Social Learning, Blending xMOOCs & cMOOCs, and Dual Layer MOOCs

For those who missed it, the Data, Analytics, and Learning MOOC (DALMOOC) kicked off orientation this week with two hang-outs – one as a course introduction and one as a discussion over course design. Also, the visual syllabus, the precursor of which you saw here in various blog posts, is now live. The main course kicks off on Monday – so brace yourselves for impact!

The orientation sessions generated some great discussion, as well as raised a few questions that I want to dive into here. The first question is one that came about from my initial blog posts (but continued into the orientation discussion), the second is related to the visual syllabus, and the third is in relation to the Hangout orientation sessions themselves:

  • Don’t most MOOCs blend elements of xMOOCs and cMOOCs together? The xMOOC/cMOOC distinction is too simple and DALMOOC is not really doing anything different.
  • Are the colors on the Tool flow chart mixed up? Blue is supposed to represent traditional instructivist instruction, but there are social tools in blue.
  • Isn’t it ironic to have a Google Hangout to discuss an interactive social learning course but not allow questions or interaction?

All great points, and I hope to explain a bit more behind the course design mindset that influenced these issues.

The first question goes back to the current debate over whether there are really any differences between xMOOCs or cMOOCs or whether this is a false binary (or not). I have blogged about that before, and continued by pointing out that the xMOOC/cMOOC distinction is not really about “binary” at all as much as where certain factors cluster (more specifically, power). I submitted a paper to AREA this year (that I hope gets accepted) with my major professor Dr. Lin that was basically a content analysis of the syllabuses from 30 MOOCs. I noticed that there were clusters of factors around xMOOCs and xMOOCs that didn’t really cluster in other ways. I am now working on some other studies that look at power issues and student factors like motivation and satisfaction. It seems like not matter what factor I look at, there still appears to be clusters around two basic concepts – xMOOCs and cMOOCs. But we will see if the research ends up supporting that.

So from my viewpoint (and I have no problem if you disagree – we still need research here), there are no hard fast lines between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. The real distinction between the xMOOCs and cMOOCs is where various forms of power (expert, institutional, oneself, etc) reside. For example, was any particular course designed around the students as source of expert power, or the instructor? You can have content in a course that has the student at the center. You can also have social tools in a course that sets the instructor as the center.

Our guiding principle with the DALMOOC was that there is nothing wrong with either instructivism / instructor-centered or connectivism / student-centered as long as the learner has the ability to choose which one they desire at any given moment.

That is also the key difference between our goal with course design and how most other blended xMOOC/cMOOCs are designed. Most blended MOOCs (bMOOCs? Sounds like something from the 80s) usually still have one option / one strand for learning. The content and the social aspects are part of the same strand that all learners are required to go through. Remember, just adding social elements to a course does not make it a social learning, student-centered, connectivist course (especially if you add 20 rules for the forum, 10 rules for blog entries, and then don’t allow other avenues beyond that). In the same manner, just adding some content or videos or one-way Hangout sessions does not make a cMOOC an instructor-centered, instructivist course.

Our design goal was to provide two distinct, separate layers that allow the learner to choose either one or the other, or both for the whole class, or mix the two in any manner they want. But the choice is up to the learner.

And to be clear, I don’t think there is anything wrong with blendedMOOCs. Some are brilliantly designed. Our goal with DALMOOC was just different from the blended approach.

So this goal led to the creation of a visual syllabus to help myself and others visualize how the course works. One comment that arose is that the colors on the tool flow page (explained here) are mixed up: the Quick Helper and Bazaar tools (explained here by George Siemens) are in blue and should be in red. I get that concern, but I think it goes back to my view of the distinction between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. The red color is not “social only” and the blue color is not “content only,” as some would classify the difference between cMOOCs and xMOOCs. The colors are about where the expert power lies. Quick Helper might have social aspects to it, but the main goal is to basically crowd-source course help when learners are trying to understand content or activities. And it is a really cool tool – I love both Quick Helper and Bazaar (and ProSolo, but the orientation Hangout for that one is coming up). But the focus of Quick Helper is to help learners understand the content and instructor-focused activities (again, nothing wrong with that since the choice is up to the learner to give that expert power to the instructor). In the same way, the Bazaar tool is social, but has a set of prompts that are written by the instructor for learners to follow.

I hope that clears that up a bit – the colors indicate where the expert power resides in the design – neither of which are bad in our design. Of course, you as the learner might use these tools differently than that and we are okay with that, too.

The third question is about the irony of using a Google Hangout to explain a student-centered course and then not allow any interaction. I kind of snickered at that one because I usually say the same thing at conference keynotes that talk about interactive learning but then don’t allow for interaction. So it sounds exactly like something I would say. Of course, at keynotes, you usually have the totality of the examination of that topic at that one keynote and then the speaker is gone. A course is different, obviously. But in explaining our reasoning for this issue I would point back to the differences between cMOOCs and xMOOCs and again bring up the point that being student-centered and connectivist does not mean that there are never any times of broadcast from the instructor. A 30 minute Hangout with no interaction fits into a student-centered mindset just fine as long as you don’t see hard fast lines between paradigms.

But I would also point out that the Google Hangout format is too limited for interaction at scale. You are only allowed 10 people in the actual Hang-out. In addition to that, going over 30 minutes gets a bit tedious, and you can’t really do much interaction with learners in 30 minutes even when using the Q&A feature. Not to mention that 30 minute window is set in stone – if a learner misses it because of work or different time zone or whatever: “no interaction for you!” Using a Google Hangout for a global course would be like being the ultimate “Interaction Nazi.” We also noticed a 30-60 second lag between live and broadcast, so that also hampers interaction. Howver, the biggest reason was that we were really looking at ProSolo, Twitter, our Facebook Page, and our Google+ Page as the true avenues for interaction with these Hangouts. Those avenues were active before, during, and after the Hangout for people in any time zone. So the interactivity was there during the orientation sessions, and you actually did see us responding to things from the social channels in both Hangouts. This may change in future Hangouts. The instructors may open up the Q&A function of Hangout. We’ll see.

So, if you have questions about DALMOOC content or design, be sure to post them to social avenues. Or comment here about this post. I am behind on comments (and blogging) due to the looming course launch, but I will get caught up :)

Visual Flow of Learner Tools in the Dual Layer MOOC

As we get closer to the launch of the Data, Analytics, and Learning MOOC, one of the ideas we are trying to bring to life is a Visual Syllabus. The instructors expressed concern with the “wall of text” that many learners run smack into when reading a syllabus. That is a very valid concern, so the idea was born to make the syllabus more visual and narrative.

Below is the rough draft of the flow of learner tools that will be used in the course. The idea is that learners will be able to click on each area and get an in-browser pop-up with a brief description of each along with a link to start using the tool. I would love to be able to put together an animated gif of this (time permitting).


Two quick notes: this is for the learner tools, the tools that the learners will use while learning, as compared to the analytics tools they will be learning about (Tableau, RapidMiner, etc). Secondly, the random pill images are connecting a metaphor that I am thinking about weaving throughout the syllabus (based on choosing the red pill or blue pill in The Matrix; except both represent reality, just one learners are used to and the other that they aren’t). Everything here is subject to change, including the dualistic metaphor.

The general idea is that all learners will get a kick off email for the week, setting out the main idea for that week. Learners will then choose to go down the blue path (towards an instructivist path they are accustomed to) or the red path (towards a connectivist path they may not be accustomed to).

Those on the blue path will enter the EdX course content to view videos, read text, perform activities, etc. As they encounter issues or concepts they need help with, there will be in-context help buttons to click on to get customized help (but still cooler than that, I am just being vague because this will be new tech that is still being worked on). They will also be put in groups of 3-5 by a new technology to work on specific problem-based learning activities (again, new tech that will be detailed later, but trust me its cool). Some of the course work will be highlighted in daily email updates. Learners can repeat parts as needed or even cross over to the red path at any point they wish.

Those on the red path will enter ProSolo (embededd in EdX). This is a new suite of technology that basically enables learners to set their own goals, connect with others that have similar goals, and work to create proof that they have met those goals. If you remember many of the calls to create a tool that fosters true Personal Learning Networks, this is basically that tool. ProSolo will be used in this course and is another cool new thing we are trying. More details on that one to be announced soon. The learners will then go to the Problem Bank (or whatever we name our installation of the ds106 Assignment Bank tool) to find and / or submit problem ideas to work on. They would then connect with their PLN (Internet on the diagram) and work on the problems. Then they would submit artifacts back to the bank. Their blogs, tweets, videos, and other various artifacts will be collected for the daily email updates. Learners can repeat parts as needed or even cross over to the blue path at any point they wish.

The learners will repeat, crossover, and work on various activities until the week is over or they are finished and then repeat for the next week.

All of this is just the rough draft. If you are interested in seeing how it all works out, I would recommend at least lurking in the upcoming #dalmooc :)

A Course is A Course, of Course of Course

Recently I have been pondering the term “course” and whether or not it is a good way to describe educational experiences. We seem to be seeing more rumblings about the deconstruction of courses – from people questioning whether MOOCs really should be called courses to the idea of breaking courses down into smaller chunks.

For the record, I really don’t have a problem with the term “course” or it being changed to include concepts like flipped learning, student-centered learning, or any future new concepts. But there are also other obvious times when the concept of “course” is too broad or too limiting.

I think the part that I am growing uncomfortable with is applying the term “course” to everything regardless of design or intent. Courses are most often attached to an official learning process where an expert confirms that the learner understands, demonstrates, knows, etc. a certain set of knowledge or skills or both. This confirmation could be college credit or a certificate of completion or any other form of “certification.”

Calling that confirmation a course even if the process changes to active learning or semi-connectivism or competency based learning or whatever is fine. But even in pure instructivist courses, learners still step outside of the course boundaries (sometimes ethically and sometimes unethically) to learn. Even when you plagiarize you learn something, even though the whole thing is unethical.

I’m beginning to look at “courses” as experiences where the design of the learning and the intent of the learner is to earn some type of official second party confirmation that they learned some skill or set of knowledge or both. Learning experiences that go beyond this official arena are something else. Those that seek to create competencies or smaller modules are still really just changing the length or format of the confirmation process.

In other words, I don’t know if “course” can apply as a blanket statement to all learning experiences, or even to the path for all learners within any one given experience. Take DS106 for example. Learners can go through this experience in many paths. However, for some learners, they go through a tract specifically designed to earn college credit with the intention of earning said credit. The intention of the design and the learner is to officially earn confirmation of learning. For those learners, DS106 is a course. For everyone else, it is something else. Basically, a Connected Learning-based Open Experience (the experience is designed to be open, but the learning can be closed if the learner so chooses). I don’t really like using the terms “connected” or “experience” when referring to networked learning, so I will need to ponder this one more.

But as we push into more varied intentions of learning design, such as heutagogy, our terminology may need to expand so that not everything fits in the same box, or so that there are enough boxes to accurately describe everything that is happening, or _____ (who knows what). So while I identify that those that say that the term “course” can describe any learning experience currently, I also identify with those that say the term is limited. Just instead of getting rid of it, maybe focus it and add others?

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.

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.