does the team cMOOC? from june, 2011

I discovered this un-posted set of notes while clearing out an old set of nvALT files. It was an innocent time, that summer of ’11, just before xMOOCs drove their railroad through our pastoral cMOOC glen. The MOOCs refereed to in the post are all cMOOCs: MOOCs that enact a constructivist pedagogy. I’ve changed my references to MOOCs to cMOOCs to keep things up  to date. But the posters are all referring to cMOOCs.

Does the team cMOOC?

When I need to learn something on my own, I put on my darkest shades and sit lotus-fashion until l fall over out of hunger. I don’t confuse my mind with anything beyond my navel.

I have a couple of projects to get back to and move along but for the last day or so, I’ve been having a blast looking at the cMOOC debate on preparedness, connectivism, and epistemology.

Here’s the Wiley post that Siemens is responding to.

I am cited as being the dissenting voice in the current, broad-based love affair with MOOCs. … So, for some reason I’m not fully certain of, I feel the need to set the record straight.

’I was mis-represented!” and it’s clear he was the dismissive voice. So Wiley reviews his position on the application of MOOCs.

Now turn to (the Siemens blog post](

Succinct: “the fact that people don’t have the skills to participate in distributed networks for learning and sensemaking is exactly why we need MOOCs.”


The problem David sees is the solution I envision. This has been a sore spot for participants in each of our CCK courses. When the course begins, we inform learners that the process of clarifying confusion and disorientation – sensemaking and wayfinding in complex settings – is the learning. Grappling with pieces that don’t connect and finding a way to connect them is what the course is all about. In the process, learners may move toward a target where knowledge is defined and educators know what learners need to know or they may move more informally in directions that interest them without a goal of accreditation. Many (no idea if it’s most or not) learners that continue in the MOOC seem to settle into the flow of the course and begin to connect pieces. They don’t do this in isolation, however. We have high levels of support in terms of weekly live sessions, Twitter/blogs/The Daily, peer support, and in the learning analytics course we did in January, Dave Cormier started offering a “learner concierge” forum where irritated and confused learners could go with the expectation of getting help.

And let’s get this straight:

With my involvement with MOOCs, I’m not stating “I have found the answer, follow me!”. Instead, I’m stating “I’m experimenting, join in”.”


The concepts we’re exploring with MOOCs – distributed teaching, sub-networks, peer teaching, learner content creation, social networks, new methods of aggregating information, local institution accreditation – are important in reframing the higher education system of the future. MOOCs may or may not have a future. But the ideas we’re playing with and trying to understand will be foundational in any education system in a technology-infused world.”

And for massiveness:

Sub-networks and learner-defined spaces of interaction are a function of the number of participants. If we only had 25 participants, activities and sub-networks wouldn’t make much sense. We need a level of “learner density” in order for the innovation to develop that we’ve witnessed in previous courses.”

And some notes from the comments.


simply lecturing in a webinar is not really teaching – even though this can be a good point of contact for learners.

[Looking back, that foreshadowd the development of xMOOCs, webinars on sticks.]

The comments move into the status of connectivisim: What is it? A phenomenon? theory? movement?

So is there any productive place for cMOOCs?


Yes, absolutely. Technologically savvy, academically well-prepared people will likely benefit greatly from participating in MOOCs. And I see no problem with the rich getting richer when the world is not zero sum, and those gains don’t come at the expense of others. However, should we start to focus on MOOCs as an answer to large-scale, broader problems in education, we will do so at the expense of the less well prepared – exactly the people many of us in open education are interested in helping.”

This position (“the rich get richer” are fighting words – all gains come at the expense of others) kicks off the comments.

From Keith Hamon, who seems to be reading Bartholomae and Berlin at the moment,

I challenge him to give me an example of a class that does not favor the sufficiently prepared learner. One of the commonplace complaints of teachers at any level from kindergarten to graduate school is that their students were not adequately prepared by some earlier teachers for the current coursework. Well, of course MOOCs favor sufficiently prepared learners. All classes favor sufficiently prepared learners.

But the issue I would take is more like that of Siemens: It ain’t about getting rich, but richer. That is, even the academically remedial may well be able to take something away from a cMOOC – and contribute to it. If nothing else, becoming a little less remedial. (Yeesh, this ghettoizing language is annoying.)

And and and it seems that the thing that makes a cMOOC untenable for the dummies is “lack of structure.” Not sure what he’s referring to their. Might use a face to face tutor to create a structure for a remedial learner: bring in a curator.

Students in spring’s Weblogs and Wikis reported the cMOOC moves I introduced in the course were difficult – but that’s because they were new (we’re all remedial) but if students started this way of learning earlier in their academic careers, it could be really powerful.

At issue: What does it mean to be prepared – and that’s at issue for a number of reasons, including that of colonialization addressed by Wiley

By “well prepared,” I mean someone who has had the necessary prerequisite learning experiences and who has succeeded in those experiences. A person who is well prepared is ready for the current learning experience in terms of prerequisite knowledge and skills.

Wiley falls back on the general lack of academic preparedness (Where? US? numbers please, or a link) as witnessed by the “Hence the huge rise in remedial courses (e.g., in reading and mathematics) in high schools, community and technical colleges, and universities. ” OK: confusing academic preparedness with reading and math – and still not providing numbers or seeing that the rise has been there for effing ever.

A little backhander from Wiley as he tries to move the debate back to the academic turn:

I’m sure I’ll use the connectivism technical jargon incorrectly, but perhaps we might say that a prepared person is someone whose personal knowledge network shares a large number of nodes with the knowledge network made available through the MOOC.

Connectivism – the uppitly little sprite! – uses jargon. True Academic Study (Spoiler: Vygotsky is going to come up) has technical terms, like this: “operationally defining the ZPD is the degree of node overlap between a person’s knowledge network and the knowledge network they’re trying to assimilate with the help of the MOOC.”

A point to concede is Wiley’s response to Siemens’s claim that “When the course begins, we inform learners that the process of clarifying confusion and disorientation – sensemaking and wayfinding in complex settings – is the learning.”

Learning to work your way out of confusion and disorientation can be a technology problem, as it was for LMSs with poor user interfaces. And better LMSs, combined with an increased amount of exposure to online systems, can significantly decrease that problem. However, when the problem is a lack of sufficient relevant prior knowledge, and this lack is what impedes a person from being able to orient themselves and way-find or sense-make, you don’t fix that problem with better user interfaces.

But that isn’t what Siemens is referring to – not as I read it. Learning to organize stuff on a cMOOC can be defined as a technical issue – and perhaps it is at time – but it’s also a cognitive / ontological / rhetorical / semiotic issue – and that’s where the learning takes place. Want to investigate that? Move a day’s collection of stuff to a more remedial-friendly mode (paper, or for the really lame, speech!) and have people work in that mode. See what happens.

Again, points taken when Wiley brings ZPDs into play with

People who aren’t sufficiently prepared (and I continue to believe that’s most people on the planet for most subjects) are clearly outside the realm of what they can learn themselves…

[But most of the world is not autodidactic, as drop rates in xMOOCs demonstrates. xMOOCs don’t provide scaffolding.]

Vygotsky himself clearly states that this help can come from more capable peers. So, doesn’t that mean that MOOCs can succeed in supporting learning, at least theoretically?

Yes, MOOC-like networks can support learning when a few conditions are met. (1) There must be a sufficient percentage of learners who already understand the domain sufficiently well to answer other learners’ questions, and (2) there must be a sufficient percentage of this sub-group of learners who have the time and the willingness to answer questions in the MOOC. “Sufficient” in these conditions is a relative statement comparing the number of questions that will need to be answered with the number of qualified willing volunteers.

And so the cMOOC is a case of COIK

The problem? MOOC-like courses only support student learning if most of the people in the course already know the material. This is another, perhaps clearer, way of stating my original objection that George responded to in his post.

The assumption is that everybody is underprepared – so, a simulation is called for. Might be worth a look (Wiley why not lay it out in language. Make me understand whether running a sim is worth it). but Wiley’s assumptions are wrong from the start.

Knowledge in a cMOOC (and perhaps all knowledge worth having) is bootstrapped by learners – which might be the same in all courses. [Can’t say that about xMOOCs, where knowledge is always already a commodity.]

What’s coming clear are the pedagogical / ideological isoglosses: those lines of contention as to the value of a MOOC, and those assumptions behind the design and engagement in a cMOOC.

Comments? Keith Harmon via Dave Courmier’s blog

hint of essentialist epistemology that I sense in his argument. For me, Wiley is working out of the assumption that knowledge is a collection of nuggets that a teacher can transfer from herself to her students. I find this reductionism untenable. To my mind, knowledge is always a function of dynamic, complex networks, forged through the interactions of individuals with their discourse communities and their worlds. Knowledge is a fluid pattern that emerges through the dance we have with others and with the universe. It is not a chunk of information that a teacher writes on the blackboard for the students to write in their notebooks.

So,the last word to Courmier, who articulates what I’ve been seeing in MOOCs I’ve been in, and points to actually testing the ideas this fall.

I don’t think that the MOOC favours “sufficiently prepared” learners. It actually really irritates and confuses lots and lots of people who are considered VERY prepared learners. And, well, i guess I’ll find out how that works out when we do our “MOOC on Basic Skills for university” in the fall. It’s specifically intended for the people I think David is talking about. Success in a university is partially about knowing what some things mean (see the videos we’re making). They need to know what a syllabus is, what a professor is, what social contract they are getting into. But the path of their success is something that will be very individualized. I can’t tell 30 people, at one time, what is going to make them the most successful. There are broad generalizations that are helpful… going to class is better than not going to class… but they really need to find their own strategy.

As a side note: Comp-Rhet people have been addressing the preparedness-remedial crap … landgrab colonialization BW debate for over 40 years. Start with Mina Shaugnessesy, then Coles, Mike Rose, Bartholomae, and Berlin. We’re also taking up the issue in literacy issues – because from one angle learning on a cMOOC is learning the literacy of the mass and the groups you’re learning in – and that learning has to be bootstrapped: you can’t learn the local literacy before you jump in the pool. drink from the fire hose.

Hopefully not going too pastoral on you, I’d place moving into a cMOOC on par with entering university for the first time: new circle, new sense of what’s valued and how, new habits of mind and practice, new epistemic roots.

And if you have questions, talk to Keith.