Friday, 10 May 2013

Moodle and the MOOC

I've been doing a little research into this phenomenon of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), and I'm seeing that what seems like a solid enough concept on the front actually starts to unravel when you look a little closer. And I think this is a MASSIVE (pun intended) opportunity for MOODLE.

Where do MOOCs come from, mum?
MOOCs seem to have a lot of hype surrounding them right now, but we forget that MIT has been in this game for well over 10 years, with its Open CourseWare initiative. This has since transformed into EdX to compete with the new startups from Silicon Valley, Coursera and Udacity. Meanwhile iTunes U has quietly grown into a quite a formidable repository of open content. (I'll come back to the issue of content later)

And I've bolded the last 2 words because essentially this is what these platforms offer. i.e. nothing MOODLE hasn't been doing exceptionally well for over a decade.

If you're name's not down...
A little known fact about the MOOC platforms that are getting all the hype right now:

 If you wonder why your university hasn’t linked up with Coursera, the massively popular provider of free online classes, it may help to know the company is contractually obliged to turn away the vast majority of American universities."

Now this is interesting. Coursera is contractually obliged to only accept elite institutions into its fold (thats 30 odd in the US and then the top 5 internationally). 

So now I'll ask again, where do MOOCs come from, mum?
It seems to me now that they are born out of a strategy for top institutions to 'mine' internationally for the best students to come and study and for the rest to pay a fee for MOOC certificates  - this basically entrenches their elite position in the 'marketplace' (and lets not be scared about calling it a marketplace)

...and who would dare question a certificate given by an elite university?
Even if all they are providing is the skeleton of a learning experience (i.e. the videos, forums and MCQs - And occasional interactions with the (celebrity) academic's research assistant's research assistant.)

Yes, there is no new pedagogy here 
There isn't really a harnessing of all the connectivist, networked possibilities of having 1000+ keen and eager, interested people in the same place at the same time. We're just doing what MOODLE has been doing for 10+ years, albeit with more students and hype.

Hang on, haven't you heard of DS106 or Siemen and Downes?
Not all MOOCs are created the same. The 'original' MOOCs are based in a 'Connectivist' tradition. People in the know call these cMOOCs (as opposed to xMOOCs like Coursera). And one of the main differences between the cMOOC and the xMOOC is that the cMOOC is about connecting with other people primarily, and participating by creating content, rather than consuming it. Furthermore, the contributions that participants make are aggregated from their OWN private spaces and blogs.

So this tips the VLE content model on its head, and the main tool starts to look at lot more like Google Reader and a lot less like a traditional content repository. It's primary features become 'starring' articles, 'friending' other users, '' social bookmarking.

Where does MOODLE fit into all this?
OK, so now we know 2 things:
    1. The xMOOC model is not new in terms of functionality or pedagogy, but works on the fact that only elite institutions offer them, so that adds shine. Also, whilst the 'elite' are the only real players in the market, they will reap any and all the rewards, if they exist (more about this later).
    2. The cMOOC model is underdeveloped, but seems to have some more interesting ideas about connectivism which would need several new MOODLE plugins to accommodate
xMOOC or cMOOC. There's only one way to find out ...
I don't think this is a head to head. xMOOC (read: Moodle style courses) have lots of value. That's why we all use MOODLE so extensively already, but the value in today's xMOOCs is driven by elistism, not pedagogy. My feeling is that the xMOOC model is going to have to let some cMOOC in if it is to survive (before people get bored with the content like they did with iTunes U). 

And if the point of all this is to 'mine' for students, and 'sell' them qualifications, and if this is in any way successful for MIT, Stanford, Harvard etc. then it follows that it would also be successful to a degree for less expensive colleges and universities (you know, the ones who are not allowed into the Coursera family.) I have 2 suggestions for MOODLE:
    1. Market what you already have as an xMOOC direct to those institutions who are not allowed into Coursera, (or FutureLearn in the UK)
      1. Include a 'download this certificate' plugin into CORE and 
      2. improve the resilience of the conditional activity completion stuff (it is already pretty good though)
    2. Develop a Google Reader type plugin for cMOOC-type activities. The ocTEL Course Reader based on Wordpress would be a good place to start looking for inspiration.
Given those 2 things, I cannot see why MOODLE cannot be AHEAD of the game. 

(Well it started out with a pretty good xMOOC architecture, so it's not surprising!)