What I’ve Learned about MOOCs

This week I took part in a wonderful, collaborative experiment called MOOC MOOC (check out the Twitter hashtag #moocmooc to follow all the action), which was billed as a meta-MOOC where we would think about the possibilities and limitations of Massively Open Online Courses.  It definitely lived up to its hype, but it was so much more than this too.  I think a ton of ideas came out of this project–some of which have to do with MOOCs, but others of which have bearing on the future of higher education itself.  We were given one final assignment:  to reflect on our experience in MOOC MOOC.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

What a MOOC Is

If I learned anything it is that MOOCs live or die based on the amount of collaboration and participation you find in the course.  This one was full of collegial participation.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Google Doc assignment on day 2, the mini-MOOC in which people joined me on Day 4, and the group brainstorming we did yesterday.  We all came together to think out loud, construct ideas, compose hypotheses, and simply try to figure things out.  This is a rarity, even in academia, and the sense of common purpose really buoyed us as we wandered into uncharted (for the most part) territory.  Our intrepid facilitators did a terrific job in setting up this fertile environment in which this atmosphere could develop.

As I wrote in my part of the Google Doc on day 2, MOOCs have the potential to fulfill an educational ideal that goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks:  an open forum for the production of knowledge to which all are invited as long as they share the goal of developing ideas.  If MOOCs survive in their current form, I think it will be because they have filled a need felt by many who want to get together (virtually, in this case) to simply think, bounce ideas off of each other, and try to solve problems.

What a MOOC Is Not

I say above that *if* MOOCs survive it will be because of this participatory community, but I’m still not entirely convinced that they will last, at least not as they are currently conceived.  MOOCs and universities today are intertwined, but I think one needs to be extracted from the other.  As long as MOOCs are being sold as the “next big thing in higher education,” their future will be limited.  The realities of accrediting bodies, curriculum committees, politics, plagiarism, and good sense will prevent them from bearing any university credit, which is what would need to happen in order for them to go anywhere in higher education.  MOOCs could have a very bright future as their own thing, driven by like-minded thinkers, independent of higher education.  And I truly believe we need spaces like MOOCs where this kind of activity can occur.  I just don’t think they should be linked to our institutions of higher education.  In the end, they are two separate things with separate goals.  To mix them together is to do an injustice to both.

I have gained a respect for MOOCs that I did not have before I took part in the #moocmooc project.  What remains for me, I’m afraid, is the belief that they need to grow and thrive independent of colleges and universities.

So what is “the next big thing in higher education” then?  I have a radical idea.  Let’s stop trying to reinvent the wheel and instead look hard at the ways in which we can design the best, most innovative, and absolutely exceptional learning experiences in our current classes, whether they be face-to-face, hybrid, or online.