What the Heck is a MOOC?

September signifies back-to-school but, despite the best of intentions, I didn’t sign up.

I came pretty darn close this year in that I found an MBA being offered in Community Economic Development that caters to those in the workforce. Additionally, it was the only MBA I’d ever found that acknowledged what I’ve already learned and published, providing me with credit for 6 of the 15 courses that would be required. At $2000 per course that meant saving significant money as well as time.

Regardless, something still kept niggling and holding me back from completing the application forms despite the fact that I am committed and passionate about lifelong learning and have always made it a priority.

When I analyzed my reluctance to return to learning in a formal setting, I realized that it wasn’t just the time and money that was holding me back. It was more about me rebelling against the accepted model of traditional top down, instructor-centric learning. I came to understand that what matters to me, in this world of data overload, is the network and what others are calling the meshwork that results.

My greatest learnings seem more apt to come from a network of both learners and instructors, readings, videos, blogs, conversations, reflections, webinars, writing, training, conferences, colleagues from other fields etc. While it is often messy and chaotic, I am moved on a regular basis by the excitement and richness of what I learn on an almost daily basis.

Imagine my delight when I found out this week about MOOCs—an emerging trend in post secondary online learning. MOOC is an abbreviation for Massive Open Online Course.

While it began in 2007 as an online conference, it has since shifted into delivering courses that don’t focus on mastering content as much as they do on developing networks that continue one’s learning far beyond the actual course. In other words, as George Siemens of Athabasca University puts it, instead of having the social elements of a course wrapped around prescribed content, the social interaction serves as catalyst and contact for relationships with others who remain within their own spaces and bring their own learnings and resources.

Consequently, every participant becomes both a learner and a teacher. The end results are the connections, collaborations, and knowledge aggregation I’ve been seeking.

While this sometimes results in a rather chaotic and messy environment many will find stressful, making sense of the chaos becomes part of the learning experience. While course outcomes are provided, the instructor does not help to make sense of the chaos as they would do traditionally, instead leaving that to each student.

The student’s job is not to memorize but to instead use the tools and information provided during the course. This practice is in fact more important than the content so the learning becomes more of a modern day apprenticeship of learning-by-doing surrounded by many experts and resources.

MOOCs ultimately are another way of learning—albeit one that is open, participatory, and supportive of the development of lifelong networked learning.  The additional bonus is that one only pays if they want credit for the course.

All in all, it was just too much for me to resist. This fall I’m not starting on my MBA but I have signed up for a MOOC at Athabasca called, Openness in Education. Wish me luck!

Posted on 09-16-12

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