Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

29 February 2012

MOOC reflections

Clark @ 6:30 AM

A recent phenomena is the MOOC, Massively Open Online Courses. I see two major manifestations: the type I have participated in briefly (mea culpa) as run by George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and co-conspirators, and the type being run by places like Stanford. Each share running large numbers of students, and laudable goals. Each also has flaws, in my mind, which illustrate some issues about education.

The Stanford model, as I understand it (and I haven’t taken one), features a rigorous curriculum of content and assessments, in technical fields like AI and programming. The goal is to ensure a high quality learning experience to anyone with sufficient technical ability and access to the Internet. Currently, the experience does support a discussion board, but otherwise the experience is, effectively, solo.

The connectivist MOOCs, on the other hand, are highly social. The learning comes from content presented by a lecturer, and then dialog via social media, where the contributions of the participants are shared. Assessment comes from participation and reflection, without explicit contextualized practice.

The downside of the latter is just that, with little direction, the courses really require effective self-learners. These courses assume that through the process, learners will develop learning skills, and the philosophical underpinning is that learning is about making the connections oneself.  As was pointed out by Lisa Chamberlin and Tracy Parish in an article, this can be problematic. As of yet, I don’t think that effective self-learning skills is a safe assumption (and we do need to remedy).

The problem with the former is that learners are largely dependent on the instructors, and will end up with that understanding, that learners aren’t seeing how other learners conceptualize the information and consequently developing a richer understanding.   You have to have really high quality materials, and highly targeted assessments.  The success will live and die on the quality of the assessments,  until the social aspect is engaged.

I was recently chided that the learning theories I subscribe to are somewhat dated, and guilty as charged; my grounding has taken a small hit by my not being solidly in the academic community of late. On the other hand, I have yet to see a theory that is as usefully integrative of cognitive and social learning theory as Cognitive Apprenticeship (and willing to be wrong), so I will continue to use (my somewhat adulterated version of) it until I am otherwise informed.

From the Cognitive Apprenticeship perspective, learners need motivating and meaningful tasks around which to organize their collective learning. I reckon more social interaction will be wrapped around the Stanford environment, and that either I’ve not experienced the formal version of the connectivist MOOCs, or learners will be expected to take on the responsibility to make it meaningful but will be scaffolded in that (if not already).

The upshot is that these are valuable initiatives from both pragmatic and principled perspectives, deepening our understanding while broadening educational reach. I look forward to seeing further developments.


  1. Clark – I’ve never taken part in a MOOC of the Siemens/Downes type, but last year I did the “Stanford” AI course. I think you somewhat underestimate the social component of this type of course. Though I do agree with you that crucial to the success of such courses is the quality of the content and of the assessments, on the AI course there was a lot of what you describe as learners “seeing how other learners conceptualize the information and consequently developing a richer understanding”. Here is a description of one (to my mind unexpected) example of the kind of social learning that the AI course triggered: http://fm.schmoller.net/2011/12/unexpected.html. There were many others, through the unofficial support networks – in Reddit, http://aiqus.com, and on Facebook – that sprang up as the course progressed. Note that http://www.udacity.com has implemented an Aiqus-style discussion forum for each of its courses – see http://www.udacity-forums.com/cs101/ and http://www.udacity-forums.com/cs373/. Seb Schmoller

    Comment by Seb Schmoller — 29 February 2012 @ 10:30 AM

  2. Thanks, Seb, for help providing insight into the Stanford model. I’d hoped that there was more support. My one remaining question: was this ad-hoc, or were there faculty involved?

    Comment by Clark — 29 February 2012 @ 5:02 PM

  3. Clark. In the “Stanford” AI course it was pretty adhoc, with occasional input from someone from Knowlabs (the company running the course operationally). But the Aiqus system operated in such a way as to create a higher level community of “helpers” through the way it allocates points and badges to participants. On the Udacity courses there is a bit more involvement apparent from Udacity staff. To the extent that the AI course attracted a lot of curious but clued up people who were in the mood to help the organically developed support processes that sprang up are possibly unlikely to replicate themselves in future courses in quite the same way. We shall see. Seb

    Comment by Seb Schmoller — 1 March 2012 @ 7:17 AM

  4. […] C. (2012) MOOC reflections, Learnlets, February […]

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  6. […] Tony Bates jedenfalls stimmt ihm zu (hier). Auch er beobachtet, “only the fittest or the most determined survive”. Stephen Downes dagegen erinnert daran, dass MOOCs eine neue “Lernpraxis” darstellen und Vergleiche mit vergangenen Ansätzen und Erfahrungen schnell hinken. Und zur Frage der Skills und der Motivation der Teilnehmer von MOOCs weist er auf einen schlichten, aber wichtigen Punkt hin: “One big difference between a MOOC and a traditional course is that a MOOC is completely voluntary. You decide that you want to participate, you decide how to participate, then you participate. If you’re not motivated, then you’re not in the MOOC.”  Seine Antwort enthält weitere wichtige Denkanstöße (hier). Clark Quinn, Learnlets, 29. Februar 2012  […]

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  7. Hi Clark,
    My response to your post here http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/change11-cck12-mooc-critical-reflection/ I like your cognitive apprenticeship model, and I reckon we have been adopting that in our on-the-job training program to a certain extent in the past decade. The use of technology in apprenticeship however, is still falling short, mainly because most apprentices have not yet reached the maturity of skills required to use new and emerging technology to a “full” extent. However, with the introduction of more user-friendly tools, I reckon the e-mentoring and cognitive apprenticeship approach would be more readily adopted, especially in the corporate training and education. Thanks again for your interesting questions.

    Comment by Sui Fai John Mak — 2 March 2012 @ 11:10 PM

  8. […] Downes sets out very clearly his views on what MOOCs are and what they do, mainly in response to an earlier post by Clark Quinn, in which Clark argued that there should be some way to integrate both cognitive and social […]

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  9. Life is a MOC – Massively Open Course – we can learn from anyone at anytime and do so at our own risk. Some adapt well to this style of learning and others perhaps do not. But…that is life! It is only natural that in this day of technopresence that a MOOC would evolve and only natural that we try to define and refine it. Search Engines, Twitter, LinkedIn are variations of MOOC’s. Very massive and with very few limitations or control on content – and frequent improvements in functionality to assist the learning.

    I would encourage us to allow a MOOC to be what it enables – lots of people contributing what they can and allowing others to see it, improve it, ignore it, question it and use other life experiences (including traditional things like talking face-to-face with friends) to validate it.

    My guess is that a new term already exists to describe what I would term a FLUMOOCS (phonetic puns intended) – Formal Learning Using Massively Open Online Course Structures. Do you think this will “catch” on?

    Comment by Paul Terlemezian — 4 March 2012 @ 11:13 AM

  10. […] Quinn kicked of the current conversation in MOOC Reflections where he explores the distinctions between the current generation of Coursera/Standford open online […]

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  11. […] approach. His post sets out some of the history behind the development of MOOCs and responds to a post from Clark Quinn and also to my two […]

    Pingback by Discussion of MOOCs: more links and questions — 6 March 2012 @ 11:37 AM

  12. […] brillianter Beitrag von George Siemens, in dem er die aktuelle MOOC-Debatte, angestoßen von Clark Quinn und mittlerweile sogar in der New York Times angekommen, zusammenfasst und erläutert, warum ihn […]

    Pingback by MOOCs for the win! | weiterbildungsblog — 10 March 2012 @ 9:23 AM

  13. […] Learnlets » MOOC reflections […]

    Pingback by Wöchentliche Linkrückschau (weekly) « Webbericht — 10 March 2012 @ 4:39 PM

  14. […] Clark Quinn […]

    Pingback by #Change11 #CCK12 A shift of framework to play and learn in networks and MOOC. | Learner Weblog — 16 March 2012 @ 9:04 PM

  15. […] Quinn posted a nice summary of the two different branches of MOOCs. The Stanford model, as I understand it (and I haven’t […]

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  16. […] MOOC reflections CLARK QUINN | WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 29, 2012 […]

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  17. […] MOOC reflections CLARK QUINN | WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 29, 2012 […]

    Pingback by Jay Cross » 195 posts about MOOCs — 21 February 2013 @ 11:24 PM

  18. […] http://www.olds.ac.uk/ accessed on 2013-03-17 Quinn, C. (2012). MOOC reflections. Retrieved from http://blog.learnlets.com/?p=2562 accessed on 2013-03-18 Wikipedia (2013). Massive open online course. Retrieved from […]

    Pingback by Evaluation of Open Learning Design Studio’s Massive Open Online Course (OLDS MOOC): Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum | midt2012 — 7 May 2013 @ 8:43 PM

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