I give up.
Despite my best efforts, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a losing battle to get people to stop conflating MOOCs with online learning.
You and I know that the online courses and programs that we have been working on and teaching for the last 10 years or so have very little in common with a MOOC.
That the fact that both your online course and their MOOC are both taught over the medium of the internet is where most of the similarities between the two courses end.
That your online course is about establishing a personal collaborative learning relationship between instructor and student, a relationship impossible to achieve once the course size gets beyond a certain number. (A rule of thumb for that number is beyond the size where the professor knows everyone’s name).
Even very smart people make the mistake of using the shorthand of “online learning” when what they are really talking about is a MOOC.
I’m currently reading Tyler Cowen’s new (and other terrific book) Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. Tyler continuously makes this error
When he writes (on page 182) that:
“…..online education will be extremely cheap. Once an online course is created, additional students can be handled at relatively low cost, often close to zero cost.”
Cowen is talking about MOOCs, not about an online course based on the seminar model of co-creation of knowledge between instructor and student.
So what can be done?
We need to change the language. We need to rebrand.
My nomination is that starting today, and once and for all, never say the word MOOC again.
The thing formerly known as a MOOC will now be called a CaS.
CaS: Course at Scale.
Because a Course at Scale is a much more accurate description for what goes on in one of these course than calling it a MOOC.
In fact, 3 out of the 4 words in MOOC are misleading.
Massive: Maybe? Sometimes? Perhaps the Stanford AI course could live up to that name, but most Coursera or edX courses don’t get nearly those numbers. And if we counted finishers rather than starters we are seriously diminishing the term.
Open: Not really? If a MOOC was truly open then we would be able to locate and utilize its building blocks in a different educational setting. It would be easy to transform MOOC content as all the pieces, the lectures and the assessments, would be unbundled, searchable and portable. A MOOC, as currently constituted, is only open as an entire unit - and only open during a specified time.
Online: Okay. Sure. But lots of things are now “online”. Do we call Wikipedia - “Wikipedia Online”? Appending online to courses on the Internet is sort of like appending “digital” to camera. No new information is imparted.
Course: Yes. Course is the only word in MOOC that is accurate and descriptive. A MOOC is a course in that it starts at a certain date and progresses through time with a defined cohort of learners.
A CaS (Course at Scale) is a much better definition because CaS describes the true challenge (and potential) of this new type of educational offering.
Effectively teaching at scale is very difficult.
Effectively teaching at scale, teaching to more people than we can get to know as individuals, changes what teaching is all about.
In a CaS we need to discover technological and course design methods (such as peer review, computer generated essay grading etc.) that can mitigate the inability of an instructor to personally know more than a set number of students.
A CaS has a very different set of objectives and goals than our “regular” courses. A CaS is explicitly designed to work within the framework of internet economics. That is to to scale up at marginal costs close to zero for each additional learner. (See Cowen’s quote above).
Today, our “regular” courses may be totally residential, blended, or fully online. But what is important is that these normal courses are built on faculty and students knowing and working with each other.
These courses (our courses) do not, and should not, conform to the economics of the internet.
It is precisely because what we do in our classrooms is scarce, (be these classrooms in building or online), that makes what we do in higher education so valuable.
Never again shall any commentator, author, or blogger confuse an our online courses with a course at scale.
Say it with me: CaS. CaS. CaS.
Course at Scale.