I have been rumbling silently about MOOCs for a long time, but it was only when I read a report on the Domain of One’s Own experiments that I realised what it was about Massive Open Online Courses that gave me a sense of disquiet. MOOCs have had huge publicity in the last six months, and as always we seem to be convinced that a single initiative is going to Save education / universities / educational content / publishing / Life on Earth. Yet clearly not all MOOCs are alike. And their shooting to prominence is no accident. If you look up the history then you find that you can relate them to Buckminster Fuller, Douglas Engelbart, the Khan Academy, and a group of Canadian educators (I am now a Canadian Nationalist by Marriage, so underline with pride that the term was created by a faculty member at the University of Prince Edward Island!).

But I cannot claim much else. A whole raft of MOOCs are simply instructional materials online presented much as the Open University did in the UK from the 1960s and its South African equivalent from a decade earlier. OK, techniques have changed a bit and Instructional design has improved a s a workflow model, but this is essentially distance learning as of old. Course members have no connection with each other and while I am delighted to see distance learning updated and to see it re-promoted I am at a loss to find a revolution in what many major universities, and people like Udacity and Coursera, are offering. It is good, in a networked world, to see the internet used as a delivery mechanism, but the pattern of development in a networked society has been for the network to change the way we do things, as well as deliver it more effectively.

We are on safer ground, I feel, when we look at so-called “connectivist” models around MOOCs. Cast your mind back to those early network diagrams, and move away from star network models and one to many thinking. Long term network impact comes when everyone is connected to everyone equally, and in a MOOCs environment this pre-supposes that all learners and instructors are equally so connected. Elsewhere we have learnt about the powerful nature of educational change through collaboration in small groups – as a class or a project group. We know that groupwork styles are no bar to effective assessment, and that for many they speed learning processes. And we know that what we desire are learning outcomes that are reliable and certificated, not the importation of real world learning environments into the network for the sake of it. I see us then as re-iterating the break-out from the school/classroom nexus at very many levels. Second Life was clearly one attempt: in true network fashion it has ceased to be a fad, is being re-absorbed, and virtual reality learning will come back again, perhaps alongside connectivist MOOCs, in a new synthesis before long.

But for all of this to happen something must happen at the learner end of things At present learners have no way of managing their educational experiences online, synthesizing their learning, keeping their own record of what content impacted with them and constantly collecting and reframing successful knowledge breakthroughs. Well, its all on a hard disk somewhere, but it is not educationally or network portable. Just as the Electronic Lab Notebook, as a Cloud service, and developments like Mendeley and ReadCube, will emerge as a vital researcher tools for both productivity and compliance purposes, so the Lifelong Learning Portal will remind you of what suddenly made Pythagoras clear to you, that you can always rehearse that key video on the Theory of Relativity, that the papers you have written and the certificates you hold can be auto-matched with job requirements, that you can allow limited access to recruiters seeking to match job needs, that your qualifications open up these opportunities for you in terms of more specialized education , and that whenever you learn you are sitting next to someone who can help you – as you help them.

So far I have seen nothing quite like this (and may never!) but I was very intrigued by the work of the faculty at Mary Washington University (http://bavatuesdays.com/domain-of-ones-own-faculty-initiative/) who are working on creating a Domain of One’s Own development. So far this seems to be a faculty-only initiative, and so far it is as much about faculty awareness of the need to place themselves in the network as anything else. But I liked the enthusiasm and the phased development of the faculty immersion – an important reminder that while the network nature of our society and economy is what sustains us, there is still the possibility for whole cadres and classes of people to imagine that their daily lives are not network-orientated – and, amazingly, educationalists have been less network orientated than many others. Certainly their students!


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