Posted by: Brynna Kaulback | December 6, 2011

MOOC: Connections without Community

MOOC: Connections without Community

The excellent article by Kop, Fournier, and Mak (A Pedagogy of Abundance or a Pedagogy to Support Human Beings? Participant Support in Massive Open Online Courses) in the most recent issue of IRRODL provides a great insight into MOOCs for those of us for whom #Change11 is the first time around. It is really helpful as a newcomer to have some idea of the history and to see some of the changes that have already come to pass.

Some of the data about past MOOCs in the article surprised me: the high percentage of participants who were in the upper age range, for example. (All right, I am Galileo’s grandmother, so you know I was paying attention to that!) This seems to be evidence that networked learning isn’t only for the digital natives. One item that didn’t surprise me was the gender bias of females toward wanting more community, but I couldn’t tell if females who were less community-oriented were as likely to show up in the study. Perhaps, as likely as males; maybe not. If those results came from the study of Lurkers, females’ more task-oriented behavior would probably be included.

One conclusion from the study, however, left me pondering. The article concludes that “(t)he research showed the importance of making connections between learners and fellow learners and between learners and facilitators”. The importance of connections seems straightforward enough, but I hesitated when I read further into the conclusion and found:

The type of support structure that would engage learners in critical learning on an open network should be based on the creation of a place or community where people feel comfortable, trusted, and valued, and where people can access and interact with resources and each other.

I had in mind a comment from John Seeley Brown. In A New Culture of Learning, JSB offers this view, “A collective is very different from an ordinary community … In communities, people learn in order to belong. In a collective, people belong in order to learn. Communities derive their strength from creating a sense of belonging, while collectives derive theirs from participation” (p. 52). The connections in MOOCs are those of the collective. While a morphing into group life still seems possible in MOOCS (see earlier blog), the group/community brings with it more than the support and trust envisioned in the concluding statement of the article. In a Durkheimian sense, the collective consciousness that provides social solidarity through attracting people to group life also controls them through expectations to conform.

The second part of that concluding statement in the Kop, Fournier and Mak article speaks to connections between learners and facilitators. If participants do want connection with facilitators, might it be a passing phenomenon? Might learners adapt to the more open environment with time and see that reliance on a facilitator is no more necessary than reliance on the teacher at the front of the class? And, likewise, is the desire for a centralized structure, a common meeting place, as with the Moodled MOOC, also a passing fancy?  Those who experienced a “lack of coherent and centralized structure” and missed a summary of the learning were mostly novices, the article reports. Once learners acclimatize to the openness, will they find the RSS feed more conducive to their learning than the Moodle forum? It seems like it is difficult to confirm at this point in the development of MOOCs if the issues identified are not just part of a growing process as learners become familiar with the MOOC experience.

Thanks to the authors for helping to put the current experience of #Change11 MOOC in perspective. Doubtless the evolution of the design and the growing experience of participants will continue. I just want here to add a caution against jumping too soon into an assumption of community.



  1. Great post Grandma, thanks for that. I do feel this caution for changing the MOOC in a group or community. On a scale of independent and grown-up learning the MOOC is almost in one end, and kindergarten or primary school more in the other end. (I have doubts on these two because my grandchildren do learn on their own also).
    Groups are not always positive solutions to learning. Doing homework for school is fun, but mostly the homework is not done well in a group.
    regards Jaap

  2. […] Galileo’s Grandmother discusses the differences between group, community and  collective. She questions conclusions in Kop, Fournier, and Mak (A Pedagogy of Abundance or a Pedagogy to Support Human Beings? Participant Support in Massive Open Online Courses) and autonomy is an (unmentioned) key word in her blog. […]

  3. Hi, GG. Thanks for relating the #change11 mooc to JSB’s book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Speaking for myself, I definitely adapted to the open nature of a mooc quickly (this is my third) and have had little reliance on the facilitators in terms of feedback or guidance. The facilitators’ intro videos to moocs, their production of The Daily and their moderation on live sessions is definitely important to me in creating the ‘space’ for this type of learning. I also create my own spaces for learning (of equal or maybe greater value) on my blog, on FB, on Twitter, on the bus, at my desk and so on.

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