Topic 2 – disheveled reflections on MOOCs

Another week of the ONL course has led us to collaboratively investigate the second topic. We followed the same organization pattern as before so we escaped much of the confusion this time. So far the most effective approach has been to synchronize our efforts towards a FISh document and the final presentation, thus limiting video as well as other forms of lively online interaction to minimum. This does not help my sceptical perception of PBL as a form of online learning but, most importantly, we get the job done, have some fun and take some satisfaction from the end product, maybe partly also from the process.

This time we collectively agreed to focus on MOOCs. I must admit that before joining the course I considered MOOCs, from my digitally illiterate perspective, as the bread and butter of online learning and in some way the term worked like a magnet attracting me to the course. In my field the concept has received a lot of attention since an open course in Artificial Intelligence was introduced at Stanford University. This set a trend that many institutions followed by developing a wide range of courses in Computer Science with varying success largely depending on the reputation, even more than the actual quality. Nevertheless, MOOCs are by far the most common online learning topic discussed among colleagues in my department. According to some, MOOCs can pose a threat or competition to formal education even though it is free of charge in Sweden.  In this context, a perspective of MOOCs as complement to traditional teaching (Weller, 2014) particularly appeals to me. A blended course design where online content facilitates teaching/learning activities in a class sounds promising, especially for large courses. One specific idea would be to designate some of the lectures as open online resources for students to follow at their convenience. Then, the time physically spent with students could be more effectively turned into a learning experience. After all, one-way communication conveyed from the perspective of the whiteboard is increasingly reported as an inefficient use of time (Gupta, 2007), similar way online lectures can be but at least not at the high cost of the precious interactive time with students.

Another issue concerning MOOCs as a phenomenon in online education is their quality. Since there seems to be an overall problem with student retention (Weller & Anderson, 2013; Weller, 2014), and even with the way it is quantified (Weller, 2014), the course quality does not necessarily have to be reflected in the number or proportion of active participants. It is rather a sense of support, facilitation, inspiration or further learning incentives the course provides or not that is related to the measure of success. How to gauge that effect given a wide range of students’ attitudes is another question. Any ideas?

Irrespective of how the quality is defined or subsequently measured, implications of inferior quality can be rather damaging (Weller & Anderson, 2013; Weller, 2014). I must admit not really reflecting deeply on that before – losing reputation can reverberate more globally due to the nature of MOOC distribution. This can certainly be an inhibitory factor in making a decision about taking a leap in the dark.

All in all, MOOCs appear as a disruptive technology – they seem to underlie one of the major breakthroughs in open access and online learning. At the same time, despite the huge educational potential they offer, not necessarily as a standalone but rather as a supportive teaching/learning form, MOOCs may imply a lot of risks too. It is not enough to display a generous attitude to openness and share any teaching content. With MOOCs one of the major responsibilities is to secure the top quality since otherwise a serious blow can be dealt to the reputation of an individual or her/his institution. Besides the economic sustainability issues, which should rather be addressed at an institutional level, I perceive the risk of failing with MOOCs to be a critical factor that everyone hast to consider individually.



Gupta, B.L. (2007) Management of competency based learning. New Dehli, India: Concept Publishing Company.

Weller, M., & Anderson, T. (2013) Digital resilience in higher education. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 16(1), 53.

Weller, M. (2014) Battle for Open: How openness won and why it doesn’t feel like victory. London: Ubiquity Press.