This article originally appeared in Training & Development magazine February 2014 Vol 41 No 1, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development.
It has been reproduced with permission from the editor.
TECHNOLOGY & RESOURCES
MOOCs: Where to
Anne Bartlett Bragg
The commentary about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has been unavoidable during
2013! We have been bombarded with opinions, reviews, and research studies published across
all areas of academia, special edition journals, books, ebooks, educational media, mainstream
media, online educational weblogs, and social networks. Meanwhile, some authors have
starting referring to Gartner’s hype cycle, suggesting that we are at a point of MOOC burnout!
So why read yet another
article on MOOCs?
The commentary divides into three general
perspectives: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
To cut through the hype, I will attempt to
present the differing perspectives and apply
these to the organisational learning context
of 2014 and ask the question: where to
The good presents the disruption of the
higher education model from a perspective
that sees the democratisation of content
that has been previously unattainable
except to the educated elite, to one where
access is freely open to everyone (with an
There is no doubt that MOOCs are causing
waves in the higher education context where
the debate can be loosely grouped into two
contrasting approaches. The tension can
be viewed as an economic model versus a
Firstly, the xMOOC which represents
consortia, such as EdX, Coursera, and
Udacity that appear to be following a
traditional publishing model, providing
quality content, albeit delivered free and
online in a semi-structured format that is
reminiscent of the early eLearning initiatives
to produce content at scale.The xMOOC
can also be aligned with a behaviourist
approach to learning, where instruction is
divided into small manageable chunks of
information, frequently delivered in video
lecture style formats and supported by
multiple-choice assessment used to provide
feedback on performance. Some offerings
include discussion forums; others provide
very little opportunity to engage with others.
The second approach, claimed by the
founders of the MOOC concept, is
the cMOOC, associated with George
Siemens’ (2005) Connectivism theory,
described as learner-centred, collaborative
and based on learning through
relationships and connections.
These numbers indicate
the desire for quality
content, curated into
course materials by
current academics or
experts in their field.
The bad present a perspective that laments the
loss of sound educational principles. A model
that some opponents claim the xMOOC is
reifying the traditional educational notions of
expert as teacher, semester long subjects, and
prioritising content over sound adult learning
principles such as motivation, relevance,
support and social connections.
The ugly are concerned about the numbers
– the economic viability of the model
and focus on the unsustainability of the
current situation. They forecast the recent
pivot (or change in direction) by Udacity
late in 2013 highlights the need for a
business model that supports return on
investment. Udacity have just released their
new approach –a ‘full course experience’
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– limited admission (no more massive),
selection criteria (not exactly open), and a
fee-based structure with certification.
What are the numbers
FutureLearn, a UK-based consortium, had
more than 20,000 enrolments from 154
countries within 24 hours of launching
in September 2013. While reports from
the US-based consortia indicated that 80
percent of people enrolling already have
an undergraduate degree and are studying
to update or extend their professional
knowledge. These numbers indicate the
desire for quality content, curated into
course materials by current academics or
experts in their field.
But, enrolments are only part of the picture.
Contrast these with the drop rates, which
are quoted at being between 80-90 percent.
What’s the problem here?
A number of recent studies have reviewed
the experience of learners and the results
indicate the variation in approaches by
different MOOC providers and subject
lecturers. Dropouts reported lack of
interaction with others, being overwhelmed
by the number of other people, and the
quantity of content relating to weekly
expectations, essentially they were not
engaged in the learning. Those who
successfully completed their MOOC
had enjoyed the interactions with others
beyond their typical network of contacts,
the engagement with new content, and the
expertise or enthusiasm of the lecturer.
TECHNOLOGY & RESOURCES
Certification and qualifications
Very few current MOOCs offer credit or
recognition for subject completion. Even
at a minimal cost to gain a certificate of
assessment, the transferability to any other
university is unlikely to be accepted. This
may not be an issue for organisations who
could be more focused on the currency of
knowledge than university credits, but for
learners wanting to gain recognition and
pathways to future university studies it
MOOCs in organisational
learning: the possibilities
and the pitfalls
Organisations are being attracted to
MOOCs – some state the opportunity for
free or low cost content from reputable
universities, others mention the variety of
courses available which they would not
have the resources or skills to design and
However, the contrasts previously
mentioned between learner experiences
pose a challenge for organisational
learning contexts, yet the opportunity to
augment existing professional development
programs is appealing. But first, learning
and development practitioners need to
understand the possibilities–and the pitfalls.
Pitfall: Managing your daily workload
and completing a MOOC is akin to
earlier initiatives delivered by distance
or eLearning programs. We are expecting
learners to be self-directed and reflective,
when most of our organisations’ learning
environments do not support this approach
with protected learning time presenting one
of the greatest challenges.
Possibility: To legitimise the integration
of MOOC participation, consider creating
guidelines and support frameworks with
learners and their managers. This could
include use of the organisation’s LMS,
intranet or an alternative social platform.
Pitfall: Assessment and certification. If a
selected MOOC does not offer any kind of
assessment or certification for completion,
how will you accredit or recognise your
Possibility: Online learning has afforded
us with opportunities to rethink how we
deliver content and provide opportunities
across diverse contexts and learners. Yet our
approaches to accreditation and assessment
practices have barely changed and do not
complement the new learning methodologies.
Two questions to consider when adding
MOOCs to your portfolio of options:
• How important is accreditation to
• What type of accreditation is
important to learners
These can form the basis of an approach
that may allow you to integrate alternative
activities to demonstrate learning
achievements from participation in a MOOC.
Embracing MOOCs as
part of your professional
could be valuable.
Tips for learning and
• Enrol and complete a MOOC
yourself – preferably one that you
are considering for your organisation
– before you expect your learners to
successfully navigate the challenges.
• Thoroughly investigate what the MOOC
provider is offering: what online platform
is being used to deliver content, what
are the time commitments expected
from learners, what opportunities for
interaction are there (with other learners
and/or the lecturer), what assessment (if
any) is being offered?
• Create peer-learning opportunities in
the workplace by organising groups of
learners to participate and importantly
Where to from here?
Embracing MOOCs as part of your
professional development strategy could be
valuable. Relying on them as a core offering
is irresponsible. The level of instability in
the current marketplace is still playing out
while providers determine the economic and
logistical viability. Being aware that courses
available today may not continue to be
offered should be a critical planning factor.
In a recent interview, George Siemens
predicts that in 12 months we’ll be talking
about something different, but still asking
the same questions: How do we teach in
a digital networked environment? And
how do we manage – track, measure and
assess learning provided by a university
but being completed outside the formal
institutional environment? What will
evolve from the current MOOC landscape
is unclear, but what we do acknowledge
is that MOOCs matter – whether you
choose to join the debates, participate
online or prefer to be a bystander.
MOOCs have stirred up a substantial
amount of attention towards the higher
education models offered by universities
and embraced our insatiable appetite for
access to knowledge. All of these issues
are important characteristics to enable
innovation and change in the learning and
development landscape. Now, it is over to
you to take advantage of the opportunities
and leverage the circumstances while they’re
still readily available.
MOOC yourself – Set up your own MOOC for
Business, NonProfits, and Informal Communities
by Inge de Waard http://ignatiawebs.blogspot.com.
MOOC Research Hub: http://www.moocresearch.com/
• Provide incentives for learners to share
their learning within the workplace
– enhancing transferability and
recognition for MOOC participation.
• Consider a social learning approach
by utilising platforms like Yammer or
SocialCast to support groups of learners
in the organisation.
• Facilitate de-briefing sessions – this can
also be achieved using a social learning
approach as above.
Anne Bartlett Bragg specialises in the
creation of innovative communication
and learning networks with social
technologies. She is constantly
challenging organisations to reframe their
models of learning, communication,
service design, and workforce
engagement. She has recently completed
her PhD addressing the use of blogs in
learning. Contact via:
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