What’s next for MOOCs?

I’m not going to get in to the detail of whether MOOCs have been the disruptive element for learning as many opined four or five years ago, many have written much more eloquently on this than I ever could. For more just search for related terms or read this and this and this and this.

I will, however, pass a few words and a little judgement on one aspect of some of the developments I’ve been following for ‘online learning’ – accreditation. 

Firstly, has anyone else noticed that the original MOOC platforms don’t refer to the courses that are offered through them as MOOCs anymore? Even the platform that pushed ‘free online learning’ at every opportunity has dropped the ‘free’ from nearly all pages and courses. Obviously the ‘free’ business model was never going last long once the platforms realised that they had massive overheads to cover (staff, hosting, support, development, etc.), and that doesn’t cover the costs incurred by partners to develop the courses either.

For me online learning, whether it’s an degree awarded from an established College or University or a ‘free’ MOOC-esque course, has always been about the value the course is able to offer the student taking it. That value is both about the actual content and subject as well as the value the new knowledge has to the individual who has taken (and presumably passed) the course.

This value could be the

  1. personal satisfaction in gaining new or further knowledge,
  2. learning about a new skill or subject that has semi-professional interest (a subject at the periphery of the individual’s profession, but is not essential to it) or
  3. something that is specifically relevant to the individual’s immediate role or career progression.

Learning is but one side of the reason someone will invest time and effort into learning. The learning needs a purpose – undertake a course on Shakespeare because you’ve always like his plays and want to know more about the plays and playwright. A family member is diagnosed with dementia and you want to know and understand more about the condition, etc. This is all well and good, but people who take courses for these reasons are unlikely to buy any kind of certificate or further learning opportunity from it. They are likely to go on and take other related courses, again to further their understanding.

People who take online courses who are doing it for a professional purpose (changing job or role, career progression, professional interest, etc.) are more likely to purchase some form of certificate, but it’s still not guaranteed. I’ve taken (well, started!) a few MOOCs related to my job and interests, and finished one (the #EDCMOOC)! 

For me, the future of this kind of learning is what the course can really offer those people who complete it. A certificate is not enough – being able to show I completed 75% or 95% or another arbitrary number of the steps and all test questions means next to nothing. The certificate does not give any indication to whoever I show it to about what I had to do to get those steps completed or whether the test were 5 questions or 50. Did the course have an active educator or was it facilitated by an academic (not the course creator) or student from the partner institution? Was it facilitated at all, or just a click-next learning journey with a few tests or discussion points?. No, for me, if I’m going to pay for the course ‘certificate’ it needs to show something much much more. It needs to show how valuable it is to the industry I work in. Sometimes even the institution that created course isn’t enough pull for the certificate to mean anything.

A medical MOOC certificate would mean so much more if it was accredited by the International Council of Nurses, a marketing course accredited by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, etc. Not only could / should the course offer the opportunity to earn valuable CPD points but the accredited course outcome should be something a current or future employer would look at and immediately see the value to them; that this candidate is coming to work here with a good resumé, has shown initiative by taking further learning opportunities and is showing the skills to find and evaluate the courses that will offer them the best opportunity to further themselves.

I don’t think the way forward for MOOCs is for degree-credits either but it’s a popular route, probably as it’s easier to sell to the University partners than anything else. Only time will tell. 

BOOK REVIEW: “Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen

“Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen

© Ugur Akinci

“Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen is a heavy book, both literally (top-quality glossy paper) and figuratively. It’s an important reference work that I think all trainers, instructors, and e-learning designers should read.

We are lucky to have today e-learning tools like Adobe Captivate and others. Setting up slides, quizzes, links, buttons, voiceovers, inserting images, videos etc. is a breeze.

However, when it comes to designing a learning experience that would actually help the students learn, and make a difference in their lives by changing the way they ACT, I believe there is no one-click app for that.

That complex skill, which requires us to put ourselves in the shoes of our prospective audience, needs to be deconstructed first, its individual components pulled apart and laid bare, and then reconstructed for a training package that really works and changes lives.

Dirksen’s easy-to-read and well-illustrated book accomplishes that goal in 300 full-color gorgeous pages.

The author starts from the A-B-Cs of the subject like “How do we remember?” and “How do you get their attention?” and ratchets up the discussion to higher orbits by diving into different design styles and goals: designing for knowledge, for skills, for motivation, and designing for habits.

One of my favorite chapters in this lovely guide is the last chapter devoted to “Designing Evaluation” since it asks the same questions that I ask myself all the time: does it work? Are the students learning anything? Do they remember anything? Do the learners actually start DOING the right things once the training is over?

Another favorite section is “How learners are different from you?” since for me the greatest trap is to assume that my readers are more or less like me, which they rarely are. Just to realize the ways in which our readers are different from us and understand what we should do to close that perception and cognitive gap is a major design accomplishment, I believe.

The book is rich in laying out the general principles and the research that supports them. But it’s also jam-packed with examples and illustrations to drive home the message.

Chapters are divided into sections, each with its easy-on-the-eye subheader, making it a pleasure both to peruse through the volume and to stop and dive deeper by concentrating on various characters playing different roles during the design process.

For example, in the subsection “Remember, Change Is Hard,” Dirksen presents the photos of four characters, each with a “plausible” excuse not to change and keep doing everything the same old way. Such presentations make the material immediately accessible since it becomes so easy to identify with the characters. We end up saying “yeah, I do that too…” after which we have a renewed and stronger commitment to the material in front of us.

Here are some suggestive headlines from sections that might change the way you design your training materials in the future:

  • “How can you know what your learners are thinking?” (p.51)
  • “What’s pace layering?” (p.74)
  • “Storytelling & Conditioned Memory” (pp. 110, 111)
  • “Tell them less, not more” (p.185)
  • “Create friction” (p.166)
  • “Have learners consider what they already know” (p.162)
  • “How do you give directions?” (p.177)
  • “The anatomy of a habit” (p. 231)
  • “Social and informal learning” (p. 243)
  • “What are we trying to measure?” (p. 272)
  • “Are the learners actually doing the right things?” (p. 283)

Get your copy today. Highly recommended.

Reading: Lurkers as invisible learners

I’ve always been annoyed at being called a ‘lurker’, it’s a term that has a different meaning for me when talking about the engagement, or not, of students in an online class – read my post ‘Listener or Lurker?’ from 2013. In this instance the paper ‘Learners on the Periphery: Lurkers as Invisible Learners‘, by Sarah Honeychurch and colleagues, defines as a ‘lurker’ or ‘silent learner’ or ‘legitimate peripheral participant’ as.

“… hard to track in a course because of their near invisibility. We decided to address this issue and to examine the perceptions that lurkers have of their behaviour by looking at one specific online learning course: CLMOOC. In order to do this, we used a mixed methods approach and collected our data via social network analysis, online questionnaires, and observations, including definitions from the lurkers of what they thought lurking was … [our] research findings revealed that lurking is a complex behaviour, or set of behaviours, and there isn’t one sole reason why lurkers act the ways that they do in their respective communities. We concluded that for a more participatory community the more active, experienced or visible community members could develop strategies to encourage lurkers to become more active and to make the journey from the periphery to the core of the community.”

I’m far more comfortable with the terms used here, and reasons why students don’t engage perhaps how we’d like them to, or indeed in the way we design the course. We need to accept and address that not everyone taking online learning, whether it’s a free MOOC, paid-for CPD course or fully online degree, wants to be social, vocal, or indeed visible in the online environment. We can provide the base materials and ask the students to go off and read around the subjects, we can offer opportunities to engage and ‘test’ themselves on different types of course activities. The only way we know the students are engaging in the subject and materials is usually if we assign marks or grades to the activities, especially if those marks carry weight on the course’s final grade.

Reference

Honeychurch, S., Bozkurt, A., Singh, L, and Koutropoulos, A. (2017). Learners on the Periphery: Lurkers as Invisible Learners. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning. [online] Available at: http://www.eurodl.org/?p=current&sp=full&article=752 [Accessed 21 Jun. 2017].

Making a MOOC ‘successful’

Designing a ‘successful’ MOOC is one thing. Making a MOOC ‘successful’ is something completely different.

Much has been written by far better and more eloquent people than me (here and here and here and here and here) on what makes a successful MOOC – all about interactions, journeys, optimum length, appropriate materials, platform, etc.. But what about making a MOOC successful? To me, there is a difference.

This isn’t about making / building / designing a MOOC, it’s about making / encouraging / promoting / informing people about the MOOC.

The argument about MOOC success, learner retention, completion numbers, registrations, etc., is one that will rage on and on, everyone has an opinion, everyone looking at something different, all very valid, and all very important questions. There isn’t a definitive answer – each MOOC is different, for a different audience, for a different demographic (maybe), and designed in a way that different learner ‘profiles’ can get something different out at the end. If indeed they reach the end, which of course they don’t have.

No, making a successful MOOC requires more than a lead academic(s) subject knowledge, learning technology, instructional/education design, assessments, an appropriate learning goal/journey, working platform, etc. You need all the other stuff as well.

The other stuff you need? Well, try: 

Support
Support for the academic to develop the course in the first place. This could be time allocated to their schedule to relieve them from teaching, research, meetings, etc. It could be time and resources to create the materials and resources needed for the MOOC. We could be talking extra training in how to design for online audiences (not everyone has designed for an online audience before), or media training, or training in how to facilitate or moderate the course once it’s running. This support is required from more areas than just the team helping to put the course together in the first place.

Support is also required for all other aspects of the course progression. If there are facilitators or moderators (use whichever term you prefer – I don’t like ‘moderators’) do they require training in netiquette or how to handle the volume of comments as well as the quality (or lack of) in the comments?

If you are running the course more than once and, let’s face it you should if you’ve put all this effort into planning and designing it, then who will continue to be involved? If the facilitators change, the training starts from scratch.

Coverage
This is a biggie, and depends solely on each course and the intended audience. If you’re aiming at business professionals for specific business process, and the outcome is they get a certificate that can be used for CPD or other such professional recognition, then you need to contact the appropriate professional bodies (trade, commercial, publishing, etc.) and see firstly about accreditation or, at least, whether they will endorse the course or send a notice to their members/readers informing them it’s running.

If your course is a teaching course in something specific, aimed at giving the online student a taste or perspective of online learning from your Institution, perhaps at a degree level education, then make sure you’ve something to give them or sell to them afterwards? Can the certificate be used on an application form as evidence of XYZ? Is completion (by whatever metric ‘completion’ is measured in the course or on the platform) enough to warrant further study with you, and can it be used as an incentive?

Has a course, with a specialist audience (perhaps not ‘massive’ in the sense of tens of thousands of active users, but with a well defined but small community that covers a very specialist industry, theory, concept, etc.) got what it takes to attract the right people without fuller involvement of their trade body or publication?

Marketing
Nothing can happen without someone telling someone else about the course. Yes, most of us have Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook accounts. I’ll put my hand up and admit I’ve been very active pushing my/Warwick’s latest MOOC (Literature and Mental Health) as much as I dare on my various channels. But, here’s the rub – yes, I have +8,500 followers on Twitter, so the reach of my tweets are quite high, but these followers are looking for tweets about learning design, learning technology, reflections on conferences, that kind of stuff. I am not the right person, or rather my social accounts are not the right fit, to be marketing this course.

I’ll use examples here from the Literature MOOC, to help explain what I mean.

Without the full cooperation of the individual department or Institution marketing, your course will only get limited coverage. Yes, I can tweet about my courses. So can the lead educator(s). So can anyone else interested in the course. What you need, to make a course successful is maximise the audience that is out there. You need to get the big players in the field of influence the course covers involved, get them tweeting about it, get them to blog about it, write to their subscriber list about it – and not just a mention, you need a full on (positive) review and endorsement. That will mean something to their readers, not just another advert that we all ignore.

The marketing team(s) need to target more than just the list of local businesses, or the alumni network, or a generic email list. While these may have their place in this and other uses, MOOCs need more. If you have the contacts, then get national press involved too!

A MOOC about psychology? What would really help get the word out would be positive interaction and authentic ‘reviews’ from the likes of Psychology Today (Facebook: 6.6m followers) or the Psychology Magazine (Twitter: @psychmag 48k followers).

A MOOC about automotive engineering? Having international organisations like Automotive News (Twitter: @Automotive_News 128k followers) interested, or get it added to the Engineering Management Science Manufacturing LinkedIn group (288k members) would help.

For me (putting my old hat on I used to wear as a freelance/self-employed web designer) the marketing is NOT about sending a press release and waiting for the news to hit. It’s not about the phone call where you ask something. It’s about building those relationships (if you don’t already have them) with an organisation who can benefit, either themselves or their members, from the course. Let them see the course, talk to them about the purpose and requirements, offer some advice or editorial, accept advice or criticism in return (you never know, it may make the course better, or at least more applicable to their members).

When I work on an online course or MOOC I want as many (appropriate) people to be able to get on it. Big Data isn’t for everyone. Not everyone wants to know about Shakespeare. Reading isn’t to everyone’s taste. But in order to make the courses successful we need to reach out to individuals to whom these courses could be important, or certainly interesting. If we can’t get to them directly, through whatever channels we have, we need to reach out to the places they congregate; the trade publications, the fan sites, the online communities, the conferences, etc.

After all, if you put the effort in to designing the best online course and best online experience for your thousands of students/learners, you want them to be able to find it in the first place. Yes?

Image source: Marjon Kruik (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

MOOCs – question on purpose, quality, student retention, feedback, etc.

Ahh, questions around the purpose, quality, value, etc. in and around MOOCs have started again, and justly so.

  • Disclaimer: Like many I have opinions, but not answers.

The recently raised questions, started by Fred Riley on the ALT mailing list, have produced a good set of resources for those of us who are starting to ask these questions, needing a more comprehensive or value-added answer.

Fred’s original query was:


Does anyone on this list know of any recent research and/or articles on the teaching quality of MOOCs? I’m thinking of things such as:

  • student retention, with MOOC drop-out rates being notoriously high (I plead guilty to that myself :( )
  • student surveys and qualitative feedback
  • how many students in a MOOC platform (eg FutureLearn) go on to take further courses in that platform

I’m sure that there are many other indicators of quality – those are just off the top of my head. I’m not in the MOOC game myself as yet, other than as a punter, but I’m looking to get into the development side of things.


In some instances, especially around the data of students/learners taking further courses (across MOOC platform providers as well as within) is difficult, but I hope we can get to a stage where this kind of data is available and open to interrogation (if only for the individual partner to  query their own courses).

Here are some of the resources shared, in response to Fred’s original query:

If you have any further links or resources that would help Fred and the ALT mailing list, please reply to the thread on the mailing list. If you don’t have access then please leave the link or your comment below for everyone to have the opportunity to read.

Yes, OK. Fred’s question also raises the question around the ‘quality’ of a MOOC, the validity in the data of learner retention or ‘steps completed’ as triggers for saying a MOOC is of a certain quality, or the student was ‘successful’ on the course, but these are for another post. Fred answered this quite clearly on the ALT mailing list that, for him “retention is IMO and indicator of quality as perceived by the student – the better retention, the more students are engaged with the course and its materials. If they don’t like a course, they’ll drop out.”

NB: I’ve helped run several runs of the Warwick/FutureLearn ‘Shakespeare and his World’ MOOC and use this as an example I use where the statistics provided for the 10 week course don’t necessarily match the actual experience. Case in point is the number of learners who complete the course, in that they take all the tests and mark at least one step as complete in each of the 10 weeks. We know from the learners themselves, from their comments, feedback, tweets, etc., that they take what they want from the course – one learner may only like Shakespeare’s comedy’s, another likes on his tragedy’s, so they will omit the plays/weeks they don’t like. They should still be viewed as a successful learner, and I’;m sure they think that of themselves, as in their own mind (and in ours!) they got what they wanted from the course, yet did not actually ‘complete’ it.

If there is one question for 2016 and MOOCs, it’s whether there is any way to really truly, honestly, understand the ‘value’ of a MOOC?

Image source: State Library Victoria (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Interview Process #altc

From this year’s ALT conference I enjoyed (finally) meeting Wayne Barry, EdTechBook contributor, and chatting about his ALTC presentation.

Wayne’s presentation looked at a different way of interviewing candidates for Learning Technologist positions using standard questions and short presentations, but also the inclusion of a short role-play exercise. Each candidate is given advance notice that they will engage with an ‘academic’ who is interested in introducing elements of distance learning to their module. During the short exercise (many people took issue with the use of the term ‘role-play’) candidates will exhibit both knowledge of their discipline as well as the ability to listen, engage, problem solve, and debate with a member of the team taking the role of an academic.

So, how do you find out if someone will fit in to your office and team environment? Can you do this by just questions? Do competency based questions offer enough space for someone to fudge their way through the process, or rather offer the interviewers enough insight to see the tRuth behind the candidate?

This reminds me of this video, from Heineken: Job Interview. Slightly over the top, but you get the idea – by changing the process you find out many different things (hopefully good) about the candidates. Enjoy!

YouTube: Job interview at Heineken

Reading: Digging Deeper into Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs

One aspect of working on MOOCs is that there is no clear way to measure it’s success. Do you use the stats and logs that indicate clicks and time-on-page, or look at the nature of the conversations and/or comments made?

That’s why this paper loaded to Academia.edu by George Veletsianos piqued my interest – is there something in here that can help me understand the metrics we need to use in order to measure the learning and/or success of a MOOC?

“Digging Deeper into Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs: Participation in social networks outside of MOOCs, Notetaking, and contexts surrounding content consumption.”

Unsurprisingly the authors highlights the lack of literature around MOOCs that look into the metrics of MOOCs that are not captured on the MOOC platform (EdX, Coursera, FutureLearn, etc.), notably the social engagements, note-taking, and content consumption. Something I’d not considered before is the “availability of large-scale data sets appears to have shaped the research questions that are being asked about MOOCs.”  It’s something I’ve wrestled with … are we asking the right questions about a course ‘success’, and do we have the right data to start with? I think not, on both counts. I would love to know more from learners on a MOOC, but the response rate on post-course surveys are typically low, typically completed by the ones who finished the course and enjoyed it. It’s the learners who signed up and didn’t visit the course, those who did visit the first step but then left, and those who dipped in and out that I really want to hear from. They have as much to say about the course, it’s content, it’s delivery, and it’s ‘merit’ as those who completed.

The paper concludes, rather disappointingly, by saying that “researchers need to dig deeper, and use an array of methodological tools to do so. Separately or together, each research method can lead to pragmatic suggestions to improve open teaching and learning through social, pedagogical, or technological approaches.” I shouldn’t be too surprised with the conclusion as there isn’t a good metric to define a MOOC or online courses’ success – it depends on what you define as the success (numbers of learners enrolled, numbers of learners completing, passed assessments, duration of study, post-course questionnaire, course reach, etc.)

Veletsianos, G., Collier, A., & Schneider, E. (2015). Digging Deeper into Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs: Participation in social networks outside of MOOCs, Notetaking, and contexts surrounding content consumption. British Journal of Educational Technology 46 (3), 570-587

Image source: Gabe Rosiak (CC BY 2.0)

What makes a good online learning experience?

Is it possible to define the qualities of what makes a good online learning experience, or a good MOOC? Is there a check list we could have pinned to the wall which we could use as we design and build our courses?

Here’s a few items I think the list needs, feel free to add your own ideas in the comments field below:

Presentation: Is the student able to relate to the subject and the presenter / educator? This is not always easy as the platform (Blackboard, Moodle, FutureLearn, Udacity, etc.) often controls how the materials are ‘presented’. Even with these constraints you do have options on designing your materials and laying them out in ways which make them easy to navigate or interact with. 

Accessible: Yes, there is web accessibility, but there is also ‘how easy is it to find your way around the materials’. Are there signposts in place at different points of the course to extra reading, areas for interaction and engagement, contact details, schedules, assessment points, etc.?

Interaction: You will probably have specific pinch-points in the course where you have designed and expect interactivity, but remember that students may want to interact or comment on other resources as they work their way through your materials. Consider adding functionality to enable students to do this (a dedicated forum for questions,or comments on each step?) and that someone from the course team will monitor these areas and is ready (and able?) to reply where necessary.

Connection: Remember that your students are not only geographically dispersed, but will have a range of learning styles, backgrounds, and availability. Not everyone can join your online chat or webinar at a certain time every week (it’s likely they work and have family commitments that take priority), just like they may not be able to access materials due to firewall issues. Distance learning students often say they don’t feel connected or part of the University or course because of these distances, so think about including some getting-to-know-you or group activities, give them opportunities to meet each other (virtually) and grow their own learning network (PLN).

Build for online: Re-using the same materials and design for an online course that you teach face-to-face will probably not work. Your existing materials and activities are designed with you as a focal point, where you can introduce, explain, highlight, and support students in a real-time environment. Online, things are different. Students will access and interact with the materials and each other asynchronously, therefore there will be delays between posts, requests, etc. of days or even weeks. Providing a link to a resource (PDF, PPT, etc.) should not be done even with face-to-face students (contextualise it, explain what it is and why they need it) and it’s even worse for learners at a distance: introduce each step and resources, explain what it is and why the student needs it, and provide an action to it (read, discuss, critique, analyse, share, etc.) to give it meaning.

Platform: Know what functionality your platform has (Blackboard, Moodle, FutureLearn, Udacity, etc.) and what you can use, where, and why. Consider each tool you’ll use to present materials as well as ask for engagement, and be sure the students have adequate instruction to use them if they’re new. Don’t use every tool in the box for the sake of making the course seem ‘modern’ or ‘interactive’ if there is no reason to do so. At the same time don’t ignore the tools available to you, just because you don’t know what they do – go find your Learning Technologist (or equivalent) and work with them during the process of designing your course – they’ll help you think about different tools or techniques available, explain what benefits they can offer you and your students, and help you implement and support them.

Value: For some this will be value of resources, for others it’ll be quality of videos produced and used. Consider each stage of the course, each resources you’ve included (core or recommended) and think about whether it is adding value to the learning experience, or not. If it’s going to cause a distraction, drop it. if it’s interesting but tangental to the learning journey, then consider moving to an area that students can go if they want more information.

Visual elements: Don’t forget that images or diagrams  (infographics?) can help showcase an idea, concept, or theory just as much as words can. Not everything need an image, but something that could link or help structure the course materials may well aid students and their understanding of the subject.

Journey: The learning journey should not just be about getting from the start to the assessment (and passing). There should be goals set at different pinch points where students can show understanding or critical evaluation of themselves and the materials. I prefer courses that don’t have exams (that’s because I always did badly under exam conditions) and alternative ways of assessment should be explored. Admittedly there are restrictions on what you can and can’t do with assessments that are possibly based on the platform, programme, or QAA (Quality Assurance Agency), but we shouldn’t stop thinking about improving and enhancing the learning journey and learning experience with different assessment methods.

Time: Do you make resources and materials available all at once or release them over a published time frame? Do you allow students to work ahead of the rest or keep them back so they engage at the same time as everyone else? Do you have objectives or webinars that require synchronous learning; what do you do if these don’t meet with individual and personal schedules? Do you provide alternatives?

Testing: Never underestimate how much time testing your course should take, and always get someone who has not worked on it to try it out. Test links, embedded media, tools, logins, interactions, assessments, etc. from both the view of how the students will view and interact with them, and how the course team (academic and administrative) will support your students.

What makes a good online course?

Image source: Kristina Alexanderson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

Big Data Videos #FLbigdata

I’ve already posted these videos before, but I thought I’d post them here again, in one place, as a good resource for the learners on the Big Data FutureLearn course that started today.

All of these have one thing in common … do you know where your data goes, or who is watching/listening/capturing your data?

Tom Scott – I know what you did five minutes ago / YouTube

Hot on your trail: Privacy, your data, and
who has access to it / YouTube

Tom Scott – Social Media Dystopia / YouTube

Jack Vale – Social Media Experiment / YouTube

Digital Dirt / YouTube

Everyone knows Sarah / YouTube

Do you have any more you’d like to showcase and bring to your fellow FutureLearners? Drop a comment with the link below.

Reading: Learner engagement in MOOCs

After attending a FutureLearn partners webinar about designing online courses, the age-old issue of encouraging and engaging learners in online communication came up. It made me reflect on my past posts about online learning, specifically this one: MOOCs – 9 points on what I like, and what I don’t. If you want to go and read it before carrying on, be my guest.

Hurry back!

Glad you came back. What annoys me about MOOCs, and some people who design online courses in general, is the assumption that everything you build will be used, and be used the way you want it to be used. VLEs are somewhat to blame for the apathy or lack of engagement in online activities, especially discursive or forums or comment sections – you’re locked into one specific tool for engagement. But this is not the whole reason the activity will fail. Sometimes the forum or comment or discussion board is the wrong tool for the intended learning / communication. Sometimes  it is the right tool that’s just been abused and not supported.

From my above post Carolyn from MoocLab commented about one of her articles, and I admit to being remiss and not reading it until now – Why MOOC forums fail to deliver. So much of this rings true for me today, notably the following sections:

“Forum management and content are key. Successful forums have active forum administrators and moderators whose job it is to encourage discussion, moderate and organise the content, carefully plan and add meaningful content themselves.”

How do you monitor or manage upwards of 10,000 comments? This is not a conversation that has 10,000 contributions, it’s an area online where people can leave comments (like FaceBook), some meaningful, some banal. Do I, as a learner or course manager, have to trawl through 1,000s of versions of “I agree” or “Yes” to find one or two entries where actual learning has taken place? Even a dedicated course owner or manager or mentor is not going to do that, so don’t expect a time-strapped learner to do so.

My experience of a forum is that there are threads and discussions on each thread (normally). I do not know of any MOOC platforms that have a forum like this, do they? There are threaded discussions, which are often very large. Or there are comments as you’d find on FaceBook. But, like on FaceBook, once the comment section gets’ beyond about 20 comments it’s impossible to follow, and even worse if there is some kind of conversation going on as it will often be interrupted by other unrelated comments.

“Currently, most MOOC platforms offer designated forums once a student has enrolled on a course. These forums have little meaningful content and lack “leaders” to encourage participation. In short, they have no community spirit.”

As I said, I don’t see any platforms with forums. I see different types of areas where learners can engage and converse, but not in a meaningful manner. I know I used to complain about the old BlackBoard forum design and implementation, but at least it could be used for conversations?

MOOC platforms that pertain to be cMOOC (i.e. “learners are expected to make an active contribution via different digital platforms” seem to do this “active contribution” element so badly. How come? Is it volume of learners & associated engagements that is the limiting factor or the platform?

MOOCs – what do I want?
Why limit the learner to the one platform? Why can they only make their contribution on the one step where comments or discussions are permitted or recommended? Why not open this up to bring content in from outside the platform, from G+, Twitter, etc … actually use the online areas where the learner wants to engage? if you want to engage learners in social activities, make sure they can use their own preferred  social platforms?

Perhaps the limiting factor on engagement is not actually technology related, perhaps it’s just the volume of comments or replies that exist? Instead of having a MOOC that runs twice a year with 10,000 learners each cohort, would it be better suited to run every week with 2-300 learners each week? The learners would progress with those other learners who started in the same time frame as them, therefore building more meaningful relationships with their fellow learners. Obviously the courses will need to be designed so there is minimal academic engagement or monitoring, but is this a stumbling block or just a different type of course emerging?

 Image source: anroir (CC BY-NC 2.0)