Dec 212010

George Siemens asks, in a thoughtful post, “What’s wrong with (M)OOCs?“, where he expresses 3 main concerns: the high dropout rate (linked with a low level of participation on the part of the majority of participants), the high technical requirements and a (yet)  insufficient support that helps people connect to other relevant people.

I was a peripheral participant in CCK08, and have observed from even farther CCK09 and PLENK10. Why did I miss the opportunity of interacting and learning with a great number of bright and knowledgeable people? Why didn’t I contribute with my own thoughts and experience, which might (hopefully) help others learn something? The simple answer is, I was (still am) too busy to be able to engage meaningfully in a course that, even at a minimum level, requires a lot of hours I can’t afford.

My experience in working with overloaded higher education staff shows the same problem. Without a compelling reason (or several) to fulfill the tasks required and to invest a certain number of hours each week, most of them won’t reach even a minimal level of engagement and of task completion – that could be a certification they need, or a course they must put in place and don’t know how. Anyway I look at it, it seems to me that without some compelling external factor to beef up your intrinsic motivation, it is extremely difficult to “create” the time you don’t have to participate meaningfully in a course.

This relates to other aspects of participation George Siemens addressed in
My Personal Learning Network is the most awesomest thing ever!!, a rant on lurking or, as it’s being labeled lately, “peripheral participation”. There are several great comments that enrich the post by putting it into perspective, but the truth is that, bottom line and in most circumstances, George Siemens is right. Sharing and contributing takes time and effort, and many people can’t find the motivation to do it.

Another problem I see in MOOCs is the mentioned lack of efficient support that help people find relevant others to connect to. This is key in this kind of courses. Because of the huge numbers involved, the course organizers are notoriously absent, with few exceptions, from discussions and knowledge building processes, which is understandable. They point people to resources, mostly lecture in the synchronous sessions and occasionally publish something, but you need to find productive interactions, quality feedback and helpful synthesis among the other participants. Again, because of the numbers, you might not be able to find what you need, and feel a bit lost and lacking some guidance to make sense of the information you’re trying to process.

Maybe the real problem with MOOCs is the massive part. Maybe learning in a course with so many people and such an amount of information is too much for most participants. It’s different from learning in a network, which is more organic and dynamic – you are guided by your interests and needs (you have a focus) and develop connections according to them. Being a course, it has a syllabus (flexible as it might be), a defined group of people and an underlying perspective on learning and knowledge; however, it lacks learning design (or instructional design, to use a more established phrase) and support, because it wants to be informal and emulate networked learning.

I admire the concept and the effort a bunch of enthusiasts put into these courses. I think a person can have an amazing learning experience if they find the time and motivation to work hard enough – I’m sure it is worthwhile. I also think it’s too difficult for most people to achieve this in the current format and with many hundreds or a few thousand participants.

Just my 2 cents, anyway :-).

  2 Responses to “Is intrinsic motivation enough?”

  1. Thanks for sharing you wonderful insights and experience. I think you have summarised the key aspects of MOOC, in particular the need of learning design and support. “It’s different from learning in a network, which is more organic and dynamic – you are guided by your interests and needs (you have a focus) and develop connections according to them.” Would learning in MOOC be organic and dynamic too? The massive part in an OOC presented challenges for both facilitators and participants, but it is also a critical element which makes MOOC unique in the provision of learning opportunities, accentuated with diversity of perspectives from participants and knowledgeable others. Time (including individual time management) and motivation as you said may be another important factor that could impact on MOOC.

  2. Hi José and John,
    Yes! The massive part of MOOCs my not contribute to the big effort that we already have to make to learn in a MOOC. But if we erase the massive part, we are erasing connections that I think is one of the most significant things you get at MOOCs: conections are the possibility of keep on learning. In MOOCs we make nets.
    The autoorganization that occurs in MOOCs (wikis, groups, etc) tend to be the organic filter that we individually do in our networks. How to create colective filters?

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