the connectivity of social networking, the facilitation of an acknowledged expert in a ?eld of study, and a collection of freely accessible online resources.
While these courses are free to take, learners may sometimes pay an institution to receive credit. Usually, all the work within the course is shared with everyone else: readings, discussions, repurposing of material, etc. The idea is that the more you engage within the course, with other participants, and with the distributed content, the more you will learn. One of the biggest gains from participating in a MOOC is the network of connections formed between all the elements that make up the course.
Most MOOCs to date have revolved around educational technology or learning theory topics. As new facilitators take the challenge of developing their own MOOCs, the subject matter is broadening. It is a bit like the wild frontier with MOOCs requiring the facilitator and learners to be early adopters, researchers, as well as self-directed. The very structure of MOOCs is rapidly evolving as facilitators learn from each iteration, methods used by other facilitators, and feedback provided by the participants.
The Student's Perspective
We have both experienced various courses presented as MOOCs. Our backgrounds are quite different and we had different goals for taking the courses from the outset. Suffice it to say we have had different results as well
Since MOOCs aren't for every learner, we have provided both sides of the story around some common components of most MOOCs. To provide the reader a participant's point of view of MOOCs, our collective interpretations (along with impressions shared with us by others) are encapsulated below.
The credit vs. no credit wall
The jury is still out on the effectiveness of MOOCs for learning and the existing research presents some interesting paradoxes. In fact, a much more intensive research study is planned for the fall using a MOOC to form an international research group looking into the effectiveness of MOOCs themselves.
The course style has a vocal contingent of support—namely those who've blogged and tweeted their way through the various courses. MOOCs have its detractors (albeit much less vocal) in the form of extremely high dropout rates. Yet there are those who fall somewhere in the middle, feeling the methodology may work for more independent learners but may be too extreme for less prepared learners. That debate is currently ongoing.
As with most things in teaching and learning, a MOOC is probably best thought of as another for individuals looking to acquire knowledge. Although not every instructor will want to teach one, and not every learner will want to participate in one, the value of a learning tool is in the mind of the learner.
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