In thinking about what a MOOC is, and as I continue to think about how it can be applied to language learning, there is a major distinction between two types of MOOCs: Courses and Conferences. The upcoming Change 11 MOOC seems to be of the latter kind.
Massive Open Online Conference
A description of the last conference I went to:
There were a lot of experts from around the world, sharing their current research and the work that they’ve been doing, talking to us from their perspective about what they thought was changing and important in the field. I always read a lot of journals and articles for my work and study, but it was nice to be able to meet some of these experts and talk to them directly. They can talk back. There were a lot of presentations at the conference, but I didn’t feel that I had to see all of them; I was able to pick and choose based on which ones matched my areas of interest and what I wanted to get out of the conference, and even based on my own schedule restrictions. It was nice, too, to connect with all of the people participating in the conference, most of whom were well educated and experienced in the field.
Most of the paragraph above is taken directly from the Change MOOC introduction video, describing the flavor of this MOOC.
This innovative style of conference has some unique key features, however. The reduction in physical distance opens up access for people who might not be able to afford the time or money to attend such an in-person conference. In a recent post, George Siemens wonders who MOOCs are for. As he suggests, it’s difficult to target any one group narrowly for a MOOC, but this type of access can give many more people involved in the field the ability to keep their knowledge not only current, but cutting edge and innovative. Language and Technology access are still barricades for many, but access is certainly opened wider in MOOC form.
The length of the conference isn’t a single day or a weekend long, it stretches over months. The benefit of this is that people can digest information longer, blending conference content into their daily routines and own occupations. One untapped aspect of the MOOC’s control over Time is the ability to plan more than one topic during the same week. This has the potential to give participants more options in choosing topics that relate to themselves and their own work. Careful planning could result is suggested courses of action for participants depending on if they are more interested in Mobile Technology, Distance Learning Theory, or Scholarship Issues, for examples. I really like this idea for a Language MOOC, it would work very well.
As often stated, the outputs of a MOOC are an important aspect of the conference. In-person conferences probably provide more starting points and contact making that lead to productive processes, where as MOOCs, because they reduce distance and stretch time, afford such production from within, either partially or fully. The accessibility of these outputs is also built into the structure very nicely.
Massive Open Online Course
Beginners in any field often strike us…as lost or confused, and it also why they are often more difficult opponents in debate than trained experts, since experience provides us with a rapid but predictable organizing mechanism for what we learn.
Of course, this can be either a good or bad thing, it all comes back to how the structure relates to the topic for a course or conference. This doesn’t eliminate the distinction, however. In the upcoming Change 11 MOOC, it would be a bit strange to see a weekly topic titled The Basics of Behaviorism or What are ‘Blogs? Similarly, It would be strange to see an English Language Learning MOOC full of participants who grew up as English speakers and only know the one language. As far as I know, most of the MOOCs have been of the Conference style. I’m sure there have been MOOCourses done, as I’ve seen this point raised somewhere before. A Language Learning MOOC would have to be a MOOCourse.
One of the main qualities of the Course style would be the educator/facilitator roles. It would require more direction by facilitators and an acceptance that there is different values on certain knowledge that those experienced in the field have compared with those having little experience. It is absolutely not a one-way street, but maybe one of those highways that have Red Xs and Green Os above the lanes, so that traffic flow of the entire highway can shift balance with change in circumstance.
To me this seems like maybe the major difference, as there are certainly a lot of very similar things about the two MOOCs, allowing a useful share of the name. When you think about it, conferences and courses are comparable in many ways. How important is this idea of control in a MOOC? With massive amounts of people it might not even be a matter of importance, but practicality that limits the amount of guidance in a MOOC. At what point would a more structured, hands-on LMOOC not be able to be a MOOC anymore? A lot of the benefits of distributed knowledge and distributed output would be the same. To what extent is my current course at AU not a MOOC? I still need to figure a way through this idea of guidance and leadership for language learning MOOC style.