I am, ostensibly, on vacation. But if I don’t get this thought out of my brain it will continue to torment my cross-country driving.
What exactly is most unique / special about MOOCs? Let’s unpack the acronym back to front:
- Courses. Well, we’ve had these for a few hundred years. At least. Many of these are not MOOCs.
- Online courses. Well, we’ve had these for decades. At least. Many of these are not MOOCs.
- Open online courses. Well, we’ve had these for several years now, too. Many of these are not MOOCs.
- Massive. Hmm. This seems new. Ish.
I think in our ever-stumbling hurry to do what we’ve always done with new technology, we’re missing a genuine opportunity to see something new in the “massive” part of MOOCs. Back in 2004 I wrote:
“Is there a form of teaching which is indigenous to the online environment?”
“Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) provide an interesting opportunity to research this question. These games frequently include Guilds and other organizations which allow players to group and cooperate. One of the primary functions of these groups is to train new players, including enculturation, how to slay certain types of beasts, operate certain types of weapons or spacecraft, etc. In informal conversations, it has been my experience that people playing these games have never belonged to guilds in the “real” world, never killed dragons in the “real” world, never flown an X-Wing in the “real” world, etc. They were taught these skills and continue to teach these skills to newcomers online. They have never taught these skills to another person in the “real” world, they have learned to teach these skills online. I would argue, therefore, that the type of teaching and learning occurring in MMORPG guilds is one example of the type of native online teaching we want to find.”
Relatedly, I’ve also thought for some time (but frustratingly can’t find it quickly in my archives): Our traditional pedagogies scale poorly beyond 30 or so people because they were developed in the context of teaching 30 or so people. I think it’s safe to assume that, in the same way that our pedagogies-for-30-people degrade as the number of students goes up, pedagogies-for-1000s-of-people degrade as the number of students goes down. Pedagogies for 1000s of people probably function so poorly in the context of 30 people that we’ve never even really tried them before. In other words, we’ve never taught 100,000 people at a time before, and consequently we’ve never developed pedagogies for teaching this many people at once – the last few years just show us trying to shoe-horn pedagogies-for-30 into MOOCs and then publishing articles about the astonishing drop rates.
MOOCs provide an extremely rare opportunity to completely rethink pedagogy, from the ground up, for a completely new context and configuration. However, until someone gets serious about this line of thinking and looks for legitimate inspiration outside of classroom-based pedagogies-for-30, it’s going to be hard times.
This seems to be an appropriate time to say, “we have to think outside the box.”