The Problem of Audience in MOOCs

Instructional Design

A few weeks ago, I delivered a webinar with colleagues on the design of MOOCs as part of a series, MOOCs by Design. The basic premise of our presentation is that the sheer diversity of the audience in MOOCs creates a number of design challenges.

When designing a “traditional” online credit course, certain assumptions can be made about the learners, no matter how diverse the student body, given the homogenizing effect of the application process, the incentives and costs associated with credit, and the standards of rigor and credentialing established by the disciplines. In contrast, learners in MOOCs undergo no such homogenizing process, and enter the experience with incredibly diverse educational backgrounds, English language proficiencies, access to technologies, and motivations. The diversity of MOOC learners create, then, a number of design challenges.

We suggest several ways to navigate those challenges in the presentation, with the overall guidance that it is best to design a MOOC oriented around the institutional priorities, but that affords as many options and pathways for students as possible.

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MOOCs are like the patronising uncle who has yet to have a child of his own. They are great fun for the nieces and nephews, they are inventive, playful, and the kids always look forward to them arriving. But this uncle secretly (and after a couple of beers, not so secretly) thinks he could do a better job at raising the kids than the parents. He may also think they prefer him to their actual mum and dad.

Love the “Uncle MOOC” metaphor.

– from The Ed Techie

MOOCs Are Like …

Higher Education

MOOCs today are our equivalents of early TV, when TV personalities looked and sounded like radio announcers (or often were radio announcers). People are thinking the same way about MOOCs, as replacements of traditional lectures or tutorials, but in online rather than physical settings. In the meantime, a whole slew of forces is driving a much larger transformation, breaking learning (and education overall) out of traditional institutional environments and embedding it in everyday settings and interactions, distributed across a wide set of platforms and tools.

MOOCs Are Like TV

Technology

Even if its [Udacity’s] courses may seem cheaper or more accessible, offering a more viable entree into post-secondary education, they do so by (a) privatizing such an activity among an organization purpose-built to convert the needs of the many into the benefit of the very few and (b) by reframing the social challenges inherent in underserved educational populations as simple problems of content delivery.

“Inequality in American Education Will Not Be Solved Online” by Ian Bogost

A good response to the TechCrunch article on how MOOCs will end college as we know it.

Misconceptions of MOOCs

Higher Education

In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as as songs came unbundled from CDs.

Clay Shirky, “Napter, Udacity, and the Academy”

Unbundling Education

Ideas