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.