Why Design a xMOOC / cMOOC Hybrid? LTCA Theory

So a lot of interest in the earlier post about creating a dual-layer cMOOC/xMOOC, as well as some of the inevitable backlash. The biggest question rattling around seems to be “why?” Well, my first response is: ask George Siemens – this is all his crazy idea. But I wouldn’t be blogging about the idea and sticking with the team if I didn’t think there was something to the idea. We may run into a huge road block down the road and decide to ditch the idea. But the conceptual part of it is fascinating.

I think some of the initial confusion over the idea stems from the divide between theorists and practitioners. As much as I love theory, many theorists tend to get a little too “either/or” minded for practicality. Its either quantitative or qualitative. Its either behaviorism or constructivism. Its either xMOOC or cMOOCs. And so on. In a practical sense, learning never falls along such clean, neat lines. One moment you need to transfer your expert knowledge to a blank slate, the next you need to let your students struggle and construct meaning from chaos because there are just things you can’t copy and paste into their brains.

In my Ph.D. pursuits, I have been exposed to a new emerging theory called Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions. This theory is being created by Dr. Scott Warren at the University of North Texas based on the works of Jurgen Habermas. Without communication, learning can not happen. LTCA theory breaks communication down into four forms present in learning:

  • Normative communicative actions are those that communicate knowledge based on past experiences, such as statements in class instructions that lay out expectations for student activities.
  • Strategic communicative actions are the most familiar educational communicative actions – these occur most often through lectures, textbooks, and other methods where specific reified knowledge is transferred to the learner.
  • Constative communicative actions are debates, arguments, and discourses that allow learners to make claims and counterclaims. Constative communication is also where social constructivism connects with LTCA theory, as students come to agreement over constructed knowledge through these communicative actions
  • Dramaturgical communicative actions are those that allow for expression. Learners can reflect or create artifacts that express the knowledge they have gained as well as who that knowledge makes them as a person.

Just looking at all four, I think it becomes pretty obvious that each one requires different paradigms, different design, and different technology among other issues. Yet, we need all four to facilitate effective learning. Lately I have been pondering whether some of our problems in education stem from us trying to cram all of these communicative actions into one software solution, one instructional style, one epistemology, etc. Then, beyond that, we tell all students that they have perform all four at the same time as the other students, “because its not time for discussion yet!” or whatever it may be.

So, the idea of MOOC layers is really looking at a four pronged approach to the idea of teaching and learning as communicative actions using LTCA theory. Yes, we could insert strategic communicative actions into constative communicative actions as the instructor sees fit – but are we really going to do that for all students just because two need it? What if a student that needs strategic actions could just duck out and receive that instruction without disrupting the flow for those that don’t need it?

So, the idea I am digging into is that strategic communicative actions are the domain of the xMOOC. And no matter how much you love or hate xMOOCs, you have to admit that this is what they do best. Dramaturgical communicative actions would be the domain of the cMOOC, especially if we could use things like assignment banks and blogs and basically the entire A Domain of One’s Own set-up. Constative communicative actions would be the domain of the design of the course, using activity design to encourage students to interact and debate. Normative communicative actions would be a mixture of the profile system that pulls students together in groups to create their own norms and the instructors vision for the content norms.

The imperative here is that all of this must scale to massive numbers. This is MOOC design, after all. I know there are ways to do all four prongs in one class without dividing out  into layers. But that will only work if the class is small enough. Whatever criticism you have of the whole idea of “massive”… I agree. Education always works better with smaller numbers. But that is not the reality we are being dealt right now. More and more learners are being crammed in our classes – and they don’t even seem to care how this affects their education. So until the customer (learners) wakes up and starts demanding smaller classes, we have to start figuring out this scale thing. That is reality we live in, and that is the reality we are trying to figure out the best solution for.

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