A futile attempt at rebranding.

February 2, 2015
DOCS: Digital Open Courses at Scale.
MOOC: Massive Open Online Course.
This effort is going to fail. The term MOOC is probably too entrenched to change now. But I’m going to give it a try.
D - Digital:  We replace the 2nd “O” - Online - with Digital. Why? Because very quickly we will witness a flip where the majority of the minutes that learners spend in one of these courses will occur in an app, not a browser. On a smart phone, not a computer.  The course content, especially any courses videos, is as likely to be downloaded to the app as streamed. The course will therefore be a mix of online interactions (as the learner needs to be connected to the web to interact), and offline activity via downloaded content. The word “digital” captures both of these modalities.
O - Open: Open stays. There are some problems with calling these courses really open, but we are working on them. Today, our big problem is that the course material is too bundled, too integrated into the narrative of the course. Our open learning platforms like edX and Coursera need to move to individually tagged and searchable content chunks. It should be easy to find questions, videos, and open articles by search. It trivial to suck learning objects (at a granular level) into a different LMS.  Every learning object should have a Creative Commons license that enables it to be remixed and reused.  
C - Courses: Courses also stays. Calling these things Courses is only somewhat problematic. I like calling these learning communities Courses because of the connection to cohorts and narratives. There is something powerful to a group of learners starting together, and progressing as a group through a set of structured activities, conversations and content. A good course can also build a compelling narrative. The problem with using Courses is that we call our credit-bearing learning communities courses as well. It is a mistake, I think, to conflate what we do in a DOCS (okay MOOC) with what we do in our traditional classes. They are not the same thing, as our courses for our enrolled students are (should be) about what cannot be scaled.  
S - Scale: This is the big change. We replace Massive with Scale. I dislike the use of Massive for any number of reasons. It puts the stress on the numbers of enrollees, where the emphasis should be on community and learning. Using Massive immediately invites comparisons by enrollees with other open courses. Everyone gets worried about completion rates, and learning explorers and grazers gets labeled as a problem to solve rather than a behavior to celebrate. Scale is a much better differentiator for how an edX or Coursera course differs from a credit bearing course. 
Our real value add occurs in what can’t happen at scale. That is in the relationship between an educator and a learner. Open online education has done wonders to expose the true value of the gifted educator teaching in an environment that enables her to get to know her students as individuals. This is a very old model in education. Maybe closer to the tutorial or apprentice model. It is what liberal arts institutions build their values around, what we get in seminars and small classes, and what we experienced in graduate school.  It is a vision where we esteem (and pay) our educators at a level commensurate with the value add that they bring. 
The fact that an edX or Coursera course is designed so that it can scale beyond the number of learners that any instructor could possible build individual relationships with is what distinguishes a DOCS (okay MOOC) from a traditional residential, blended, or online course.  It is because these courses (and the platforms that they are taught on) are designed to flexibly scale with demand that sets their price at free.  It is because our credit bearing courses cannot be scaled up, and should only be taught at a size and in a manner that supports an educator / learner relationship, that makes them so valuable.
Where does this conception of an education worth its cost, one built on highly esteemed (and compensated) faculty getting to know their students as individual learners, leave the anonymous large lecture class? 
How can we connect efforts to experiment with DOCS (MOOCs), with the recognition that the real value that colleges and universities offer is precisely what can’t happen in a DOCS (MOOC)?


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