The first MOOC–the original concept, that is–originated in an authentic educational experiment in Canada in 2008. That model has been connecting educators, helping them generate a whole host of new ideas around the world.
On the contrary, the things that are known as “MOOCs” by the general public today were created, for the most part, out of a combination of 1) fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of connectivist learning and 2) commercial interest of venture capitalists who find an unlimited supply “star professors” with inflated egos. Replicated in all sorts of, and increasingly, absurd ways, some of these pretend MOOCs continue to alternately fascinate and baffle the heck out of journalists and even scholars of higher education.
But educators who work hard and explore new technologies and adapt them to their contexts and needs in the real world of of teaching and learning have been relatively clear from the outset that mainstream MOOCs can only achieve very limited goals that online pedagogies can achieve when they’re done with an understanding of openness, scale, virtuality, and cross-contextual learning/teaching.
Luckily, misguided and dishonest world-changing projects usually implode–so, all you have to do is to wait and watch! One of the absurd models, custom designed by the most famous online education outlets, recently reached a refugee camp in the Kenya-Somalia border. And crashed. Pathetically. The story about it, published this week by the Chronicle of Higher Education is absolutely worth reading.
Serious educators intuitively knew what was going to happen when all the imitators and pretenders started chattering too loud and crazy about “educating the world”–with evidently little clue about vastly different contexts and realities beyond their little, cozy world made largely of an unconsciously colonial mentality about the world. They started calling their bluff when the poor copycats coopted the powerful emerging concepts of connectivism as the basis of new explorations in learning/teaching by using essentially offering the world YouTube videos (canned and delivered slightly differently) and packaged with discussion boards. We started laughing at the stupidity of not understanding that even the concepts of connectivism haven’t accounted for contextual differences (of technology, of culture, of needs and desires and values vis-a-vis the world-educating materials and methods developed in one or two particular regions in the world).
It isn’t too hard for the regular teachers and educational scholars anywhere in the world to realize that learners in Nigeria and Nepal and New Zealand will learn from one another when “they” are connected, when they have the reason/incentive, when what they learn has meaning and value and relevance to their local lives and societies. It is also easy to see how learners from vastly different backgrounds can learn something even when the MOOC is designed and taught by professors in any place in the world–just that there are too many challenges and complexities and variables that undermine the effectiveness and meaningfulness and relevance and significance of that learning. So, for instance when a “star” professor from Nebraska, US tries to “educate the world” with his canned lectures plus discussion boards, that mission only works for the motivated, already proficient, already connected, already ahead few in Nepal and Nigeria and New Zealand. That teaching/learning can be something new but it can’t be a replacement for learning from real educators on the ground–forget about being an improvement.
In fact, the above are issues that serious educators know from the history of distance education in at least the last hundred years. People tried radio-based courses, TV-based degrees, professional training through VHS tapes, university education through floppy disks, and whatever it is with CDs. . . .
Flash drives are lighter and can carry more data. And, of course, the internet also adds speed and allows interaction. Indeed, for the thoughtful educator and highly motivated minority of students, it also adds all the potentials that the original connectivists had been experimenting.
But in terms of understanding and appreciating the challenging of crossing contexts, if the refugee camp MOOC is what the poor imitators have, then that’s a pathetic level of understanding about what education and learning and teaching and community and knowledge-sharing mean across contexts. Sorry, that’s harsh but after a long time of listening to the world-changing megalomanic chatter from the advocates of poorly imitated MOOCs, I can’t just help it.
Yes, MOOCs (of any kind) can achieve some goals of learning/teaching in almost any situation, and they all deserve to be explored and improved as emerging modes of education.
However, when those who push any particular model (however fancy-looking at first) start by disregarding contexts, realities, limitations, needs, desires, and incentives of the learners–when they go as far as refusing to identify the backgrounds and proficiencies and objectives and motivation of specific groups of learners–this is what happens. In the refugee camp MOOC, an education expert on the ground tried and failed to effectively mediate a MOOC for two specially privileged members of the community. Forget about general members of that community being able to follow and complete a course designed to serve all humanity, ranging from refugees in all contexts to royals around the world.
Good thing is: people with the worst educational ideas ride the wrong train. All you need to do is to wait until those who itch too much to change the world get lost outside refugee camp in Kenya, mountains of Nepal, or even the countryside in Kansas. It’s just a matter of time.
I can’t stop laughing about yet another funny-looking MOOC train that just went upside down in Kenya.