"In a MOOC, you can eliminate the teacher factor"
Inge Ignatia de Waard is currently mlearning and MOOC expert at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Belgium and educational researcher at Athabasca University, Canada. She will give a presentation on 'MOOC integrating mixed media in informal training' during the next Media and Learning conference in Brussels.
What is a MOOC?
A MOOC is a massive open online course, which means it’s a course format that has a lot of social media in it. It is based on a lot of dialogue, on discussions, on connecting to each other. There is currently a heavy debate about what is really a MOOC because the first MOOCs were connectivist MOOCs from George Siemens and Stephen Downes, focusing on peer-to-peer interactions at their centre. In one of their courses – the CCK2008, the name actually arouse. Now, platforms like Udacity and Coursera are hosting courses but this type of MOOCs are much more behaviourist, or more teacher oriented. So there’s a debate between these two types of MOOCs and their approaches.
How does a MOOC concretely work?
The MOOC format isn’t cut in stone at the moment but I focus on the connectivist MOOC, which is the “authentic” MOOC if you look at it from an educational point of view. As a student, you enter in a MOOC, and depending on who is setting up the MOOC you either have content prepared for you to watch (multimedia, audio, text), or a request to produce content. The major thing in the MOOC is actually the dialogue and the personal content creation. As a student, you can look at things but you can also decide: “Look, I have expertise on my own, I have specific needs”, so you start creating your own content and providing it to the other participants in order for them to enter in a dialogue with you. This makes it ideal for expert or adult training, building on existing expertise.
So this creates a new relationship between teachers and students?
Yes, in fact, in a MOOC you can eliminate the teacher factor. So you do have some experts, but they are more guides on the side. They don’t say: “come to me, I know what I’m talking about”. They rather say: “come to me, you can look at these papers or articles or videos and if you want to discuss about something, I might be able to put you in some direction that might be useful for you, but I’m sure that other peers will be able to add something”. So it’s much more learner-centred.
What are the advantages of MOOCs compared to traditional university courses?
In my view, it’s more an addition to traditional education and training. I see it as a model that can be used in the corporate world as well as the non profit and academic sphere. The main difference is that it is learner-driven but also that it can be used for expert learning or life-long learning for example. At a certain point, you have reached a certain level of expertise and the best way for your learning to develop is by connecting to people that know pieces of the subject matter that you are looking for as well. It’s a gathering of resources from which the participant can pick what is needed for their own context.
What is the interest of MOOCs for universities?
One of the advantages is the marketing, because all of sudden, you can say: “Come to us, we provide you free courses, on easy-to-follow subjects most of the time, you can test our courses and our teaching expertise”. It’s also a new situation as learners from all around the globe are now potential students: the global learner so you must profile yourself.
Will the MOOCs replace the traditional university courses?
I don’t think so because universities really have strategies to attract more learners and by doing that, they are also expanding their teacher resources. But the traditional model from the industrial age, based on the expert teacher who gives all the knowledge in the first four years of the career, is not sufficient. The technology evolves so quickly, that by the time you pass your master exam, the technology will have evolved beyond the course. In those cases, the MOOC offers a solution because you can organize it immediately and with people that are experts in the latest technology.
Do MOOCs have the potential to help democratize the education?
A connectivist MOOCs is absolutely contributing to the democracy among learners because, even if you’re 16 years old and you have a specific interest but you don’t have the money to travel, you can set up a MOOC. You can ask people who are experts in the field you’re interested in to join and share their knowledge with the group. Because it’s free, people can join in. You don’t need any degree, you just need an internet connection and critical thinking.
How can MOOCs apply to the corporate world?
You can create an expert-learner environment. If you have top management or top level of engineers, it’s difficult for them to stay on top of their fields because it’s constantly changing. So you need to create in some way a learning environment which fits your needs and adds authentic learning, some kind of tailored learning. That’s where the MOOC model enters as a great contender. But make sure to ask MOOC experts to set up your first course, it can be very challenging organizing it for the first time.