Elaborating on my metaphors about MOOCs

During these winter I kept on thinking about the learner's experience of quality within MOOCs. I'm astonished that till now the discourses about quality are all tighthen to the (doubtless) videos with charismatic academics communicating (somehow) the own institutional brand. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote about my experiences. I also listened to others' experiences, in an attempt to make sense of my initial metaphor "In the Garden of Forking Path"I discovered others' metaphors, like "the Assembly line" applied to an experience on Coursera.
So this is what I (together with two colleagues) elaborated further, for a (maybe) more scholarly reflection.


There are several factors pressing universities to renew their traditions in education, connected to the critics made to academic institutions as the “ivory tower”, where pure knowledge is guarded and accessed only by privileged (academics and young students). In this context, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have been given an impressive attention since late 2011 (Sheets, Crawford, Soares, 2012, Daniels, 2012). From Siemens’ early experiences in 2008, several proposals were launched from US and Canada. The model has seen a very fast expansion that was defined a hype due to the dimensions of coverage in both magazine articles, blogs and more recently, in scholarly literature. This phenomenon was clearly connected to the idea that MOOCs could be a springboard for Higher Education change due to the revolution they encompass regarding key issues as accessibility, openness, excellence of teaching staff  tightly connected to very successful research and business activities (EDUCAUSE, 2012; Knox, Bayne, MacLeod, Ross, Sinclair, 2012)  The high quality of contents, produced by prestigious academics, as well as the open access to them, was supposed to put the basis for “quality for all” (Barber, Donnelly, & Rizvi, 2013).  Beyond the enthusiastic response of thousands of students and teachers, and the presence of prestigious universities behind the initiatives, the criticism is also raising, while the first participants went through their MOOC experiences (Guàrdia, Maina, & Sangrà, 2013). In fact, along the evolution of both scholar and policy making discussion on the issue it is possible to see how the attention is moving from the organizational innovation to the participants’ perspective. This is for example the case of the “Higher Education Chronicle Survey”[1], which analyzed the point of view of 174 teachers engaged in MOOCs.  Moreover, the first scholarly publications, raised significantly in 2013, focused the need to pass from the analysis of MOOCs as model to the impact it can have on learners and institutions, across diverse learning cultures: this is the case in fact for the curated Special Issues of JOLT “Journal of online teaching, targeting US-international research, edited by Siemens, Irvine, & Code, 2013; and the upcoming “eLearning papers”, targeting European research, edited by Mor & Koskinen, 2013. Specifically, within the criticisms raised to the value claimed by the first MOOC implementers, for the sustainability and quality of the approach the issue of learners experience is considered crucial: as Hill declares it should be necessary to provide… an experience and perceived value that enables higher course completion rates (most today have less than 10% of registered students actually completing the course) (Hill, 2012). Taking into consideration the above depicted situation we tried too explore in which extent the MOOC’s experience is perceived as a quality experience by learners, in order to contribute to the debate on the role the MOOCs can play as model in Higher Education.  Accordingly, we took two learners’ phenomenological account on their experiences (non US, non EN native speakers) within MOOCs courses; the learners’ discourse was further conceptualized, focusing on the learning effectiveness, which is one of the five pillars adopted by the Sloan-C eLearning quality framework (Moore, 2002). According to the results that we collected, we are now elaborating on the concept of quality of eLearning in the MOOC experience, in an attempt to understand which elements should be further analyzed to generate an integrated (macro-micro), multiperspective quality experiences within MOOCs.

2. So….Where is Quality in MOOCs?

There are already consolidated systems to analyze and award eLearning quality both in North America (see for example the case of SLOAN Consortium, (Moore J. , 2002) and in Europe (see the European Framework for Quality in eLearning, EFQUEL, 2011); however, until today,  the special eLearning case of MOOCs was never considered under these quality frameworks. We miss debates reconceptualizing qualilty models to understand the quality of MOOCS. Therefore, much is to be done in this sense, in line with the debate regarding the quality of eLearning, and the more general panorama of conceptualizing educational quality in higher education. We are not saying that our elaborations will lead to cover the need of reconceptualizing quality models for MOOCs. But maybe, we could bring some light on how quality is experienced and hence overcome the “hype” and help people to look more critically to the discourses on “high quality education” provided by MOOCs. The debate and scholar research on quality is leading to the redefinition of concepts, passing from standards of quality assurance to a multiperspective, multivoiced  and multilevel quality system within a learning culture as continuously evolving system  (Ehlers, 2009). Quality concerns not only institutional effectiveness but also the performance of the whole system as considered by key stakeholders like students, academic staff, administrative/management staff, members of networks for inter-institutional collaboration. The learners’ perspective is hence crucial to understand, in depth, the educational quality (Ehlers, 2005; Frydenberg, 2002, Ehlers & Hilera, 2012; Jung, 2011).   It is interesting to consider that the multilevel approach to the analysis of quality is consistent with Conole and Oliver levels of analysis for the eLearning practice (Conole & Oliver, 2006): 1. Macro-level or system factors such as cultural norms, social context, educational policy, curriculum standards, organizational factors. 2. Micro-level or individual factors such as, from the teachers’ side, pedagogical practice, educational background, experience with technology, etc; and for pupils, experience with technology, social and cultural background, learning processes, etc. According to the above mentioned frameworks, it is not enough to refer to effective issues registered at macro-levels in MOOCs (business model, organizational innovation, the quality of design and resources to cover big numbers of students). Instead, an integral approach to quality requires effective practices and impacts also at micro-level, as it is the case of learners’ perspective. . Beyond the scientific literature, still immature,  the learners perspective on MOOCs is nurtured by thousands of blog posts, tweets and facebook’s posts (among other social networks)  where important issues are raised, from the initial enthusiastic idea of being engaged in a high quality experience, within a global community, to the expressions of frustration due to the lack of teacher presence, the information overload, the course’s pace, the lack of support in communications and contacts with peers  (Kop, 2011).  Hence, the learners experiences within  MOOCs could question or reinforce the MOOCs as “disruptive” technology, from an empirical and micro-level (less explored) point of view opening to new conceptual and paradigmatic change in the field of open and distance education (McAuley, Stewart, Siemens, & Cormier, 2010).

My ongoing readings to build this piece (and suggestions are most than welcomed!)

Barber, M., Donnelly, K., & Rizvi, S. (2013). An avalanche is coming. Higher Education and the revolution ahead (p. 73). London. Retrieved  at http://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/files/FINAL Embargoed Avalanche Paper 130306 (1).pdf , March 2013.

Borges, J.L. (1944) The garden of forking paths [El jardìn de senderos que se bifurcan], in “Fictions” [Ficciones]. Retrieved at http://www.coldbacon.com/writing/borges-garden.html , March 13.

Conole, G., & Oliver, M. (2006). Contemporary Perspectives in E-Learning Research: Themes, Methods and Impact on Practice (1st ed., Vol. 2006, p. 288). Oxon: Routledge.

Cormier, D. (2008). The CCK08 MOOC – Connectivism course, 1/4 way » Dave’s Educational Blog. EDUCATION, POST-STRUCTURALISM AND THE RISE OF THE MACHINES blog. Retrieved March 10, 2013, from http://davecormier.com/edblog/2008/10/02/the-cck08-mooc-connectivism-course-14-way/

Daniels, J. (2012). Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibiliy. Sir John Daniels blog. Retrieved March 10, 2013, from http://sirjohn.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/120925MOOCspaper2.pdf

Downes, S. (2011). ‘Connectivism’ and Connective Knowledge. Huffpost Education , January 5 Retrieved  at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-downes/connectivism-and-connecti_b_804653.html , March, 2013.

EDUCAUSE briefing (2012) What Campus Leaders Need to Know  About MOOCs   Retrieved at http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/PUB4005.pdf March, 2013

EFQUEL. (2011). Shared Evaluation of Quality in Technology-enhance Learning. White Paper. Retrieved at http://efquel.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/EFQUEL_White-paper_shared-evaluation_2011.pdf , 26 March 2013.

Ehlers, U. (2009). Higher Education Quality as an Organizational Culture. In Distance and E-Learning in Transition. Learning Innovation, Technology and Social Challenges. London: ISTE&Wiley.

Ehlers, U. D. (2005). A Participatory Approach to E-Learning-Quality: A new Perspective on the Quality Debate. LLine-Journal for Lifelong Learning in Europe, 11. Berlin, Waxmann Verlag

Ehlers, U. D. (2004). Quality in e-learning from a learner’s perspective. European Journal of Open, Distance and eLearning. Retrieved at http://www.eurodl.org/?article=101 , 26 March 2013.

Ehlers, U.D. & Hilera, J.R. (2012) Editorial, Special Issue on quality in e-learning, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 28 (1)  1–3

Frydenberg, J. (2002). Quality standards in eLearning: A matrix of analysis. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 3(2).

Guàrdia, L., Maina, M., & Sangrà, A. (2013). MOOC Design Principles. A Pedagogical Approach from the Learner’s Perspective. pre-print for eLearning Papers  Special Issue on MOOCs, courtesy of authors, March 2013.

Hill, P. (2012). Four barriers that MOOCs must overcome to become sustainable. e-Literate blog ,  July 24. Retrieved at  http://mfeldstein.com/four-barriers-that-moocs-must-overcome-to-become-sustainable-model/ March2013.

Hinostroza J.E., Labbé C., López L. & Iost H. (2008) Traditional and Emerging IT Applications for Learning. In: International Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education  (eds J. Voogt & G. Knezek), pp. 81-96. New York: Springer.

Jung, I. (2011). The dimensions of e-learning quality: from the learner’s perspective. Educational Technology Research and Development, 59(4), 445-464.

Knox, J., Bayne,S., MacLeod, H., Ross, J., Sinclair, C. (2012)  MOOC pedagogy: the challenges of developing for Coursera, Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter, August 8, 2012. Retrieved at http://newsletter.alt.ac.uk/2012/08/mooc-pedagogy-the-challenges-of-developing-for-coursera/ , March 2013

Kop, R. (2011). The challenges to connectivist learning on open online networks: Learning experiences during a massive open online course. IRRODL – The international review of research in open and distance learning , Vol 12, No 3 – Retrieved at http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/882 March 2013

McAuley, A., Stewart, B., Siemens, G., & Cormier, D. (2010). The MOOC model for digital practice. SSHRC Knowledge Synthesis Grant on the Digital Economy.

Moore, J. (2002). Elements of quality: the Sloan-C framework. . Needham, MA.: Sloan-C.

Moore, J. (2005). The Sloan Consortium Quality. Framework And The Five Pillars. Retrieved at  http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/books/qualityframework.pdf March 2013.  Sloan Consortium Press.

Mor, Y., & Koskinen, T. (2013). MOOCs and beyond. eLearning Papers , Call for Proposals, Retrieved at  http://elearningeuropa.info/  March 2013

Murray, J. H. (2003) “Inventing the Medium” The New Media Reader. Cambridge: MIT Press

Norman, K., & Lincoln, Y. (2011). Introduction: The Discipline and Practice of Qualitative Research. In K. Norman, & Y. Lincoln, The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, 4th Edition (pp. 1-20). London: Sage.

Sheets, R., Crawford, S., Soares, L. (2012) Rethinking Higher Education Business Models. Steps Toward a Disruptive Innovation Approach to Understanding and Improving Higher Education Outcomes. American Progress / Educause Blog. Retrieved at http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/issues/2012/03/pdf/higher_ed_business_models.pdf , February 2013

Siemens, G. (2012). MOOCs for the win! eLearning Space blog , March 5 2013. Retrieved at http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2012/03/05/moocs-for-the-win/ February 2013.

Siemens, G. (2012a). What is the theory that underpins our moocs? elearnspace blog, March 3. Retrieved at http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2012/06/03/what-is-the-theory-that-underpins-our-moocs/ access on March 2013.

Siemens, G. (2012b). MOOCs are really a platform. E Learning Space Blog , July 25.  Retrieved online at http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2012/07/25/moocs-are-really-a-platform/ .

Siemens, G., Irvine, V., & Code, J. (2013). Special Issue: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Journal of Online Learning and Teaching , Retrieved at http://jolt.merlot.org/jolt_moocs_cfp.pdf , March 2013

Swan, K. (2003). Learning effectiveness: what the research tell us. In Bourne, J. & Moore, J. Elements of Quality Online Education. Practice and Direction. Needham, Massachusets: Sloan C

van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. Abany, NY: State University of New York Press


One thought on “Elaborating on my metaphors about MOOCs

  1. So happy that our reflections were in line with BIG’s ideas! Scholars that are included in this comment.
    However, our article, written by May 2013, is still waiting for publication. This is the academia’s traditional publication system.

    I refer to
    a) an initiative that went on during the Spring of 2013, conducted by Ehlers, , “The MOOC Quality Project”, http://mooc.efquel.org/the-mooc-quality-project/

    and to

    b) A conceptualization of Quality on MOOCs made by G. Conole, on May 2013 (preparing her intervention within the MOOC Quality Project), that according to me really tackles the problem of generating a framework to understand, in a more critical and deep way, what quality is and how it is experienced within MOOCs: http://e4innovation.com/?p=727

    Later on, Conole transformed her reflections on an article, appeared in December 2013, which I discovered by serendipity while reviewing an article in Italian. Here it is: http://www.um.es/ead/red/39/conole.pdf

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