MOOC Learning and Group Learning

Gabi Witthaus’ thoughts on Making massive learning social and the discussions that followed raised some interesting questions about the need for effective groups formation and group work.  Groups [or whatever we choose to label them] are important for achieving social learning in MOOCs as they provide the space for discussions beyond content and course.

My experiences with MOOCs of the content kind [xMOOCs] is almost entirely in the form of a lone-ranger, content-hunter. This is partially because of what i am in search of – content and my expectations of little or no interaction. On occasions, attempt to join discussion groups were quickly shattered by the sheer confusion and massiveness of those group spaces. Sometimes it feels like being thrown into a huge crowd of strangers with  good intentions. It just doesn’t work for me. It takes too much time to figure out and as Gabi Witthaus noted – just too hard to do, too much initial effort is needed to start up in something you can easily opt out.

Contrastingly my time with the more connectivist type MOOCs [cMOOCs] has been more about socializing and continuous learning. More times than not, the discussions extent beyond what that particular course is/was all about. My best experience to date has been #rhizo14 which , by design exists to this day, approximately one year after the course ended. Rhizo14 and whatever is left of it is because of the way it was intended from the beginning – to be really open, to allow for learners to do what they like, and such things [my interpretation].

I remember how terrible I reacted when I was placed in a group algorithmically to do course work in a MOOC.  I am not sure how well this works for traditional courses. I have been teaching face to face for 15 years and it always occurred to me that organic groups for learners tend to be more useful than other variants. It takes time to get to know your groupies [social?] if you don’t yet know them and that, while a learning element in itself, may not always work out.

This brings me to what i think it is that i like about group learning in MOOCs. I think the greatest benefit of groups lie in their potential to exist and grow long after the curtain of a MOOC has been pulled.   The fact that you need to go back to the course space [of xMOOCs] to access the groups may be the first hindrance to after-MOOC learning. But this is not exactly how group work in the xMOOCs are conceived. So can xMOOCs be really more social in their current configuration? I suppose that’s one of the challenge for designers.

About lenandlar

Lenandlar Singh is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Guyana.
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5 Responses to MOOC Learning and Group Learning

  1. Thanks for continuing the conversation Lenandler 🙂 I agree with you about the value of longer lasting relationships after the MOOC has ended, and I have the feeling that MOOC designers could do more to provide opportunities for meaningful peer to peer interaction during the MOOC, which would lay the foundations for those ongoing relationships. I also wholeheartedly agree that no-one should be forced to engage in group work during MOOCs! I think we probably also need to distinguish between learning in a group (where individuals repeatedly get feedback from the same small group of other individuals as they progress on their learning journey) and groupwork (where a group is tasked with collaboratively creating a joint product). I think the former can work well in open courses, while the latter is a risky design decision!

  2. lenandlar says:

    Thanks for your time and comments Gabi. The point /distinction you make about learning in a group and group work is not one I considered before. Groupwork in MOOCs are definitely much harder for me as a learner.

  3. marion waite says:

    Hi Gabi & Lenandlar

    Nice to meet you again , Gabi. I am fascinated by your discussion. At Oxford Brookes we are at a midway point of #tooc15. This is an open online course for new lecturers to develop their online teaching skills, with an assessed and non-assessed pathway. One of the assessment tasks is to undertake a group activity that runs for two weeks. The task is to design a presentation on good practice in online learning and then reflect upon working in a group online. I do agree with you Gabi it is a high risk activity in an online course but I think that if you are going to become an online teacher it is a good way of exploring group work online . If either of you are interested in taking a look the course is here.

  4. lenandlar says:

    Hi Marion, thanks very much for your comment. I am going over now to the course. I wish i knew earlier.

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