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Twenty Thoughts on the Types, Targets, and Intents of MOOCs
Saturday, June 16, 2012
Fourth Post in Four Days (one more to go):
For the past three days, I have posted information here in TravelinEdMan about the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that I did for Blackboard with their CourseSites people. Let's recap:

Day One (June 13): Posted interview with Jarl Jonas, Director of CourseSites from Blackboard about the MOOC.
Day Two (June 14): Posted links to a series of MOOC-related interviews with Amrit Ahluwalia from The EvoLLLution.
Day Three (June 15): Posted links to all the archived resources from the 5 weekly sync events in the MOOC.
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Today's and Tomorrow's Posts:
Day Four (June 16): Posted 20 ideas (with help from Jay Cross) on the different types and potential purposes of MOOCs.
Day Five (June 17): Posted unabridged transcript of a Chronicle of Higher Ed interview on the MOOC.
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Ok, this is the Day Four post. And tomorrow with be the final post. That fifth post will include my full interview responses to Jeffrey Young from Chronicle of Higher Education that he asked me about the MOOC. You may have read the shortened version of that interview as well as his interviews with 3 other professors who have done a MOOC lately (Four Professors Discuss Teaching Free Online Courses for Thousands of Students).

Anyway, on to Day Four. This story begins when I was on a chartered plane with some IU information technology people back on Monday June 4th. One of them, Brad Wheeler, the IU CIO and Vice President for Information Technology (VPIT), asked me about the MOOC that I had helped run and the types of MOOCs that might emerge in the coming years as financially viable and/or educationally worthwhile. Brad was aware there that are many questions being raised about the business plans of companies and other entities offering or promoting MOOCs today like edX, MITx, Coursera, Udemy, Udacity, etc. On the way home, we discussed several recent trends and announcements. That discussion got me thinking.

Starting the List...
When I got home from that short half-day trip, I jotted down some ideas in response to his question. I came up with 12 types of MOOCs that are possible or that might be employed in the coming years. When done, I sent them off to my friend Jay Cross over in Berkeley for review and went off running. During that run, I came up with four more MOOC-related ideas, all of which started with an "R" word. And so my list stood at 16 types, targets, or intents of MOOCs. As per usual, fantabulous Jay wrote me back a few hours later. He had found my list and questions to him "interesting" and suggested four additional ideas which brought my list up to 20. But Jay had an important caveat--he suggested that my list might be difficult to differentiate from large-crowd online experiences. As a result, it might not fit with initial MOOC criteria or intentions. Perhaps he was right. So I kept thinking.

This listing activity reminds me of an article I wrote back in July 2009 for eLearn Magazine on 20 reasons why people share online content. My friend, Dr. Lisa Neal Gualtieri, had requested it after she heard that my "World Is Open" book was about to come out. That article quickly evolved into 30 reasons (10 reasons institutions shared; 10 reasons instructors shared; and 10 reasons why students would want to use that free and open content). The article was titled: "The World is Open for a Reason: Make that 30 Reasons!" (PDF of document). Many of the 30 ideas in that article were credited to or inspired by David Wiley now at BYU. And many other items in that list of 30 were mentioned in my book, The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

So perhaps the following list of 20 ideas may become 30 as well in a week or two. Perhaps in just a day or two. Or perhaps I am done. Keep in mind that this is simply a little brainstormed list. There is nothing really scientific in it at this point. There is a listing in Wikipedia which you might find to be much better. Also remember Jay Cross' caution that this list may overlap significantly with ideas related to large-crowd online experiences that have nothing to do with education or with the purpose and function of MOOCs (at least, as originally constructed). If it does overlap, I am sure that there will be extensive criticism of my 20 item list. Please be aware that some of the ones mentioned below lean more toward the higher education world and other ones lean heavily toward the corporate sector. Some simply address adult and informal learner needs in general.

Apologies if the list below does not jive with the existing literature on MOOCs, steps on anyone's toes, or is offensive to anyone from any of these camps; especially those who offered some of the initial MOOCs and laid out the principles or criteria related to them. Such individuals have thought much longer and harder about this topic than I have. They are the brilliant, creative, and risk taking people in this space, not me. I am just responding to the question posed by my university CIO and VPIT and playing with ideas here as that is what one does in a blog. Thoughts? Here are 20 of mine (with significant input, as noted, from Jay Cross on four of them).

Twenty Types, Targets, and Intents of MOOCs:

1.  Alternative Admissions Systems or Hiring System MOOC: A MOOC (or series of MOOCs) is offered and high scoring or impressive MOOC participants get admissions privileges, job interviews, or points if they later apply for a particular degree program, certificate, internship, or job.

2.  Just-in-Time Skills and Competencies MOOC: Like Coursera and Udacity, the course is given to the online masses and paid by a subscription or a membership fee or by advertisements. As a former CPA and corporate controller, I see this as a fairly sound business plan for now; however, more specific details are needed. It is clear that tens of thousands of people are more than willing to sign up for a massive course as a means to sharpen their skills. The revenues could be quite astronomical. Let's hope the learning is too.

3. Theory- or Trend-Driven MOOC: Course discussion or activities focus on an emerging theory, trend(s), hot topic(s), or idea(s) and the MOOC is the ideal platform to showcase such a theory, idea, or trend. Take, for example, the current Change MOOC or connectivist-related ideas and courses from George Siemens and Stephen Downes.

4. Professional Development (PD) (practical) MOOC: People come and select the content that they wish to explore as a means to foster personal retooling, extension, and reflection. In a PD MOOC, there is limited (or no) testing or assessment of some minor little skills; instead, there is extensive sharing of what one has done in the past, what one is presently engaging in, and what one hopes to do next given this course experience. Examples here include the Blackboard/CourseSites MOOC that I just facilitated on "Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success" or the MOOC that Ray Schroeder from the University of Illinois at Springfield orchestrated last summer that was called "Online Learning Today...and Tomorrow."

5. Loss Leader (dip toe in water) MOOC: Give away one course in every department or program as a means to attract new students to that major, program, or department. This type of MOOC may become the most pervasive type during the coming 2-3 years and then it could die a quick death. For those in the corporate world, see #13 below which stands to last much longer, but is similar to this idea.

6. Bait and Switch MOOC: Create a fantastic name for the MOOC or description of it and perhaps have celebrities involved in teaching it, but use it as a means to sell a product or to turn the audience on to something else. See also #9 below.

7. Experimental MOOC: Here, the instructor, program, or organization might use a MOOC to test out new concepts, findings, or ideas. In effect, the MOOC is a test-bed for one’s research and ideas. These could be pedagogical test-beds (i.e., testing out different learning technologies and activities) or highly scientific ones or both.

8.  Degree or Program Qualifier or System Bottleneck MOOC: If there are early or introductory college courses that students tend to drop or fail, perhaps let high school students take the course prior to college in a MOOC-like format with other high school students from around the country or the planet. New connections could be formed among students heading to college. If there is a common bottleneck or course filter that weeds out too many students, a MOOC might be offered during the summer to let current students complete it in a self-paced fashion.

9. Personality MOOC: MOOC experience is offered with the main goal of meeting some celebrity or expert. Though masked in a specific topic like personal passion or leadership, any content actually learned is an add-on bonus.

10. Name Branding MOOC: MOOC is offered to help push out one’s brand name. This idea overlaps with #5 of the loss leader MOOC, #6 (if celebrities are used), and #9, and perhaps every other idea listed here. This one may smell familiar to many people.

11. Goodwill MOOC: MOOC is offered as part of a mission to help educate the people of this planet. In effect, instead of "giving the world a Coke," educational opportunities are offered. Many non-profit entities and foundations have significant Web presence today and offer myriad online resources (e.g., Seeds of Empowerment, iEARN, Impossible2Possible, etc.). A Goodwill MOOC might extend that. In a way, this is what many people initially envisioned when the OpenCourseWare (OCW) movement arrived over a decade ago with announcements from MIT, Yale, and others.

12.  Interdisciplinary MOOC: MOOC has a series of panelists or guest experts from around the world (or from different departments at the same university or company) presenting content from disparate yet somehow related disciplines. Creativity and innovation will be targeted in such a MOOC. Participants enrolled in them might envision new degree programs or college majors, start-up businesses or new ventures, life goals and opportunities, personal quests, etc.

As indicated earlier, Jay Cross added the next four insightful MOOC ideas.

13. Recruiting MOOC: Covers a skill in demand, say, advanced Python programming. Companies in need, pay for names/contact information of high performers. Set up specifically for recruiting, not recruiting as by-product. This is similar to idea #1 mentioned above.

14. Marketing MOOC: Jay noted that he had just talked with a company that helps middle managers improve their practice by providing content which becomes the catalyst for discussions among small groups of managers. To buy the idea, people in the company have to believe in self-directed learning. A MOOC on management development and/or informal learning would attract potential customers. I must add to Jay's point by saying that there will likely be myriad other types of marketing MOOCs that unfold in the coming years; this is just one example.

15. Conference MOOC: Jay also suggested that as an adjunct to a professional conference, one might document the back channel, share the content, facilitate discussion, and so forth. A MOOC could help stretch out the conference from a short-term event to a lasting process.

16. Learning Room MOOC: A friend of Jay's makes and markets virtual conversation software; sort of an easy-to-use, Second Life type of tool for business types. One thing that his customers love is having a persistent space online with posters on the wall, presentations at the ready, and the opportunity to just drop by. A MOOC could fill the same role. Different topics could be cycled through. Events here could include discussions of TED talks, debates of current events, or courses on social media marketing.

Thanks Jay! Brilliant stuff as always. Life is good when you have a friend like Jay. As I indicated, after sending Jay an email with my original list of 12, I went jogging and four more ideas popped into my head. So I added them to my list of types, targets, and intents of MOOCs and now I am at 20 such thoughts. Here they are...notice that they all start with the letter "R" and yet I fail to use the big R word--Relevancy. Humm...

17. Religious Revival MOOC: Some MOOCs will undoubtedly meet with extreme success. When they do, learning communities will form, and, with that, new friendships, social networks, and personal as well as professonal relationships. There will be extensive amounts of socially shared history and stories of personal as well as group success resulting from such experiences. And like eating yummy Godiva dark chocolates, people will crave more such experiences. They will look forward to the next time it is offered or something akin to it is announced. It will be a revival of sorts...a MOOC sought after with religious fervor. Remember the online course that Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle offered to some 2 million people a few years ago with spiritual and religious undertones? Now think 5 or 10 times that and even that might be too conservative an estimate for the highly successful MOOCs.

18. Rotating MOOC: Some MOOCs might rotate topics between a set of introductory topics within a program, department, or discipline. Alternatively, the rotation might be between institutions or oganizations that offer them. For instance, one year, the core expertise might be at the University of Iowa and then next year it might come from the University of Central Florida, and so on, depending on where the strong programs are housed. Or it might rotate between experts in North America, South America, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia-New Zealand. Those in corporate settings might see the MOOC leadership or organizers rotate between different branch offices or headquarters.

19. Repeatable MOOC:  As with rotating MOOCs, repeatable MOOCs might be of at least two types. For instance, the MOOC might be repeatedly offered and prior participants might be allowed to take it again and again and receive a badge or some other type of signature recognition since the content is constantly changing. Another type of repeatable MOOC is one that is offered every so often (perhaps each month or every other month) with basically the same set of content, structure, and goals. Once such a course is created, it is highly cost effective; especially if technology/machine-based assessment is employed, instead of human assessment. See idea #2 above for companies offering repeatable MOOCs already.

20. Reusable MOOC: As I noted in my blog post yesterday, the course that I just completed for Blackboard/CourseSites people is a type of reusble MOOC. All of the content has been preserved, including all of the weekly synchronous sessions that we held. While we had some 3,500 people initially, enrollment has now climbed to over 4,000 people as the registration stayed free and open during the course and will remain so long after. Anyone can reuse or repurpose that content. In effect, the MOOC remains open for future students (i.e., you) to go in and learn and perhaps earn a badge or whatever. Good luck.

After completing the above list, I went running in the 91 degree heat we have today in Bloomingotn, Indiana. Fortunately or unfortunately, I did not think of any new ideas when running. So that is it for my starter list for now. These are twenty quick thoughts on the types, targets, and intents of MOOCs. I fully realize that I did not discuss the theory or principles underlying effective MOOCs. As I indicated above, many others write much more eloquently, forcefully, fervently, insightfully, and thoughtfully about all of that theory stuff than I do (ya, my graduate degrees are in educational psychology, but I sorta was forced to leave that field 6-7 years ago and so "my mind is a zero" as the song says). If you want to know the principles, philosophies, or criteria of MOOCs, read their work. Or perhaps read Dan Butin's thought provoking piece in eLearn Magazine this month on what he thinks MIT should have done.

This particular blog post is more on the practical or implementation side than the theoretical side. The audience, therefore, is perhaps more geared to practitioners and administrators than theoreticians and experts in the emerging field of MOOCism. Again, I am just trying to answer the questions raised by my CIO/VPIT as we flew home two weeks ago.

There is much still to discuss. Questions are being raised not only about the business plans of MOOCs, but also about who is taking these courses (i.e., demographics), the language surrounding MOOCs (i.e., terminology), the forms of assessment or credentialing (i.e., making it count), and so on. I think that understanding the various types, targets, and intents of MOOCs might help a bit in addressing those vital questions. Hence, I offer my list of 20 thoughts. Your lists will likely differ from mine. Best wishes.

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Note: Earlier blog posts that I made on the "BonkOpen" MOOC and MOOCs in general are below.

April 19th: A Close Up Look at an Upcoming May MOOC
April 29th: Video Intro for Upcoming MOOC and IU Press on the Event
May 1st: Open-access articles on the "Digital Campus" about open access
May 7th: There's a whole lot of MOOC'en going on! (or: "The Multimedia MOOC")

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  posted by Curt Bonk @ 8:22 PM  
  • At 5:32 PM, Blogger Unknown said…

    Great brainstorming on how MOOCs will be leveraged in the future!
    Here's another one: MOOCs to demonstrate the expertise of the instructor, thus a professional who wants to raise their profile or job seeker / school applicant to prove their initiative & mastery of a specific niche subject area. They may not be the most qualified instructors, but after all, some say that there is no better way to learn than to teach!

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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Click here for information about my recent book, The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

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