By Todd Bryant
While those of us in instructional technology are familiar with the rise and fall of “disruptive” and “revolutionary” technologies in education, the amount of coverage from the popular media has made this Gardner hype cycle path appear particularly extreme. Initially we heard the overblown promises of MOOCs providing elite university educations for free. Then followed the high-profile failures, including the San Jose experiment of replacing entry-level courses with MOOCs and Udacity’s subsequent announcement that the company would focus on professional vocation training.
Despite the abrupt dose of reality, it appears that MOOCs will continue for the foreseeable future. In a recent report from HarvardX and MITx, participant growth was found to be linear, meaning that while the exponential growth appears to have ended, the user base is growing despite the backlash.1 Major platforms continue to find support for further course development and expanded partnerships: EdX recently announced a partnership with the Smithsonian and Microsoft to offer additional courses, and Coursera has partnered with Google and Instagram.
For MOOCs to be considered valued spaces for learning, they need to adopt aspects of the earlier connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs) and reintroduce social elements. While it might seem logical to copy our largest traditional course format when creating MOOCs, the importance of social connections in learning has been recognized in environments highly relevant to MOOCs. Researchers have described social elements as key to self-directed learning.2 Referring to online learning environments in particular, Kreijns, Kirschner, and Jochems identified two pitfalls for social learning online: “the assumption that social interaction can be taken for granted and that it will automatically happen” and “forgetting the social-psychological/social dimension of social interaction that is salient in non-task contexts.”3 These shortcomings have been widely recognized in xMOOCs, with even the president of Stanford saying, “When I think about MOOCs, the advantage — the ability to prepare a course and offer it without personal interaction — is what makes them inexpensive and makes them very limited.”4
While distinct, these two separate forms of learning networks — cMOOCs and open content–focused xMOOCs — need not conflict. In addition to the content, learners require opportunities to reflect on and use the new information they have acquired. Bringing together learners around a common topic or theme is what MOOCs have to offer the open content movement as a whole. By creating these communities, MOOCs can create a cycle of using, producing, and improving open content on the web. For this to happen, courses need to have interaction built into their platforms and consider the advantages of complete openness at scale.
[ Full article available at EDUCAUSE Review: http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/bringing-social-back-moocs ]