“2013 The Year of the Educator Connectivist MOOC” Conversation Series: Part 2

Conversation Series: Part 2

XMOOCs are the most recent MOOCs to present themselves as an innovating resource for Online Learning Communities and their participants. The big question is do they understand the online learners they seek to serve, and do they actually have a viable means of addressing the very diverse needs of Online Learners.  The term ‘xMOOC’ was first coined by Stephen Downes and the term describes the ‘instructivist’ MOOCs  developed and provided by participating colleges and universities from platforms such as Coursera and Udacity.

David Cormier is an educational activist, researcher, online community advocate and he is the Manager of Web Communications and Innovations at the University of Prince Edward Island. He has published on open education, Rhizomatic Learning, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), Digital Identity, and practical classroom uses of virtual worlds.  David,  along with the National Research Council of Canada‘s Stephen Downes, who is a committed proponent and activist for open access online learning, developed the first Massive Open Online Course back in 2008 to test a theory about connectivism and connectivist learning ___  a digital world learning theory that looks at the social and cultural context of learning.  At some point check out George Siemens (another key player in MOOC development) and his work on Connectivist Theory.  Their efforts and research inspired the development and delivery of the first xMOOC  on Artificial Intelligence out of Stanford University back in 2011 which spun into  ‘new’ MOOC phenomenon. University and Colleges everywhere seem to be launching a plethora of courses since the 2012 Year of the MOOC. It would be more accurate to have named it “The Year of the XMOOC”. Why? First check out this brief video presented by David Cormier on what a MOOC is:

There are fundamental differences between the objectives of a MOOC and the objectives of an xMOOC. The glaring difference is that the xMOOC appears to be trying to replicate the traditional teaching/learning experience. It should be clear after watching the video that the emphasis in a MOOC is not replication of anything.   Ideally a MOOC compliments and enhances other learning environments and methodologies. A MOOC embraces the new technologies that seasoned online learners have been accessing for years __ knowingly or unknowingly. The Connectivist MOOC seeks to harness and exploit the remapping of our brains that is already happening to anyone who uses google and engages in social networking and/or gaming.

The most interesting thing about xMOOCs is that they are proving themselves to be the most Massive Open Online Connectivist MOOC imaginable for Educators, Educational Institutions, ICT Developers and Providers, Governments, and NGOs to name a few participants in this unacknowledged Connectivist-MOOC  known as the xMOOC.  2013 should be named “The Year of the Educator Connectivist MOOC”.  Educators are learning from learners. They are immersing themselves in a completely new genre and who knows how it will fundamentally change  their thinking about educating and how they feel about learning.

I have left media out of the list of participants for the simple reason that they are not seeing or reporting on these distinctions that I have come to see as being relatively obvious facts. All things MOOCable are new learning frontiers. Online learning is not.  We cannot assume that XMOOCs will actually be able improve on what existing online learning environments currently offer the online learner. It is possible that XMOOCs will serve to derail the learning style that online learners have developed over time and it is almost inevitable that they will overburden many current open source resources by bringing in too many ‘newbie’ users too fast. Before we accept XMOOCs as a dependable, sustainable, and viable resource, it is important that we remember that while XMOOCs may be new, Online Learning Environments, formal or informal, are not new. How well Educators absorb these (expensive) xMOOC delivery lessons, absorbed Connectivist Style, will influence how we learn and what resources we have access to in the future.

Some of the most successful learning experiences on line do not even take place in any kind of a formal online learning environment and online learners do not always see themselves as engaging in anything remotely resembling traditional ‘learning’. Online Learners represent a very diverse and ethereal demographic and can seem ephemeral to those seeking to turn them into commodities or into service consumers. I believe Educators and their Institutions are in the process of discovering this.

Online Learning Communities have been fully functional, viable, and productive entities since the advent of dial-up connectivity between computer locations. These communities were developed and designed to promote the sharing of knowledge, information and skills. They were (and are) about cooperation, collaboration and connectivity. Commercialization of the web has had the effect of hiding these communities in plain sight. Whether being ‘seen’ by Educational Institutions and their Financiers is a good thing or a bad thing, only time will tell.  Another big question is whether or not Educators will get to keep the work they have been compiling on the World Wide Web cMOOC they have created. Ciao!

(to be continued in Part Three of the Conversation Series )

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