MOOCs: taxonomy of 8 types of MOOC
We're not payin' because this guy...
...this guy's a fuckin' mooc.
But I didn't say nothin'.
And we don't pay moocs.
A mook? I'm a mooc?
What's a mooc?
What's a mooc?
I don't know.
What's a mooc?
You can't call me a mooc.
PUNCH THROWN - ALL HELL BREAKS OUT….
Scorcese's Mean Streets (1973)What are MOOCs?
“The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed” said William Gibson, that is certainly true of MOOCs. We have MOOC mania but ‘all MOOCs are not created equal’ and there’s lots of species of MOOC. This is good and we must learn from these experiments to move forward and not get bogged down in old traditionalist v modernist arguments. MOOCs will inform and shape what we do within and without institutions. What is important is to focus on the real needs of real learners.
Taxonomy based on pedagogy
To this end, it is important to define a taxonomy of MOOCs not from the institutional but the pedagogic perspective, by their learning functionality, not by their origins. So here's a starting list of eight:
Transfer MOOCs literally take existing courses and decant them into a MOOC platform, on the pedagogic assumption that they are teacher-led and many rely on a ‘name’ of the institution or academic to attract learners. The pedagogic assumption is that of transfer from teacher and course content to learner. Many mimic the traditional academic course with lectures, short quizzes, set texts and assessments. You could describe them as being on the cutting edge of tradition. Coursera courses largely fall into this category.
Made MOOCs tend to more innovative in their use of video, avoiding talking heads in favour of Khan Academy or Udacity hand on board sequences. They also tend to have more of a formal, quality driven approach to the creation of material and more crafted and challenging assignments, problem solving and various levels of sophisticated software-driven interactive experiences. Peer work and peer-assessment, used to cope with the high teacher-student ratios. These tend to be more vocational in nature, VOOCs (Vocational Open ONine Courses), where the aim is to acquire a skill or skills. Udacity take this approach. Remember that Thrun and Norvig were not academics but corporate researchers working for Google.
Synchronous MOOCs have a fixed start date, tend to have fixed deadlines for assignments and assessments and a clear end date. They often around the agricultural, academic calendar. For example, Coursera offer courses on strict startand end dates with clear deadlines for assignment. Udacity started with their ‘hexamester’ 7 week courses with fixed start dates. Many argue that this helps motivation and aligns teacher availability and student cohort work.
Asynchronous MOOCs have no or frequent start dates, tend to have no or looser deadlines for assignments and assessments and no final end date. The pedagogic advantages of asynchronous MOOCs is that they can literally be taken anytime, anywhere and clearly work better over different time zones. Interestingly, Udacity have relaxed their courses to enrol and proceed at user’s own pace. Some sceptics point towards this as being a tactic to reduce drop-out rates due to missed assignment deadlines. Note that Coursera offers a completely open self-study option but this does not warrant a certificate of completion.
Adaptive MOOCs use adaptive algorithms to present personalised learning experiences, based on dynamic assessment and data gathering on the course and courses. They rely on networks of pre-requisites and take learners on different, personalised paths through the content. This has been identified by the Gates Foundation as an important new area for large scale productivity in online courses. These MOOCs tend not to deliver flat, linear structured knowledge but leaning experiences driven by back-end algorithms. Analytics are also used to change and improve the course in the future. Cogbooks is a leading example of this type of MOOC.
Group MOOCs start with small, collaborative groups of students. The aim is to increase student retention. Stanford, the MOOC manufacturing factory, has spun out NovoEd (formerly Venture Lab) which offers both MOOCs and closed, limited number, internal courses. They argue that some subjects and courses, such as entrepreneurship and business courses, lose a lot in looses, open MOOC structures and need a more focussed approach to groupwork. The groups are software selected by geography, ability and type. They have mentors and rate each others commitment and progress. Groups are also dissolved and reformed during the course.
Pioneered by Geperge Siemens and Stephen Downes, these connectivist MOOCs rely on the connections across a network rather than pre-defined content. Siemen’s famously said “cMOOCs focus on knowledge creation and generation whereas xMOOCs focus on knowledge duplication”. More simply, Smith says “in an xMOOC you watch videos, in a cMOOC you make videos”. The whole point is to harvest and share knowledge that is contributed by the participants and not see the ‘course’ as a diet of fairly, fixed knowledge. These course tend to create their own trajectory, rather than follow a linear path.
So far, MOOCs tend to be associated with Universities, whose courses last many weeks and often fit the semester structure and timetable of traditional institutions. We have also seem=n the emergence of shorter MOOCs for content and skills that do not require such long timescales. This is mpore typical of commercial e-learning courses, which tend to be more intense experiences that last for hours and days, not weeks. They are more suitable for precise domains and tasks with clear learning objectives. The Open Badges movement tends to be more aligned with this type of MOOC.
Note that these are not mutually exclusive categories, as one can have a transfer MOOC that is synchronous or asynchronous. What’s important here is that we see MOOCs as informing the debate around learning to get over the obvious problems of relevance, access and cost. This is by no means a definitive taxonomy but it’s a start. I’d really appreciate any comments, critiques or new categories.