While the MOOC (massive open online courses) hype has dimmed, there are still some interesting people probing the possibilities and pitfalls of open online learning.
PhD student Michael Burnam-Fink (Arizona State) offers his two cents in his Future Tense article, “MOOCs Need to Go Back to Their Roots.” He points out that the MOOC was originally conceived of as “a virtual classroom that builds discipline,” but they ended up being hypertextbooks. His recommendation is to keep pushing toward legitimate constructivist learning experiences, which in part means replacing the video lectures and empty discussion boards with “ongoing discussion that encourages participants to share what they know with one another.”
In my personal experience with a MOOC last spring, I found myself in a legitimate learning community. I don’t think my positive experience had so much to do with the digital tools that the course creators suggested I use as with the attitudes and motivations of the course participants. Most of us were educators trying to learn more about learning in digital environments, and our conversations happened in sub-communities on Facebook or the discussion forums.
I like Burnam-Fink’s suggestion that open online courses can foster engaging, student-centered learning experiences, but I think the first step needs to be for course creators to seriously consider who their audience is. What kinds of students are you hoping to serve in a MOOC or an online course at UC Davis or a hybrid course at El Paso Community College? Those students will have different motivations for and approaches to engaging in a community, and the course needs to be built in a way that caters to that audience.