A discussion taking place on the OER-Forum Discussion List. Posts by other people in italics.
Abel Caine wrote, "I have to intervene with the developing country perspective.
Millions of smart, motivated children/students for many reasons do not complete regular school or university. Given the opportunity, these learners have a burning desire to 'complete' the course.
"Well-designed and smartly-delivered" MOOCs with a valid, transferable certificate of completion (learning experience) may be 1 viable solution.
I hope new global initiatives such as Education First will take this into account."
Andy Lane wrote, "Yes participants whether they complete or not can gain from the experience but we also know that many can be adversely affected by the experience through a sense of failure or lack of esteem. I have no issue with low completion rates as long as people do not claim that this is widening participation amongst the currently disenfranchised as I suspect most who complete MOOCs are already adept learners with plenty of privileges. At the UKOU we have struggled to support those suffering multiple deprivations in terms of access to education and the resources needed to support that education."
With respect to cMOOCs, the student experience is more like joining a
community than working their way through a body of content. In this
sense, the concept of course completion doesn't really make sense - what
is it to 'complete' joining a community? You are more or less engaged
with the community; you are more or less engaged with the material.
John Sener wrote, "I agree with Stephen's observations in that it is unrealistic to expect high completion rates from MOOCs because of their structure. However, this structural characteristic is one of several reasons why MOOCs are better seen through the lens of open learning resources rather than open educational resources IMO. Perhaps the "C" in MOOC should be changed to mean "Community" in that case, because the concept of "course" does imply a sense of completion, i.e., something
> with a beginning and an end which is determined by an entity besides the learner. (Or change the name to MOOLE where LE = Learning Experience.)"
Here's why the C in MOOC continues to stand for 'Course'. A MOOC
typically has a fixed start and end date. Between those dates there is a
fixed series of events. I characterize them has being similar to a
'course of lectures' in the traditional sense (eg.
http://archive.org/details/lecturescourseof02younrich ). Today, of
course, they're not necessarily lectures any more. But the idea of a
series of events structured around a topic continues. Hence, a MOOC is a
'course'. But again, it doesn't make sense to talk about 'completing' a
MOOC, even if it is structured around a series of events, because again,
like a community, you can dip into these events as much or as little as
It's like watching a TV series. We don't typically talk about
'completing' a TV series (though you can do that if you want; last year
I watched all 134 episodes of Xena; I 'completed' the series (it took me
half a year)). Even if there is a story arc across the seasons of a
series, we typically feel satisfied watching an episode at a time, and
enjoy chatting about the episide with our friends. We do not - nor
should we - feel we have somehow been deficient if we miss an episode;
we can always go back to it or (eventually) pick it up on Netflix.
John Sener wrote a longish post saying, among other things, "Education requires societally-defined expectations (at worst, imposed one way; at best, negotiated between the learner and society through its proxy institutions), but if "you can dip into these events as much or as little as you want," then that's learning -- user-defined and driven. Non-user-defined learning outcomes mean a less open, less MOOC-like experience.
"Calling MOOCs courses also fosters an expectation of moving through an entire "series of events structured around a topic" to an end which involves recognition (certification, grades, etc.) of completion based on satisfactory demonstrated performance of something gained (knowledge, skills, attitudes, etc.) related to that topic, and usually a comprehensive or broad rather than selective mastery of that topic."
John's post has two major
objectives. First, it seeks to establish a certain definition of 'course' and
'education'. And then it uses those definitions to argue that MOOCs should not
be called courses, and that people do not obtain an education from them.
The basis for these definitions of 'course' and 'education', according to John,
is that the terms create certain expectations - the use of 'course' suggests
they will be like what he calls 'traditional courses', and the term 'education',
he writes, " requires societally-defined expectations."
I do not accept these definitions of 'course' and 'education', and John has not
offered any compelling reason to accept them, except that he suggests people
have these expectations. Perhaps some people have these expectations, but
clearly not everybody does.
This is especially the case with the term 'education'. John suggests it entails
" requires substantive interaction with designated knowledgeable
facilitators (instructors, TAs, field experts, etc.)." But few, if any,
define education in terms of the process; they define it in terms of the
achievement. And this achievement need not involve tests and certificates. When
Abraham Lincoln taught himself to read and write and to be a lawyer, we say he
earned himself an education, not a learning.
And it is also the same for the term 'course'. I have already given an account
of the traditional meaning of the word course, and this traditional meaning in
no way entailed classes and lessons and tests and certificates. The formalized
concept of the course is a recent invention, designed for a specific purpose,
and today obsolete.
What MOOCs have demonstrated is twofold, and these speak directly to our
understanding of how we may obtain an education, and how we may be recognized
First, MOOCs taught us that rather than depend exclusively on
"knowledgeable facilitators (instructors, TAs, field experts, etc.),"
which are very expensive, a community working together can support itself. This
is in fact how professionals further their own education, is common practice in
existing instututions of higher learning, and now possible to the larger
population via self-organized online communities (especially those formed
around a series of learning events).
Second, MOOCs taught us that an education - properly so-called - may be
obtained in this manner, and the learning thus obtained demonstrated and
recognized via the production of artifacts and actions related to the subject
of the learning; there is no prior set of learning objectives nor formal test
(both of which can be, and routinely are, subverted) but rather a mechanism of
recognition via participation.
These features satisfy quite well the meaning and usage of the terms 'course'
and 'education', and they do so in a way which not only empowers students and
enables them to design their own education, it does so in a way such that all
members of society, and not merely those with wealthy and supportive parents,
can engage and learn in the most challenging and professional environment
Indeed, I would turn John's argument on its head. I challenge that the
artificial forms we have come in recent decades to call 'courses' and an
'education' are outright fabrications, plasticized facsimiles of the real thing
to be offered at the greatest fee the market will bear to an unwitting public,
while those who can afford it continue to have their much less formal and much
more rewarding education at elite institutions.
What you have when you assemble an education filled with structured courses,
formalized exams, and high-priced credentials, is a potemkin village, a cargo
cult experience in which people attending Your City High School or the
University of Your State act out as though they were graduating Eton or
Radcliffe and Harvard or Yale but merely go though the motions, obtain a piece
of paper, and move on with their lives not realizing they have been cheated out
of what could have been a worthwhile education.
Ask anyone. Ask them what they valued from school and university: was it the
learning objectives, midterm tests, and the accumulation of course credits? Or
was it working on the student newspaper, participating in drama society,
organizing a rally, or setting up a student enterprise? Or even leaving it all
on the sprts field or spending it all at the student pub!
No, I do not yield the ground regading the terms 'course' and 'education'. I
take them back from the institution, and I return them to the people.