As you might imagine, if I’m designing MOOCs I really should be learning on some. So I have! A few months ago, I joined my first MOOC and went through the whole process as a proper learner (that’s right, actually allocating time to do the activities). If you don’t attempt the activities, you don’t actually understand whether they support the learner to achieve the intended learning objective. As this process of looking at other MOOCs is a great way to identify what types of activities work most effectively, I’ve made some notes as I’ve gone along. Look out for more MOOC-related thoughts in the future…
Avoiding too much openness
The ‘open’ in MOOCs actually relates to the way that anyone can sign up and participate, no pre-requisites are mandatory and there is no application form to fill in. The interpretation of ‘open’ I’d like to look at here is that of open commenting, where what you post is essentially ‘out in the open’. When I was taking ‘Business Fundamentals: Project Management’ by the OU, this issue of openness hit me. We were asked to post instances of where projects had been successful or gone wrong, perhaps even analysing our own performance and that of others in the project team. Whilst I have contributed to such discussions before in a closed, small group, mentored MA course, I felt a little apprehensive about doing so in a more public, open way. Certainly, when I write here on my blog, I tend not to pick apart potential failings in other people, let alone my colleagues who I (hope) I get along with and respect what they each bring to a project. So it felt a little off-putting to do such a discussion task on a MOOC.
It comes down to identification. I signed up to these MOOCs with my full name, stating where I worked, what my role was. My professional and online identity, for me at least, are usually one and the same. However, I didn’t actually need to do any of that. Had I left a few details out, perhaps I would have been less inhibited and potentially learnt more from a more public airing of my successes and failures.
Then it dawned upon me that I didn’t actually need to post the specifics. I could use the discussion prompts to make my own personal notes. What I learnt from writing these notes, perhaps with one or two ‘critical incidents’ slightly abstracted, I could then post back to the MOOC to share with others.
That ‘sharing’ is key. Without sharing, participants can’t learn from others’ interpretations of the course content, nor learn from others’ experiences. For the individual learner, without sharing and the process of putting into words an understanding from an experience, it’s difficult to learn, reflect and adopt new approaches.
Participants certainly should be aware of their professional and online identity, but not forget that reflective learning on your practice is actually a key part of professionalism. How we deal with difficulties and learn from them is something we should actually be proud of and be happy to share. Certainly there are factors such as protecting individual identities, professional competencies and the like that must be thought through before posting, but surely that’s a better approach than refusing to engage with the learning activity at all!
In a way then, the best approach for MOOC design is not to ditch discussions about individual’s practices, but allow participants to go through that reflection and abstraction phase in a way that allows them to be as open as they feel comfortable. With appropriate guidance, participants are then better equipped to learn in a more open way.