By the Power of MOOCskull – I Have the Power!

Just two days ago I made a comment about how my most throw-away blog posts seem to spark the most interesting discussions. Which is a pretty cool commentary on the Interwebs if you think about it.

The conversation on my last post turned to the difference between cMOOCs and xMOOCs and some thoughts that I have not considered (with great comments from Maha Bali and Alan Levine). If you had asked me just a year ago if I thought there was much of a difference between cMOOCs and xMOOCs, I would have probably agreed that they pretty much overlap and that there is not much difference. But after getting to work on the Dual-Layer cMOOC/xMOOC project as well as conducting some content analysis research on MOOCs over the summer, I tend to have a different view.

That is not to say that there are not elements of cMOOCs in xMOOCs and vice versa. And I am beginning to believe that there are two distinct sources of power in most courses: learning power and designed power (for lack of better terms – I think there are actual terms for these that I am blanking on). The “designed power” is how the course is created by the instructor and/or instructional designer. This is where I identified a problem in the past where instructors communicate one design and then produce another. The “learning power” is what students do with the “designed power” they are given. They might follow directions as told or go off on their own. Which is nothing new – students have been doing everything from study groups to cheating outside of the design of the course for as long as there have been classes. The nature of the Internet in general and open learning specifically probably increases the number of avenues for this “learning power” as well as lowers the barriers to partaking in it. Which is all great stuff.

But I am also a big believer in communication – or more specifically, accurate communication. Jurgen Habermas would probably be a good reference point. But even closer to home, Dr. Scott Warren has created a learning theory based on Habermas called “Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions“. The basic idea is that you need to know what you want to communicate and then communicate it in the correct format to maximize learning (with apologies to Dr. Warren for the over-simplification). As an instructional designer, I realized that some of the major problems that occurred in learning design were based around a breakdown in the alignment between the “designed power” and the “learning power”.

Additionally, I think that as a profession, we often over simplify some terms. Student-centered is not “student-only”. Instructivism is not “instructor-only.” So, in that sense, there are no pure xMOOCs, pure cMOOCs, pure student-centered courses, or pure instructivist courses. There never have been, because those terms really don’t mean that. For example, student-centered is just “centered” on the student, not “student-only.” There is still room for instructor guidance in student-centered learning.

I think of it this way. If you are a child of the 80s, you probably got the point of the title of this post. He-Man was a classic “so cheesy its cool” cartoon centered around the all powerful He-Man. He-Man has a team of people around him that help him accomplish his quests, but everything still has to center around He-Man saving the day. Even if he is out of the picture for the whole episode, he will still come back in the last minute and make the whole solution about his power. Sure, there is a lot of cool stuff being accomplished by his companions as they do various social interactive tasks, but the power still resides with He-Man, and he determines when the problem is solved.

After all, it is “He-Man AND the Masters of the Universe” not just “Masters of the Universe.”

(anyone else wonder why Prince Adam was running around with a sword and one day just decided to raise it up and say “By the Power of GraySkulll…”? Yeah, lots of drugs involved in the 80s cartoons… which is why they rule…)

Contrast this with the recent Avengers movie. Captain America was obviously the leader at the end, but he really didn’t have a detailed plan that revolved around himself as much as he just set loose the people around him (that were as powerful or even more powerful than himself) to do what they do best. He had no idea where it would go or if it would actually work, and even by the end of the movie the solution really had no relation to his initial plan. It came together because the power was released to the people around him equally and they came to a solution together.

He still had some directions, but think about how Hawkeye, Thor, Iron Man, and Black Widow changed those directions just a few minutes later as the problem got more complex. Even the Hulk went from smashing stuff to smacking down Loki. Because the Hulk is awesome like that. And you get the sense that this was Captain America’s design all along – release the power to those around him.

So that is a nutshell of why I differentiate between xMOOCs and cMOOCs – not on pure designs but on where the power generally seems to be designed to go.

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.

4 thoughts on “By the Power of MOOCskull – I Have the Power!

  1. Thinking first of these lines: ” As an instructional designer, I realized that some of the major problems that occurred in learning design were based around a breakdown in the alignment between the “designed power” and the “learning power”.”
    Your reflection on design is very important — and I would even extend that idea of design to not just “designing curriculum” but also the visual/interactive design of online spaces, and how they invite us in to collaborate and interact, or how they keep us out.
    Design ideas have certainly moved to a center stage in recent years and no doubt will continue to do so.

  2. Your points are well taken! I think we too often try to look for patterns and put things in neat little containers, but learning spaces are messy and you are right – everyone could use a little help navigating this messy terrain (learning).

    Thanks Matt!

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