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cMOOCs and xMOOCs

posted: 6.18.13 by Traci Gardner

Two weeks ago, I talked about The Misunderstood MOOC, the differences between the first MOOCs and the MOOCs now being developed by companies like Coursera and EDx. As I was preparing to write this week’s post, I came upon an extended conversation of these two kinds of MOOCs between social community builder and teacher Howard Rheingold and senior fellow at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, Bryan Alexander.

The video is just over 24 minutes long, but well worth the time. To understand the connection to my previous post on the different kinds of MOOCs, listen for the distinctions between cMOOCs (the original MOOCs that focused more on social connectivity) and xMOOCs (the for-profit version now stealing the headlines):

Beyond classifying the two kinds of MOOCs, Rheingold and Alexander explore a number of provocative issues about how MOOCs (both kinds) facilitate learning and their implications for the future of education and learning. I’m left, naturally enough, with more items to add to my large list of research questions:

  • How can research on the Dunbar number (which Alexander refers to) apply to the organization of MOOCs? Would finding systems to scale the massive enrollment of the courses down into more socially-manageable groups of 150 to 200 students impact students’ learning and their completion of the courses?
  • What would be necessary to build a hybrid MOOC, one that benefits from the structures of an xMOOC but that fosters the connectivity of a cMOOC? Is it possible to build a smaller, focused cMOOC that provides connectivity and support for students who are enrolled in an xMOOC?
  • In what ways can teachers prepare students for an xMOOC by teaching social networking skills? As Rheingold suggests, you cannot simply dump people into a forum and expect it to work. What strategies can we develop to fostering social conversation and connection? How can we use what we know about how communities work online to prepare students so that they thrive in these online courses?

That’s just the beginning for me. I also have questions about the role of funding and costs, the possibilities of building resources that focus more on connectivity than presentation, and how the social connectivity of cMOOCs fits with writing pedagogy.

I am also terribly tempted to create a cMOOC on how to survive and thrive in a MOOC. It’s time to shift from how higher ed can benefit from these online courses and get into conversations about how students can benefit and set out some concrete strategies to help them. There is opportunity here for students to advocate for more connectivity in their online learning and to demand the resources and support that they need to help them reach their goals.

What questions do you have after watching the conversation between Rheingold and Alexander? Please share your thoughts by leaving comment below or by dropping by my page on Facebook or Google+.

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