This world today is a MOOC

Donna Hightower  © all rights reserved

Donna Hightower
© all rights reserved

“This world today is a MOOC”. Today’s entry isn’t a tribute to Donna Hightower’s hit, but a reflection on what we say about MOOCs these days.

Some MOOC oracles already declare the end of the wave. John Daniel for instance, who endlessly tours the world to speak about higher education and MOOCs (30 conferences this year so far!) has positioned himself as a “disillusioned” MOOC believer. He predicts that “the media interest in MOOCs has passed its peak and MOOCs have a past rather than a future”. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

In fact, MOOCs are at the beginning of a wave. Look at the MOOCs scoreboard published on a monthly basis on the Open Education Europa portal. The more than 1000 MOOCs produced worldwide are just a reflection of a more global shift towards innovative learning that goes beyond the MOOC concept itself. They may not be the MOOCs we want, but they are a first step towards opening up education.

The question is therefore not whether MOOCs are the future or the past, but if they are truly innovative learning schemes yet.

Georges Veletsianos, professor at Royal Roads University, Canada, for instance, sees MOOC problems as a symptom of chronic failures of the educational system to tackle significant issues. Another Canadian researcher, Tony Bates, observes that MIT – though an “historical” MOOC promoter – has been ignoring 25 years of research in online learning, and 100 years of research in how students learn in its design of online courses.

Both would conclude that the future of MOOCs depends more on their effective contribution to skills development than on their capacity to transmit information. In other words, MOOCs will only succeed as truly innovative schemes if their promoters think more about the learners than about the relevance of the economic model that sustains them.

Are we learning enough from learners? This is what Jesse Stommel asked us to do with his #digped storify. Let’s talk less about MOOCs and more about learners; less about learning analytics (see my blog entry on students’ disengagement) and more about lifelong experience.

Yaacov Hecht in his bookDemocratic Education: A Beginning of a Story, describes his younger self as “dyslectic and dysgraphic with average academic capabilities”. He recounts: “How could it be, I asked myself, that in some areas I was strong and successful, while in others – the ones most important to my parents and my school – I was a total failure?”

All MOOC experts should ask the same question. It is our common responsibility to design courses that will enable all learners (existing and aspiring) to find the right connections with their true goals both inside and outside the classroom.

After all, as Donna Hightower might have said: what we do, what we say, has a lot to do in how we live today.

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