The Mechanical MOOC

MIT OpenCourseWare, Peer to Peer University, OpenStudy, and Codecademy are teaming up to launch the "Mechanical MOOC," weaving together existing educational resources (content, Web-based study groups, quizzes and so on) to offer an introductory course in Python. It's hoping to be a different sort of MOOC than the centralized ones we've seen lately from the likes of Stanford (Coursera and Udacity) or MIT (MITx, now edX). Rather than force learners onto a learning management system, this one recognizes that learning can happen in communities and on sites across the open Web.

August 21, 2012

MIT OpenCourseware, OpenStudy, Peer to Peer University, and Codecademy are teaming up to launch a “Mechanical MOOC” today – a free and open introductory course in the programming language Python that weaves together existing resources (content, Web-based study groups, quizzes and so on).

Unlike some of the other MOOCs that have launched in recent months – particularly those headline-grabbing efforts from Stanford (and Coursera and Udacity) – this “Mechanical MOOC” will not force learners into a centralized website that recreates the LMS, where all the official lessons, lectures, discussions and assignments take place. Instead, the content is linked and distributed via an email list managed by P2PU.

As P2PU co-founder Philipp Schmidt tells The New York Times, “The mechanical MOOC is an attempt to leverage the power of the open web–by loosely joining together a set of independent building blocks.” That is, MIT OCW will provide the content (from its 6.189 A Gentle Introduction to Python course); OpenStudy will handle the study groups; Codecademy will offer its Web-based, interactive tools for coding practice.

The class officially starts in mid-October with weekly lessons sent via email. But in a twist that might be a boon to those of us who consistenly drop out or drift away from these open enrollment courses, the weekly lesson emails can be paused or staggered so that you can still move through the content with a cohort of learners, even if you fall behind or have to restart the course. “We want to do more than sign-up tens of thousands of students and have only a fraction succeed,“ said OpenStudy co-founder Preetha Ram in the news release. “Our goal is to have everyone who participates succeed. We want to help learners remain engaged throughout the course and be supported by a community.”

The email scheduler tool will be made available to other open content sites too so that they can build this sort of “mechanical MOOC.” But the goal here is really to empower learners to pull together what they need: the resources and the peer support.

There’s no official instructor involvement here. No institution (and none of the participating organizations here) is in charge. No degrees or credits or certificates or letters of achievement will be awarded (you can, of course, get badges for your Codecademy achievements and for your peer support on OpenStudy).

Lisa Lane recently argued that there are 3 types of MOOCs: network-based (e.g. the connectivist MOOCs), task-based (e.g. DS106) , and content-based (edX, Coursera, Udacity). By creating an open source tool for this “mechanical MOOC,” hopefuly this effort will help others take the best of all of those models, create their own open online courses (massive or not), and optimize for learning and community (and not just investors or institutions).

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Audrey Watters

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