3.5. Unpacking MOOCs
3.5.1. What is a MOOC?
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The acronym MOOC means Massive Open Online Course. However, there is not one single interpretation of each of these terms and, therefore, the phrase has been used to describe different types of learning experiences. In particular, and as outlined at the start this module, the meaning of the word ‘Open’ has proved to be rather contentious.
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¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 MOOCs arguably became mainstream in 2012, although there were instances of online courses open to anyone and involving large numbers of learners before then (Davidson 2013). Whilst 2012 was named as “the Year of the MOOC” by the New York Times (Pappano 2012), when four major providers of MOOCs were founded or announced – Coursera, edX, Udacity and Futurelearn –, the term MOOC was coined a few years before that, in 2008 after a course on connectivism ran by George Siemens and Stephen Downes: Connectivism and Connected Knowledge (CCK08).
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cMOOCS vs xMOOCS
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Courses following a model similar to the approach adopted by CCK08 are often referred as ‘connectivist’ MOOCs, or cMOOCs. According to this tradition, a MOOC is:
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 “an online course with the option of free and open registration, a publicly shared curriculum, and open-ended outcomes. MOOCs integrate social networking, accessible online resources, and are facilitated by leading practitioners in the field of study. Most significantly, MOOCs build on the engagement of learners who self-organize their participation according to learning goals, prior knowledge and skills, and common interests. […] MOOCs share in some of the conventions of an ordinary course, such as a predefined timeline and weekly topics for consideration, but generally have no fees, no prerequisites other than Internet access and interest, no predefined expectations for participation, and no formal accreditation (there are several instances of MOOCs that are affiliated with a university and provide learners the option of enrolling formally in the course and submitting assignments for marking).” McAuley et al. 2010
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 The short video below summarises the key characteristics of connectivist MOOCs.
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¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Another example of a cMOOC is DS106, initiated by Jim Groom (http://bavatuesdays.com/) in:
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 “Digital Storytelling (also affectionately known as ds106) is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington… but you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need. This course is free to anyone who wants to take it, and the only requirements are a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and all the creativity you can muster.” (http://ds106.us/about/)
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 While cMOOCs take place across distributed platforms (e.g. blogs, social media), xMOOCs are typically confined to a single learning management system through which content is made available to participants and where all interactions take place. Coursera, edX, FutureLearn or Udacity they all have their own platforms that university offering courses through them are required to use for the delivery.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Another important difference between cMOOCs and xMOOCs is that the former tend to focus on interactions, while the latter usually prioritise the delivery of content to students. Also, xMOOCs tend to incorporate some formal assessment that can lead to some form of certification, often subject to the payment of some fees.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 An important difference between MOOCs and some of the open courses available at platforms discussed in section 2 is that MOOCs are usually delivered to cohorts of learners who start together a given course at specific times. Therefore, interactions, assignments and assessment only take place within a bounded period of time. On the contrary, learners might start at any point on the courses offered by initiatives such as OpenLearn or Saylor Academy.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 A more detailed comparison of the main differences between xMOOCs and cMOOCs from a pedagogical design dimension can be found in the Bates (2015).
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 In the Arab-speaking world, as featured in the OpenMed Compendium, Edraak has become the main MOOCs provider, following the xMOOC approach.
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Universities in the South-Mediterranean region have also launched MOOCs making use of their own learning management platforms (e.g. Moodle) as exemplified by Discover Palestine. For further details on these initiatives consult the case studies on Edraak, Discover Palestine and UC@MOOC included in the OpenMed Compendium.
3.5.2. On the meaning of openness in MOOCs
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 The open nature of MOOCs has been heavily questioned since the explosion of their popularity in 2012. MOOCs are open because anyone with access to the Internet is able to enroll for free. However, not all MOOCs apply open licenses, so they cannot be considered open in the same sense as OER are open in compliance with the 5R rights. Indeed, the content of courses delivered by most prominent MOOCs platforms tends to be protected by full copyright. For instance, Coursera allows users to download content for personal use, but it is not possible to reuse, modify or share the content, so opportunities for lecturers to make use of this as part of their teaching are rather limited.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 “You may download content from our Services only for your personal, non-commercial use, unless you obtain Coursera’s written permission to otherwise use the content. You also agree that you will create, access, and/or use only one user account, and you will not share with any third party access to or access information for your account. Using our Services does not give you ownership of any intellectual property rights in our Services or the content you access.” https://www.coursera.org/about/terms
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 In response to this, shortly after the rise of major MOOC platforms, some players in the OER movement started to voice their concerns about such a trend.
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 “The new cohort of MOOCs are distinct from the original MOOCs in that they are ‘open,’ thus far, in only one respect: they are open enrollment. The new MOOCs have not yet openly licensed their courses. As MOOCs continue to develop course content and experiment with various business models, we think it’s crucial that they consider adopting open licenses as a default on their digital education offerings. In general, the value proposition can be enhanced for the new MOOCs and their users if the MOOCs openly license their courses.” Vollmer 2012
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 In response to some of these critiques, Andrew Ng, one of the co-founders of Coursera, responded:
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 “Our position is that all the content is owned by our university partners. Some of our university partners have chosen to release their content under a creative commons licence and we’re fully happy to support that. […] But Coursera is a hosting platform, similar to YouTube and iTunes U. The universities own the content and they can do whatever they want to it.” Clement 2013
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 edX restricts by default the ability of users to reuse content, although its terms of service state the intention of increasing the use of open licences:
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 “Unless indicated as being in the public domain, the content on the Site is protected by United States and foreign copyright laws. Unless otherwise expressly stated on the Site, the texts, exams, video, images and other instructional materials provided with the courses offered on this Site are for your personal use in connection with those courses only. We aim to make much of the edX course content available under more open license terms that will help create a vibrant ecosystem of contributors and further edX’s goal of making education accessible and affordable to the world.” https://www.edx.org/edx-terms-service
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 In the case of FutureLearn, all rights protection is also the default, but it is up to course providers to decide under which conditions they want to make content available:
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 “Certain Partner Institutions may, at their own discretion, make available certain Online Content and Courses under a Creative Commons licence (non-commercial). Should Partner Institutions choose to do this, it will be clearly identified on the appropriate Online Content and Courses page of the Website and we acknowledge that the Creative Commons licence will override certain of these Terms as appropriate. A full copy of the relevant Creative Commons licence will be available from a link at that point.” https://about.futurelearn.com/terms/
¶ 30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 There are three main reasons why FutureLearn does not require course providers to release their resources under open licences:
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 “Firstly, we are very clear that course content on FutureLearn such as videos and articles belongs to its creators among our partners and not to FutureLearn itself, and it is therefore for partners to determine the appropriate licensing for this course content.
¶ 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 Secondly, there are occasions where we may want to make valuable content available to learners that would not be available under an open licence because underlying rights holders such as authors, actors, musicians or photographers would not agree to that.
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Thirdly, there are commercial reasons why partners may not wish to make their content available under open licences, such as the risk that it could be re-used wholesale by third party competitors. In those circumstances, we would not want an insistence on open licensing to be a barrier between fabulous content and massive numbers of learners.” Shorter 2014
3.5.3. MOOCs and Certified Learning
¶ 34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Most xMOOC platforms now offer the option for learners to get some sort of certification evidencing their achievement.
¶ 35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Your Certificate provides a detailed transcript of what you’ve learned. This includes how long you spent studying the course, and your average test score. The Certificate and transcript give you evidence to show during job or university applications, or appraisals.” https://www.futurelearn.com/proof-of-learning/certificate-of-achievement
¶ 36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 To be eligible to get a certificate, learners usually need to go through some sort of formal assessment process after completing a course and achieve a minimum required score. Formative assessment (i.e. exercises counting towards the final mark) in these platforms usually takes the form of multiple choice tests. Some xMOOCs also include peer-review as part of the assessment.
¶ 37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Some platforms offer different kinds of certification, depending on the mechanisms in place to verify the identity of candidates or the grades.
¶ 38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 “Honor code certificates indicate that you earned a passing grade in a course, but did not complete extra steps such as verifying your identity.
¶ 39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Many new courses do not offer honor code certificates. To find out if a course offers honor code certificates, see the About page for the course. If you’re enrolled in the course, you can also find this information on your edX dashboard.
¶ 40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 If you earned an honor code certificate in a previous course, you still have access to your certificate through your dashboard.
¶ 41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 A verified certificate is a certificate that requires learners to verify their identities using a webcam and a government-issued photo ID. Verified certificates carry a fee that varies by course. Many learners use verified certificates for job and school applications. Verified certificates are available for many edX courses.” https://www.edx.org/verified-certificate
¶ 42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 While free enrolment is one of the defining characteristics of MOOCs, most xMOOC platforms have now implemented revenue generation strategies that involve paying a fee for certifications as well as a wider catalogue of paid services, namely longer degrees leading to more formal qualifications.
¶ 43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 FutureLearn:
¶ 44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 “Whilst our courses are predominantly free to learners, the platform and the courses cost a great deal for us and our partners to produce and maintain. The Open University, in addition to providing us with more than 40 years of distance learning experience, has provided the initial investment to get us up and running. Our ultimate goal is to be self sustaining as soon as we can. To achieve this we’re exploring a variety of paid-for products and services that provide additional benefits to our learners.
¶ 45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Most of our courses now offer Certificates of Achievement and Statements of Participation, allowing our learners to prove that they took part in a course for which we charge a small fee. The revenue from these products helps us to develop and maintain the platform and enables our partners to offset some of the costs of content creation.” 
¶ 46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 edX:
¶ 47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 “As a not-for-profit, edX uses your contribution to support our mission to provide quality education to everyone around the world, and to improve learning through research. While we have established a minimum fee, many learners contribute more than the minimum to help support our mission. The funds go towards class creation and improving edX. Financial assistance is available for those in need. See Financial Assistance FAQ for more details.” https://www.edx.org/verified-certificate
¶ 48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Edraak is an exception in this regard, as there is not any cost associated with getting their certificates:
¶ 49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 “Is there a certificate for the course?: Yes, we offer a certificate of completion for those who wish to obtain it, when you complete the course and pass the tests and homework i.e. when you complete the course requirements.
¶ 50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Is the certificate accredited?: The certificate is presented by the Queen Rania Foundation for Education and Development.
¶ 51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 How do I obtain the certificate of completion?: You can obtain the certificate of completion through the site in the event that you successfully complete the course requirements, by going to your dashboard on the site and then clicking on “issue certificate”.
¶ 52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 Can I get a printed copy of my certificate?: You can download the certificate of completion through the site in the event that you successfully complete the course requirements, by going to your dashboard on the site and then clicking on ‘issue certificate’. If you want to obtain a printed copy, you can download it and then print it yourself.” https://www.edraak.org/en/help/faq/
¶ 53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 Coursera, edX and Futurelearn have also expanded their offering of paid services by means of course bundles that allow learners to get qualifications and even full degrees.
– Graduate Certificate
– Graduate Diploma
– Masters Degree
¶ 55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 Up until now only provided in partnership with Deakin University (Australia)
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3.5.4. Engagement and completion in MOOCs
¶ 60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 One of the main concerns about learning in MOOCs is the high level of attrition. Namely, according to a study analysing data on 221 MOOCs “Completion rates (defined as the percentage of enrolled students who completed the course) vary from 0.7% to 52.1%, with a median value of 12.6%” (Jordan 2015). The study also reported that enrollments on MOOCs have overall declined while completion rates have improved over time since the launch of major platform providers in 2012.
¶ 61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 It is worth stressing that dropout rates have typically been much higher in e-learning and distance education than in campus-based courses. Also, while still an important indicator of engagement, it is important to understand the value of this metric in relation to MOOCs as opposed to formal education courses. The main reason for that is that learners taking a MOOC might not be interested in formal recognitions or be driven by any motivation other than just learning, which can still happen despite not engaging in assessment. On the contrary, students enrolled in formal education programmes are presumably driven more strongly by the extrinsic motivation of getting the credentials associated with completing a degree.
¶ 62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 Based on the analysis of a subset of MOOCs, the study mentioned above concluded that the first two weeks of a course are critical for student engagement and assessment submissions.
¶ 63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 Could talk about typical age of MOOC learner (mature) and how they often hold a first degree
¶ 64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 Could discuss if MOOCs have failed in their aim to offer a valid route for learners in the democratisation of higher education?
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¶ 66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 Other relevant findings of the study indicate that automated assessment has a positive impact on completion rates (as compared to peer-grading or a mix of both approaches) and that the shorter a MOOC is, the higher the chances of learners finishing. These conclusions have implications for those interested in designing a MOOC.
¶ 67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 “On the basis of the negative correlation with course length, coupled with the attrition observed in the initial weeks of courses, a case could be made for shorter, more modular courses. Greater signposting would be required between courses for those students looking to create a more substantial programme of learning. Shorter courses with better guidance about how they could be combined could also benefit those students who prefer to direct their own learning by making it easier to find the parts of a course that they value; this would also allow for these students’ MOOC achievements to be recognised.” Jordan 2015
¶ 68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 The formation of local learning communities articulated around particular MOOCs might also offer another way of improving engagement, as suggested by research on the motivations behind learners who had the initiative to arrange face-to-face meetings with peers. This kind of experiences might fill an important gap for students who believe that not all learning can take place in an online setting.
¶ 69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 “A high proportion of meetup invites reflect our ‘filling in a gap’ hypothesis, with many MOOC users expressing a desire to meet up to discuss assignments or be motivated by their peers. These data offer some support for existing theory about very high dropout rates in MOOCs: not everyone can learn in a purely digital environment. They also appear to offer a partial remedy to the problem, showing that it is possible for real meetings to be spontaneously blended into virtual learning experiences.” Bulger et al. 2015
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