x v c: falsifiability or hybrid learning in, through and about MOOCs

[This is my abstract for OER13]

Two thousand and twelve was the year of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) (Creelman 2012). The MOOC has become a complex phenomenon leaving aspiring designers and conveners with many questions and decisions to make. Speaking loosely, observers notice two broad categories of MOOC. cMOOCs are the earlier form, based on connectivist learning principles (Siemens 2005). xMOOCs are the more recent phenomenon described by some as monstrous (Siemens 2012) and attracting upwards of 150,000 participants. As Peter Sloep (2012) has commented, the key difference between the different types of MOOC is one of underlying beliefs, which will inevitably affect the learning experience and learning itself.

Here, we explore the beliefs underlying one of the UK’s early MOOCs: First Steps in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (FSLT).

We do this not to assert predominance but because one of these beliefs is that teachers should make their perspectives explicit. Theoretical underpinnings must be able to be tested: to be falsifiable (Popper 1996).

FSLT is the beginners’ level of the Oxford Brookes University new lecturers’ courses. For four years, it has been run as a two-day face-to-face course, offering an attendance certificate, and providing an APL route into the accredited Associate Teachers course. In spring 2012, OCSLD received JISC/HEA funding to take the course online as a MOOC.Over 200 people signed up, 60 participated throughout the 6 weeks that the course ran, and 14 undertook the assessment and received a certificate.

The FSLT12 MOOC course design drew on four principles set out by Stephen Downes (2009): autonomy, diversity, openness, interaction (connection). But, importantly, it also drew on:

  • an established curriculum,
  • a recently relaunched professional development framework, and on
  • the interests of the funding bodies in promoting open educational resources (OERs).

We observe that cMOOCs have an explicit pedagogical perspective based on social constructivism, dialogic learning and actor networks. They might be described as philosophically idealist. They instantiate this perspective through distributed open learning platforms and intentional social media conversations. And, they clearly challenge institutional prerogatives of access, assessment, learning environment and intellectual property conventions.

xMOOCs, on the other hand appear to take a tacit pedagogical perspective which is instructivist, cognitivist, pragmatic and realist (Rodrigues 2012). They assert authenticity in respect of employability. They instantiate this perspective through consolidated platforms, using only incidental social media conversations. They may represent an institutionally-centred counter position to the cMOOCs.

The xMOOC approach appears to be based on the assumption of the reusability of open educational resources (OERs) and replicability of the learning experience. While, on the other hand, cMOOCs, while perhaps using and producing OERs, appear to be based on the assumption that the principal learning experience is emergent, contingent and essentially unrepeatable.

In this workshop we will present the two positions – illuminated by the FSLT12 experience – and establish a dialogue (debate) to explore the potential for hybridisation between the forms.


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