Over at the University of Brighton, Peps McCrea is currently blogging about MOOCs (Massively Online Open Courses) and is speculating how they might influence the future of Higher Education. Having taken part in a MOOC run by Stephen Downes and George Siemens a couple of years ago (as a speaker not a student), I can say that it was a very enjoyable experience. I was grilled by Stephen for a sustained period of time about my ideas on Personal Learning Environments, and in true gladiator style, I enjoyed the cut and thrust of my live, widely distributed debate.

I have also presented recently at one of Steve Hargardon's live Elluminate global webinars, and have to say that the experience was very similar to the MOOC. You present your ideas, including slides and audio connection, live to a massive group of participants that span the globe, and then you discuss those ideas for a while. I know that there is more to a MOOC than participating in live webinars. MOOCs also host online discussion, solo and group activities and other learning activities designed to promote critical discourse, reflective actions and discursive learning.

Everyone who participates enjoys the experience, and everyone goes away with more questions than they arrived with. That's learning. That's connectivism too, according to Siemens and Downes. And connectivism is one of the major underpinning theories of the MOOC. It's not so much what you know that matters anymore, but who you can connect to and learn from that is the key principle of learning in a digital age.

That is both the strength and the weakness of the MOOC. You see, you can connect to anyone, anywhere, at any time to learn from each other. But you can also miss those connections, if certain people decline to join in. MOOCs are also at their most successful when there is a critical mass of participants. So what if you gave a party and no-one came? A sparsely populated MOOC is just .... well..... an OOC, isn't it? There is also a debate about whether connectivism is actually a bona fide theory - it has attracted its fair share of critics. Peps is asking whether MOOCs will take off in the UK. Well, in one sense they already have because many people from the UK have already taken part in previous MOOCs. If it comes down to the location of the MOOC, there is none - the MOOC is location agnostic. I actually presented my MOOC talk from a classroom in the Cork Institute of Technology in Ireland. If the question relates to whether British academics and specialists will begin to write, organise and deliver MOOCs, that's another question entirely. Here are some more questions: Is there actually a need for more MOOCs? How much preparation work goes into setting one up? Will individuals in the UK step in to set up and deliver their own MOOCs, or is this going to be the preserve of academic institutions? The question of open, free of cost participation in a MOOC is a given. But what about those who wish to receive some tangible form of accreditation at the end of the programme? Who provides that?

Good luck to anyone who decides to set up and deliver a MOOC this side of the Atlantic. And as to the future of the MOOC? I suppose we shall just have to wait and see...

Image source by SpoiltCat


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