cMOOCs, Connected Courses, or (Just)MOOCs?

Just when you thought things were getting a bit confusing with xMOOCs, cMOOCs, miniMOOCs, POOCs, etc – it seems we now have various extremes existing within each of these classifications. In the cMOOC world, there are now those that argue there really is little difference between xMOOCs and cMOOCs and we should just call them all MOOCs. On the other end of the spectrum are those that say cMOOCs are so different from xMOOCs that they should be called something different, like “Connected Courses.”

As I blogged about recently, there really is a difference between xMOOCs and cMOOCs, and those that want to combine the two are really missing how they are running an xMOOC with social aspects added. When you still retain control over most of what is going on through curration or guidance or whatever you call it, you have an xMOOC.

Those that want to call cMOOCs something else are on the right track. However, I think the term “Connected Course” sounds cool but ends up being a bit problematic. Technically, it means the courses themselves are connected and not the learners. But also, if you Google “Connected Courses,” you find the term has already been in use for a while in many sectors. It usually seems to refer to courses that are aligned across content areas (that is where I first heard the term as an 8th grade teacher) or to a series of prerequisite courses that have to be taken in a specific order.

Also, as George Siemens as pointed out, whether or not these things are “courses” is also arguable.

But the conversation looks to be interesting, so I will be joining the Connected Courses MOOC to see what conversation arises. I might even try to actually finish a MOOC for the first time :)

(Don’t tell the LINK Lab I admitted that)

Probably the most accurate term for cMOOCs is “Connected Learning Open Events” – but CLOE just seems as problematic as (just)MOOC or cMOOC or Connect Course. Set up your POSSE and round up your PLE to jump into a CLOE. Yeah, that will never catch on.

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

16 thoughts on “cMOOCs, Connected Courses, or (Just)MOOCs?

  1. RIght you are! The first time I heard/read “connected courses” it sounded like a group of inter-linked courses either taught in parallel or pre-requisites to each other. I just posted on twitter something about what we call people who are doing #ccourses and I thought maybe we call them “connecters”???
    Because the courses are about the ACT of connectING – the people connecting, as you correctly pointed out. Not the courses themselves being connected. Although maybe they did that on purpose… naming it that way?
    It’s also interesting because on a meta-level, lots of these cMOOC things are connected in some way… thru the participants and facilitators. You find droves of ppl and communities intersecting who know each other from previous MOOCs, etc.

    It is interesting how you distinguish xMOOC from cMOOC – it sounds to me like for you, any “x”ness (content behind an LMS?) and direction (faciltator content?) makes something an “x” even if it’s got elements of “c” (like social media). For me, there are courses “in between” an “x” and a “c” and anything that goes towards incorporating open connection outside the walls of the LMS is something that’s gone beyond an xMOOC. A matter of degree, I think ;)

  2. Matt Crosslin

    For me, the differentiation is really all about power. Instructivism vs. Connectivism. If the instructor is still inthe drive’s seat, its still an xMOOC. Social discussion has been part of courses since the beginning of schooling, but most of these efforts were and still are controled by the instructor. Which is not necessarily a bad thing – some people really prefer this. But few courses historically make the jump into true student-centeredness. They say they do, but still keep a lot under the control of the instructors.

  3. First I am glad you entered #ccourses, and second, are asking critical questions. The naming issue need not be taken so literally, and I have not really seen that anyone is suggesting “Connected Courses” are a thing or distinct from cMOOCs.

    The description suggests nothing about courses being connected/joined/link; like Maha describes, it really is more of connectivist language. So call it a cMOOC. Or say it is not a course because it is not via an institution nor are assessments being graded. To me, it’s more about (a) teaching openly; (b) having students work in the distributed native spaces of the web they manage

    I don’t care of you call it Malt Barley or Royale With Cheese, but calling it a course does give people a sense of structure, and seems to gather them these days.

    In your frame of cMOOC, are there any that are so purely so learner driven? Someone, let’s call them an “instructor” has to design some sort of framework, agenda, pathway.

    It’s also an argument based on a MOOC designing one experience for all (which I know is what you are trying to undo). In the one I have been involved with, the registered students in a ds106 section have a bit more instructivism design then the open participants. Same for phonar.

    Or if I sign up for a Coursera, Futurelearn, etc course, and ignore the schedule, just pick a few videos to watch, papers to read a few forum posts to interject– am I having a cMOOC experience inside an xMOOC?

  4. Matt Crosslin

    I guess my link feel off, but there are those that are advocating to changed the term to Connected Courses (http://rjh.goingeast.ca/2014/08/24/is-it-time-to-stop-calling-cmoocs-moocs/), so that was what I had in mind when writing.

    Do we really have pure anything in education. We like to talk about the differences between, say, objectives and outcomes as if there are clean lines out there, but the reality is we mix them all the time and only barely come out on one side or the other. But we can still generally classify them based on where they generally fall. Pure xMOOCs or cMOOCs was never really on my radar. The issue I looked was where the power generally resides. I did a content analysis of every MOOC I could find over the summer and noticed many instructors claimed to be student centered, but really just stuck a forum up and laid out all kinds of rules for student participation. But always in what most people call xMOOCs. But there was still a size able gap in power issues between the most social xMOOCs and the most instructivist side of cMOOCs. As an instructional designer, that gap has huge implications for design. And if you are selling on one side of the gap but delivering on the other, you will frustrate learners in ways that aren’t beneficial. And generally what I saw was instructors like in the article I questioned last week that claimed a mix of cMOOC and xMOOC but still kept the main power in the instructors court. It takes a lot more than social tools and a handful if student decisions to cross the line into connectivism/student-centered/cMOOC/etc.

    But a lot if that is probably because I focus on theory and design. From a tools or activities focus, I can see where the two overlap inch more.

  5. Matt Crosslin

    But I would also say not to dig into this post too deeply – I had to come up with something on the spur of the moment to get the category feed created. I was really just trying to have something other than “Dude! Check out my first post!” :)

  6. I am with Alan on this one: with open learning, it’s the learner who decides how social or student-centered it is.
    Let me give specific examples of social xMOOCs. Cathy Davidson’s FutureEd. I found the design quite instructivist, all the videos and readings and quizzes. Assignments were cool and peer reviewed but “closed” into Coursera. However, I engaged mainly on twitter, my blog, and via the #moocmooc twitter chats. There was one assignment we did on a wiki (don’t think it was the official thing Cathy called for, but a #moocmooc thing). You could argue rhe #moocmooc people led a parallel more open version of the course and still had some control of the agenda

    Then there was #edcmooc, which offered a pretty optional set of readings and short videos and open discussion and just one peer reviewed digital artifact as an assignment… With lots of social media. That was very close to a cMOOC, and that’s a major feat given that it is based on a for-credit masters course at Edinburgh.

    None of these are as open as, say, Cormier’s rhizo14 (no assignments, no readings) but many cMOOCs have stuff that engages participants in instructor-led topics, readings, “makes” e.g. Clmooc and octel

    But again, the student-centredness is on the shoulders of the student. No one is holding anything over your head. I prefer cMOOCs that don’t “require’ anything, but us ing any language or requirement is superfluous really, people will read what they want anyway.

    And re: language if connected vs connectivist, i am kinda guilty of being part of that (as Rebecca says in the post u refer to). I just thinkking that connectING need not occur based on connectivIST theory. That’s why i started using the term…

  7. Matt Crosslin

    Yeah, I agree that students can always take a course and do what they want with it. The design of many MOOCs makes that even more possible. Of course, students have always been doing that even in closed F2F college courses, and its a great thing.

    We’re probably thinking about different locus of power here, and I am drawing a blank on the terms here. But there is basically the power that students take over their own learning, and the power dynamics as designed by the instructor. The EDCMOOC was the one that I had particualr concern about, because they claimed to have a good mix of student-centeredness but ended up keeping much of the power in their design in their own hands. Which is not a bad thing in the over all scheme of things, but they also turned around and published a paper advocating that we do away with the xMOOC/cMOOC distinction. As an instructional designer, that causes a lot of problems when you claim one design and produce another.

    Of course, I also subscribe to Habermas and a lesser known learning theory called Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions (LTCA), so I feel the research places a high value on accurately communicating design intentions and then accurately designing courses based on correct power understandings. My ontology in that realm probably leads me to split hairs more than others :)

    Also, since I am also the ID on Siemens next MOOC that will be a dual layer xMOOC/cMOOC (there are a lot of blog posts here where I chronicled struggling through that process), we’re kind of seeing how the design decisions do create a good distinction between the two. The students often take the design and often change the power dynamic in their own Lifeworld, which is an excellent point you and Alan make. I think that what I am working towards is examining how much better the learning experience could be if the power dynamics as designed in the course end up matching with the power dynamics the students end up creating for themselves.

  8. Hey Matt, this is getting juicier. Which Habermas theories are we talking about? Knowledge-constitutive interests? As in technical, practical and… Emancipatory/critical? Those correspond really well to curriculum theory approaches. Non-technical approaches to curriculum theory and edu research do not look at te way sthg is designed in advance, but how it works in practice. I am a faculty developer with a critical edu research perspective rather than the instructional design one.

    Will try to make time to read ur posts about the thing ur doing w George

    But in general, there are all sorts of diff power dynamics in cMOOCs – even when instructor is not holding control, they hold other power in what they curate,comment on, retweet, etc. also, participants don’t hold equal power and diff behavior affects power dynamics, etc.

    I know the article by the EDCMOOCers u talk about, I read it and took the second run of EDCMOOC. I didn’t think they were exaggerating the way their MOOC combined both. That combination works well for many ppl not comfortable with learning and connecting on the open web. It’s a great option to allow more flexibility. Sure, they still held some control as facilitators, but definitely less than a regular MOOC.

    Isn’t assessment and some of the hidden curriculum elements important? The non-quiz very free assessment in that MOOC was one of the strong points. The less visible things happening were the participant-created discussion forums and how the facilitators encouraged those. Things you don’t necessarily include in your pre-design even if you think about them…

  9. Matt Crosslin

    Well, that’s the thing – you can include those in your design and most instructors don’t even think of that. But if you do include them in your designs, the overall experience improves. That’s one of the things I see everyday in instructional design – learners overcome bad design all the time. And when learners overcome bad design to make things work for them, its pretty cool from certain perspectives, but still consumes a lot more time than it would if it was designed properly in the first place.

    But from an instructional design perspective, even if a course is 51% instructivist and 49% student-centered, it still matters that you communicate that accurately. The EDCMOOC paper gave the impression that the course was 40% instructivist and 60% student-centered, but the reality was closer to 65% instructivist and 35% student-centered due to the design they used. Either way is fine – I’m not anti-instructivism. Its the design and communication disconnect that concerns me the most as an instructional designer.

    And that’s where Habermas comes into the equation – I look a lot at his communicative actions. There is a theory that I write a lot about called LTCA that looks a lot at the accuracy of your communication in education design and practice. I linked to a good research article that used LTCA theory in my more recent blog post on power.

    In the article on the EDCMOOC, the authors used language that referred to things like the teacher-curated content is the “foundation” for the course, or “to stand by our convictions, to take ownership of the choices that shaped the MOOC, was non-negotiable – but what were the limits of that responsibility?” – all of these are statements that place the main seat of power with the instructor. They also mentioned that the students were relieved to finally get the instructor video sessions at the end of week 1. They attributed it to students wanting that authoritative moment, which reveals their ontology. I would have looked at that reaction as indicative of the design being disconnected from what was communicated.

    So, really, I’m not looking as much at what ends up happening or even whether or not instructors use what I think is the best course design – but are they accurately designing for their intended outcomes and then are they accurately communicating that design to learners?

  10. Ok, this conversation could go on forever, but here’s the short version of my response: this all assumes some “pre-design” and does not comsider how much of what actually occurs in a class/course is the result of the process of imteractiom between teachers and learners. I almost never follow my syllabus, no matter how much time i spent writing it, reflecting on changes I made the previous semester when I taught the same course… It still ends up being a different course each time. Because the learners are different (in my case often dramatically so) and I grow as a person throughout the semester and I am incapable of NOT changing things if I think they’ll work better for the learning goals of THIS group of students.
    It’d probably be different if I were teaching calculus but I teach more flexible social science stuff, so…
    I’ll look up your earlier post about LTCA
    RE: edcmooc, i think they were probably pioneers at making a Coursera-based MOOC more open/social and learners would have been shocked with any more freedom. It sounded to me from the article (don’t have time to re-read it now) that in the first run of the MOOC, the video of instructors was done because learners seemed to want it. So they were bein responsive, when they would not have preferred to do videos of themselves at all.
    I am trying to say that sometimes as a teacher you can INTEND to teach in a certain way, then you meet your learners, and you need to change course. This can be as fundamenal as actually changing your learning outcomes, or as changing your entire teaching approach, or it can be on a much small scale. I guess we don’t expect that as much in MOOCs but it def happens in for-credit courses.
    So how do instructional designers feel about that? Isn’t emergent ID an option?
    I am thinking about LTCA a lot now so will check out the link in your earlier post. Thanks

  11. Matt Crosslin

    That’s the great thing about the field of instructional design – if you design in a way that does not intend for a certain outcome, you are preparing for any possible practical situation that can occur. The more you design for student-centeredness, the less you have to worry about changing the course as you go along because the course was designed to change as you go along. Because you are completely correct – courses should change each time. This is something I have been trying to convince professors of for years as an instructional designer. There are various methods of design that set the stage for all of this to happen. On the other hand, there are many, many professors that never allow their course to change and end up teaching the same class every time. That’s not a good thing, but a majority of courses out there are still pulling that off. I’ll be presenting a research paper at AERA next near on a content analysis study I did with my major professor on the syllabuses of 30 MOOCs. I didn’t get to go into design issues in that paper as much, but I did find that somewhere around 60% of those courses claimed to have some level of student-centered/social/connectivist design and then produced a course that was designed to not allow for students changes and will end up being the same course every time they teach it. Which is a problem.

    And you are right about the EDCMOOC being a pioneer idea in an area that wasn’t used to that. It”s great that they responded to student needs, also. I think that if they had a better alignment between the way they designed the power issues in the course with the way they communicated those power issues, they would have had a better outcome (less panic among the students). Hopefully I will have some research by the end of the semester to shed some light on that. Or prove me wrong. You never know :)

  12. Matt, tell me more about how flexible/emergent instructional design looks like. My colleague a work keeps telling me that I misunderstand instructonal design as more rigid than what it really is. That the models presented as “boxes” make it seem more rigid than it really is.
    The one thing I try to do when helping someone redesign their courses is to ask them lots of questions, explore lots of possibilities, and let them know that the discussion of those possibilities should help them remain flexible during the course itself (i.e. having discussed different options, you may later choose a differnt option when your course goes live)

    I need to pause from this conversation and look up LTCA!

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