Saturday, March 2, 2013

Common Misperceptions of MOOCs and Open Learning


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A widely-held but false assumption about education can perhaps help explain the confusion: many people seem to believe that, because we have had essentially one dominant model for formal learning (with slight variations) for centuries, we will similarly continue with a new, single, dominant model of learning once the dust settles.  MOOCs come along, draw massive numbers, receive significant venture capital, are associated with a number of elite universities, and commentators make it seem this is the next silver bullet, the next singular model of learning.  Part of the near hysteria about MOOCs may be grounded in either/or thinking:  we either have the traditional classroom model of today or we all do MOOCs.  We may be laboring under the false assumption that learning can happen only one way; no matter what direction we go in with formal learning, we will have just one dominant model.


As you may remember from a blog I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I am taking a MOOC course, offered by Coursera and Johns Hopkins University called Introduction to the U. S. Food System.  We are in the fourth week of the course.  By taking the course and doing the required work, I have learned much about the MOOC experience and how it might evolve.

MOOCs are showing us something significant but unless we understand what it is they are showing us, attempts to replicate MOOCs will falter.  Creating a MOOC is not easy.  Nor is it easy to understand the general idea of “open learning,” the hallmark of MOOCs.  In fact, the only way to understand MOOCs and much of what is going on in the general learning landscape today is by first understanding “open learning.”

Open learning is generally associated with the Web and in particular with the phase of the Web (roughly since 2004) called “the social Web.”  The social Web is social in more than one way:  first, the popular interpretation is of “social” as people being able to hook up and post and make friends and “like” and so on.  But there is a technical sense of the “social Web” as well:  data and functionality “socializing” with each other.  On many Web sites, you’ll see the icons for Twitter and Facebook and a few other icons.  You can link to Facebook from the Web site you are on without having to actually go to Facebook.  This inter-linking of applications is the second social aspect of the social Web.

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