A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. It offers a social media framework to support open, informal, social learning on a topic. The MOOC I joined was called #PLENK2010 (Personal Learning Environment, Network, Knowledge). #PLENK2010 started in September 2010 and runs for 10 weeks. It was created to support several research projects on the subjects of PLE and emergent learning. Topics included learning theory, social learning, LMS (Learning Management Systems), PLE’s, PLN’s and Connectivism & Constructivism. I registered late, with no bad consequences.
Within the forums and Elluminate sessions, there was some discussion about why a MOOC is so frustrating. One reason is the way in which we think about classes. A traditional class has requirements, goals, tests and clear limits to what will be covered. The teacher’s job is to walk you through the material and insure that you learn it in the prescribed way. We are comforted by the milestones and limits of the class. We celebrate our completion. And our grades tell us how we did. When it’s over, it’s over. A traditional class is a good example of formal learning.
So it’s no surprise that when we drop these students into a MOOC, they are going to get frazzled. Such frustrations, we are told, is the norm and to be expected. I had to wonder if that was just a cop out for poor design. Even the navigation was challenging. But maybe the design was not so bad after all.
A MOOC has almost none of the safety features of a traditional class. Sure, it has a time, a topic and a location online. By that I mean a place to discuss the material under the loosest supervision of some moderators. It has no objective to achieve, no goals beyond that which you bring to it. It has no tests to tell you how you’re doing. There are no milestones beyond the abstractions of statistics. There is not even a glossary, unless of course, you decide to work on one for the group, which we did. There are no assignments or attendance requirements. There are suggested readings sent out in the Daily newsletter to offer a starting point. But you are not expected to read them all. Indeed, you are told it would be impossible to read all the suggested readings and forum posts. I concur.
In a MOOC, you are encouraged to take a whole new approach to learning. You are asked to step up and create your own flight path, your own adventure. To where you ask? Well, that’s part of the challenge. You are invited (dare I say begged) to make the class into what you want, to change the system at will. If you need a feature not currently available, such as a private chat room to discuss sensitive things, one can be set up for you. If you want to open up a new discussion in the forum, just do it. If there are parts of the system that could work better, tell someone who can fix it.
You are asked to bring order to this massive pile of information. To all of it? No. Remember that in this ever growing field of data, you can never wrap your head around all of it. Be selective. Skim the headlines in the Daily newsletter. Don’t feel like you have to read them all. Just pick the ones that interest you. If you don’t like the writing style or the discussion, then move on. There is too much good stuff to get stuck in parts you don’t like.
In this new approach to learning in a MOOC no real thoroughness is possible. So you need to release the fantasy of doing it all right. That fantasy is at the root of suffering on a MOOC.
Be the explorer. Chart out a plan to learn all you can about some small slice of the puzzle. Find the best articles and resources in this area and curate them. By that I mean arrange them in an order that makes more sense and is easier to digest. Be like a museum curator and decide what is important and how it should be displayed. Produce a field guide to the area and make it freely available to others. That’s the “Open” aspect of a MOOC. Summarize key points of long threads to save others the arduous work of having to plod through 90 comments.
Blog to Engage & Learn
One of the best ways to engage in a MOOC is to create posts on your own blog to report what you are learning. Don’t have a blog? Get one. They’re free and easy. You might be wondering, what if no one sees my post? What if no one comments on my blog or finds it useful in any way? Then what? Am I just wasting my time?
As it turns out, every new blogger shares this concern. Just know this. It always takes longer to develop followers and comments than you think it should. Do it anyway. Keep posting. And when you comment on blogs and forums, go ahead and make appropriate references back to your blog posts. Eventually, if you stay with it, you will find your audience and develop your network, a circle of people who care very much about what you have to say and what questions you have.
Beyond the service you provide others in your blog, there is another compelling reason for writing posts about what you are learning. Your blog can serve as a public repository for notes to yourself. Those notes will document the insights and conclusions of all your travels through the field, and perhaps even your frustrations. A year from now you might want to review your notes, for surely you will have forgotten much of what made your learnings so powerful at the time.
Blog because you learn better with it. By reporting your struggles to learn the material, you learn better. By summarizing, reviewing and debating the ideas of the course, you learn better. By writing for an audience, you write better and thereby learn better. By making your journey open through the use of blogs and forum comments, you not only serve others, but you also do the extra work of sense making that leads to deeper integration of the materials.
As you give the material away in a form that works for others, you make it more your own. We teach best what we most need to learn. — Fritz Perls. And we we learn best that which we teach others.
So why is a MOOC so hard? Because it breaks all of our expectations about what is supposed to happen in a class. We are asked to transform from the passive role of student to the more active role of self-directed learner. Our new role makes us ever more responsible for our own learning, in a way that might just expose us and make us appear silly. That is a daunting undertaking, even for the most web-savvy students. The good news is that you can’t really fail, unless you apply the old rules to the new situation. Survive a MOOC and you’ll come out of it a better person. Thrive in it and you’ll come out a better leader.
NOTE: Much of this was culled from forum posts and Elluminate sessions of #PLENK.
http://ple.elg.ca/plenk2010/ PLENK 2010 Blog
http://connect.downes.ca/ Welcome to the Course PLENK2010
http://ple.elg.ca/course/moodle/mod/wiki/view.php?id=60&page=Recordings PLENK2010 Recordings on Elluminate
http://wthashtag.com/Plenk2010 Transcript of #PLENK2010 Tweets