Goldilocks and the 3 MOOCs

Right now, I’m participating on various levels in three MOOCs: #Change 11, facilitated by Siemens, Cormier & Downes, Alec Couros’ EC&I 831, and Bud Hunt’s Writing & the Common Core on P2PU. This experience is a little like being Goldilocks in the MOOC version of the fairy tale. There’s the Daddy-size MOOC (#Change 11), a Mama-size MOOC  (EC&I 831), and a Baby MOOC (P2PU) and I’m wandering through them, trying to find the one that’s just right.

Let’s agree that “just right” nicely furthers the metaphor. More accurately, though, each MOOC offers great stuff. At the same time, each MOOC raises questions, all of which are valuable to me as I think about “English” and learning in this digital age.

A little comparison/contrast is in order here. Each MOOC is facilitated; each has a structure and a schedule. The kind & amount of facilitation & structure varies. Each offers synchronous and asynchronous sessions/activities. There’s an active backchannel in each. There’s an online hub in each, plus supplemental places (hub-ettes?).

I like all three. But I get excited about the one with the smallest number of participants and the direct conversations we have in the backchannel. We’re not just posting comments into the sea (like bottles with messages), we’re writing to each other. I get excited about having shared tasks that we work on together. I get excited about what these people are calling my attention to, making me think about.

Why is my excitement level different among these 3 MOOCs? Yes, I am a person who likes to actively engage with others, so the smaller one (P2P U) may afford me more of that opportunity. More accurately, more of a structured opportunity: there is a stated expectation that course participants will interact, write, comment. The backchannel is a conversation with other participants about the topic at hand and it also affects the direction of the talk/presentation. Also, participants do things together, simultaneously. Tonight was writing together in a GDoc.

The credit/noncredit MOOC offers lots of chances for interaction as well, in the form of commenting on for-credit student blogs, participating in the backchannel, blogging & using the course tag. The backchannel has involved commenting on the speaker, with some interacting between participants, but these tend not to be conversations that are folded into or extend the presentation. The shared synchronous activity seems to involve singing at the end of the sessions? I haven’t figured that one out yet. I feel like much more of an audience member in that MOOC, partially because of of size, but also because it is basically a lecture format. I think the fact that students are earning academic credit as well as venturing into new (for many of them) territory in social media and open education might tend to skew the atmosphere of the MOOC toward more traditional student expectations, including interactions between teacher & students.

The #Change11 MOOC…what can I say. The facilitators made it clear that participants who were proactive, assertive, reached out, made connections with others would derive the greatest value from the course. I found myself unsure of how, where, and why to connect, and not sure of how to navigate the organizational structures. I’ve written some about that already, so I won’t repeat myself.

Some of the differences between the MOOCs: different kinds of sponsoring organizations, different acknowledgements of participation, from the tangible (graduate school credit) to the more amorphous (personal satisfaction), different roles and actions among participants during the synchronous sessions.

I’ll acknowledge that my own learning preferences come into play as I think about what makes a MOOC just right for this Goldilocks in this time & place. The biggest factors though, include the subject of the MOOC and my purposes for participating. E&CI 831 is giving me lots of insights into and ideas  about a course I teach in the literacies & technologies of secondary English. I enjoy observing the students via their blogs. But I went into the experience in self-determined capacity, as an observer, which limits what I gain.

On the other hand, the subject of the P2PU– writing– is one of my Things. I need and want to learn about the Common Core Standards as they relate to writing and my work as a teacher educator. Plus, the size & structure make for a good feel. These make some pretty compelling arguments for just right.

But I also think there are some bigger  principles I’m puzzling over.  The #Change11 MOOC is based very much on George Siemen’s Connectivism as a theory of learning. I need to read and think more, but this MOOC experience has me thinking that rather than a theory of learning, Connectivism is more accurately seen as a theory of course design.

Why? I would argue that learning doesn’t happen just because people connect. I’m thinking here about the difference between parallel play and genuine interactive play in young children. The #Change 11 MOOC felt to me like very large-scale parallel play.

In the brief reading about Connectivism that I have done, I have found myself wondering what it means to “learn” in Connectivism. Looking through a connectivist lens, what do we see when learning has occurred or is occurring in others? In ourselves? Is it about the production of new information? What is the difference between information and knowledge within this theory? I don’t see myself as a node in a network. I don’t see learning to be about a simple exchange of information.

I do see a role in learning for a more experienced or knowledgeable or skilled or older individual in bringing another person along. (Let’s pause for a moment of Vygotsky here.)

But I don’t find much about people in Connectivism. I don’t find much about the kind of connecting people do that inspires or comforts or motivates or affirms. Maybe that is what made the whole MOOC seem too…big.



“Papa bear, mama bear, baby bear”  AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by mrwilleeumm

“Man in Foggy Morning (Super wide)”  AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by Rajiv Ashrafi






4 responses to “Goldilocks and the 3 MOOCs”

  1. Bram says:

    Interesting article.
    I was just watching the interview with George Siemens and it helped me understanding connectivism better…

    • Karen says:

      Thanks for the link, Bram. I hesitated to write much of a critique of connectivism given my own limited understanding of it, but I also couldn’t ignore my experience. I look forward to learning more.

  2. Really interesting thoughts! I admire your energy to involve yourself in 3 MOOCs simultaneously!
    I agree with you that connectivism is not a theory, but a (very valuable) description of how our learning and knowledge base is evolving.
    If it is a valid description, then YES, our course design should reflect the changes to meet the needs of students.
    I understand why George and Stephen have chosen to create the ‘massive’ course, as it exemplifies in a very clear fashion the enormity of the online changes in the last decade, as well as demonstrates the importance of Open Access (OA) and Open Educational Resources (OER). It gets the message ‘out there’.
    Connectivism is a description of the wide-range of resources available to each learner and how one can access and learn from such a huge array of information, but it is not a learning theory.
    Learners are socially constructing knowledge THROUGH connective research.

    • Karen says:

      I don’t know how much of your admiration I deserve– when I said I was involved in varying degrees, I meant widely varying. 😉 For example, my participation in #change 11 is now relegated to attending some of the lectures/presentations I find interesting. And, since Alec’s course convenes 30 minutes before Bud’s, I do quick switches between platforms. (Last week I had Alec and Bud running simultaneously for a while. Hmm-an example of when multitasking doesn’t work. ) The P2PU course runs for only 4 more weeks, then I’ll be same-time present for #EC&I 831.

      I like your characterization of connectivism as a description of how learning & knowledge bases are evolving. New theories of learning– now that’s one of the places where my future focus lies. I’ve got this little beauty tucked away for future reference:

      Paavola and Hakkarainen (2005) propose a knowledge-creation metaphor of learning, which builds on common elements of Bereiter’s (2002) theory of knowledge building and Engeström’s (1987, 1999) theory of expansive learning. The knowledge- creation metaphor perceives students as both producers and consumers (“prosumers”) of knowledge, ideas, and artifacts. As newcomers to a community of practice, they not only engage in legitimate peripheral participation through interaction with experts such as their teachers or instructors, but also contribute to the community’s existing body of knowledge as they progress toward full participation in the sociocultural practices of the community (Lee et al. 2005). (McLoughlin & Lee, 2008).

      Until then, it’s back to the dissertation proposal drawing board!

      Oh– I’m enjoying your Scoop.It collection! Thanks.


      McLoughlin, C., and M. Lee. 2008. Future learning landscapes: Transforming pedagogy through social software. Innovate 4 (5).

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