A MOOC course structure seems to usually be centered on topics such as online learning, teaching practices (M-learning), learning about connectivisim, or other such related fields as education and e-learning. Adapting the MOOC structure for some topic not related to the field of education itself would pose some challenges considering the participants would likely not be comprised mainly of educators or even people with an affinity for Distance Education technology and innovation. As others have pointed out, the effectiveness of a MOOC structure is partially dependent on the subject matter; not all subjects lend themselves to this style of information presentation. However, some especially do. Language Learning might be ideal for this type of course design.
Since being introduced to the MOOC earlier this year, I have often thought about how a Language MOOC might play out. This post is an explanation of why I think Language Learning suits the MOOC structure, and this post is potentially a first step in developing such a LMOOC. First, I should clarify quickly that my approach to connectivism and using a MOOC would be different from how they are currently viewed and practiced. My view is that connectivism is structure. It is not a learning theory, but rather an attempt to define the limits and transcribe the potentials of educational learning. Under this structure, learning theories can emerge, effectively be employed and aid intentional learning. I won’t dwell on this point too much here, but I do think it will be important for describing what I see as the benefits of LMOOC, and for future posts on the subject. The main point here being that personally, I would run a MOOC with quite a bit more activity and guidance available for students.
My current context is English Language learning for Japanese students. I will mainly take this angle on the subject, but I anticipate that such a LMOOC could service language learners from anywhere who target the same language. One important aspect of such a context is that often non-Western, and thus non-English speaking cultures do not have as much or the same experience with Distance Learning and Autonomous Learning. A MOOC structure seems to assume a certain level of familiarity with both, so this is one reason why more activity and guidance are a must in an LMOOC.
Two videos that I reference at times are this one that explains briefly and simply what a MOOC is, and this talk by George Siemens, which is full of further explanation about MOOCs, connectivism and education in general (…it also has some other nice points about “collapsing to connections” I hope to talk about in another post). From what I see in these videos, my (limited) experience in MOOCs and from what I have read, Language Learning is a great fit for the MOOC structure.
Information is Everywhere
In language study, language is often both means and content. Language as Content really is everywhere online, and the connections that students make to and with that content can serve as additional, assessable content itself. As students communicate through emails, IM chats, blog posts and commenting, it leaves a conversational footprint that can be used by others in the course as opportunities for learning. Educators and moderators can additionally use these conversational footprints to point out ways that learners can start to assess their own skill levels and connections. For other language learners these footprints can be especially useful as opportunities for students to take on the role of educator themselves, promoting the idea of learning transparency (see the Siemens video starting from11:00 mark). Learning in a MOOC is meant to flow in all directions and with language as both means and content, it has the potential to fill every crack and corner.
Using a language is a high feedback based skill. Language learners benefit from practicing their target language with continually less frequent delays in feedback, until hopefully achieving a type of instant feedback level of use. In a MOOC structure, since language as content can potentially flow in from all directions and is even generated by nearly all the connections made and maintained, students have the luxury of setting the language feedback dial at any frequency that suits their level at any given time, target skill or even mood that day. A LMOOC can focus on teaching students ways to best take hold of this dial. Educating students on the types of connections that they make and what the nature of each connection affords should be an important part of the connectivist approach. Educating in this way empowers students.
Work in Their Own Space
Here own can refer to the physical flexibility of learning in a MOOC. Students can proceed through the course from at home, on the train, at school, at Mos Burger, etc. They can also engage in (internally or externally) structured and connected study more frequently (daily) for shorter duration, rather than in the standard one-hour lesson per week at their local language school. Ideally, own includes a student’s own schedule, being able to drop in and out of the course depending on when their own life is busy or not.
Own can also refer to the learner autonomy aspect of study, including learner’s own skill level and their own reasons for studying. Because of both the Open nature of the MOOC structure, and the language as means and content factor, learners have the ability to bring topics into the course that suit their own interest and skill level. Searching out information, or commenting via their own choice of connective technology about fashion, food, travel, AKB48, Korean Dramas, or even language itself, for examples, is motivating for the student. These topics inherently reach into the prior learning of individuals, naturally generating connections with others inside the course and outside of it. It creates language learning and language practice based on background knowledge of topics, increasing the chances of understood meaning, increasing the number of conversational footprints, increasing the rate of language skill. Not to mention, the student specific topics, along with the distance, can help to decrease anxiety levels in students.
Perhaps the essence of a MOOC is to generate connections that will eventually transcend the instructional and temporal boundaries that it sets…or tries to avoid setting. This fits in with language learning, at least as I experience it, because a lot of learners don’t learn English for accreditation, but as a hobby, as a lifelong learning endeavor. This is the great benefit of a MOOC for language learning; people use language not as an ends in itself, but as a means to connect with more and more knowledge. Used in an educational, intentional way, the MOOC can be an amazing scaffolding device: the dotted lines of encapsulation submerge and reemerge the course in and out of the authentic environment, here, of language use. Designed and supported adequately, the student would ultimately control the lever that fades and sharpens that boundary in correlation with their own learning. Students need help in learning how to do this, otherwise there is a danger of language flooding and learning ataxia.
Hopefully, I will be able to put up another post soon outlining my vision of how a LMOOC would run. I think that it would make a nice narrative and would be worthwhile thinking through via the written process. I do know that a LMOOC is not something that I could produce on my own, for 2 or 3 reasons. 1) I don’t have the technical know-how yet for making the process efficient. 2) I don’t think I have the means to bring in a critical mass to make it work. 3) Depending on how it runs, a single person is not enough manpower to moderate such a course. There are solutions to all of these, so I will keep thinking about them.