Monthly Archives: March 2013

The MOOC that fits – Will be the MOOC that Survives.

JT Hudnut headshotby Jason T. Hudnut
Chief Coordinating Consultant:

The world of the Massive Open Online Course, better known by the catchy and humorous acronym: MOOC, both fascinates and intrigues me.  With 20 plus years as an educator under my belt, I have seen many versions of teaching as it translates from pre-school to higher education and then again  from public, charter, private, and even to parochial settings.  So the future of how we as educators reach our students has been a thought that wanders in and out of my curious mind on many occasions. I am struck by a comment suggested by Hap Aziz in his article: “Rethinking the Class Paradigm:  The Rise and Potential Fall of MOOCs”, posted on February 28, 2012 on this blog.  Mr. Aziz states, “Very few educators would argue that there is no difference between teaching cohorts of 20 students or cohorts of 200, 2,000, or even 20,000 students.” I obviously agree with this, but I wonder if we could, as educators, adapt…or better yet…evolve into an instructor capable of reaching and teaching any number of students under our guidance.

Mr. Aziz references Joshua Kim, Director of Learning and Technology for the Master of Health Care Delivery Science program at Dartmouth College, in his article : ”Open Online Courses Are No Substitutes for Classroom Learning” for The U.S. New & World Report.  Mr. Kim states, “Authentic learning requires a two-way dialogue between student and instructor. College teaching at its best is much more than the delivery of content: It’s about the co-construction of knowledge with students and faculty…” Kim continues, “Education is one of those things in life (like friendship) that is based on the relationships between individuals, and therefore is limited in how far it can scale.”  These concepts absolutely nail it for me.  The dialogue between student and instructor and the relationships between the individuals involved in the academic setting has been supporting keystone as I continue to stack the building blocks of my philosophy of education.  It is my desire to reach the student, not only through the curriculum, but within and beyond the strength of the relationship we have developed in the realm of a mutual respect and trust.

The respect that should flow between teacher and student allows us to accept that a learned knowledge from the instructor is being properly evaluated, translated and presented to a willing pupil.  The trust that must be built in this bond lays on a foundation that should already determine the fact that each participant firmly believes in the ability of the other.  The student trusts and respects the knowledge and ability of the instructor.  The instructor, in return, should trust and respect the willingness and ability of the student to learn.  Now…can we, as instructors, translate this relationship with one student to a larger group?  We certainly do this for a class of 20 students, and maybe for a case load of 200 individuals.  We do it over a period of time for 2,000 pupils.  I believe, that we can build up our academic muscles and reach 20,000 students with the same principals of trust and respect, or by whatever means may work for the individuality of each instructor.

Mr. Aziz is absolutely correct though.  To do this, the paradigm needs to shift.  I really was sold on his assertion that suggests, “MOOCs are not courses as much as they are communities.” But I fell in love with his concept of,

“…entering into the scale of a small city.  And when it comes to a city, we understand that no single person (or even small group of people) is responsible for running the whole city. It’s not just the mayor or the city council members. There are hundreds, and even thousands of other official and semi-official roles to be played in the smooth running of a city: police, firefighters, garbage collectors, teachers, and more with whom I interact as a citizen (student) of my city (MOOC) depending on what kind of assistance I need or interaction I seek.”

YES!!!  That is the ticket; a MOOC should be run like a city.  All of the individuals involved have roles to play.  Aziz paints a world where he speaks of meaningful services meet the needs of the community.  He proclaims, “This is where the education community needs to rethink how MOOCs are built and administered, and ultimately what the role of the instructor is to be.”  I believe, this proclamation, as illustrated by similar conversations within the academic community, prove that this shift has already been ushered in.  We, as the educators of today, and even as the former students of yesterday, have given birth to the needs of the future and the evolving of academia.

Doug Holton, of the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, FL., makes a poignant claim in his article: “What’s the “Problem” with MOOCs?” published for EdTechDev: developing educational technology on May 4, 2012. Holten asserts,

“Especially disturbing is that none of the major MOOC providers have hired anyone trained in Instructional design, the learning sciences, educational technology, course design, or other educational specialties to help with the design of their courses.  They are hiring a lot of programmers and recruiting a lot of faculty, who may have various motivations for participating in these open education experiments.”

If the shift we are seeing is to make any noise at all, here are the first rumblings to echo throughout the halls of our universities, colleges, school yards and all the way down to the dark corners of the software developer’s office cubicles. Now is the time to look at a blending of our talents.  The masses can be reached.  We must bring the talents of those in the classrooms, who are designing, implementing and delivering curriculum, together with the genius of those in the Information Technology field who are able to design, implement and deliver the software that will build the “Massively Open Online Communities” that Hap Aziz has envisioned.

Martin LaGrow gives us a wonderful reflection of Mr. Aziz’s thoughts in his response article: “Rethinking the Class Paradigm: MOOCs as a Community,” also for this blog, on March 13, 2013.  Mr. LaGrow’s words, “In a sense, the MOOC is a product of evolution.” Jump right up and off of the page and fall straight into my wheelhouse.  Yes sir, the MOOC is an evolution.  And the MOOC is not finished developing and adapting to the environment that we have built to house it.  LaGrow continues to ask, “…how can higher education leverage the strengths of the MOOC without also applying the limitations of the classroom?” I also wonder how this will play out.  I already pontificated on my philosophies of respect and trust.  Perhaps we should not limit our inquiries to the world of higher education.  The proving grounds of today’s collegians fall to the high schools and lower schools that first planted the seeds for the desire to acquire knowledge.  These institutions are changing more and more with the explosion of alternative education and the race between public, private, charter, and parochial schools to outdo each other and keep their enrollments up and funding flowing.

In any case, we all must agree, it is a changing world.  The way we teach and the way we learn is evolving.  MOOCs were only a distant concept just decades ago.  They were simply a dream of the Silicon Valley prophets of yesteryear.  Today, MOOCs are a reality.  Tomorrow, they will be a necessary ingredient in the delivery of a significant variety of knowledge on this planet.  It is a testament to Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest”.  The MOOC that fits- will be the MOOC that survives.  Whether it is as a course or a community, that is the question.


Aziz, H. (2013).  Rethinking the Class Paradigm:  The Rise and Potential Fall of MOOCs. Retrieved from

Holton, D. (2012). What’s the Problem with MOOCs?. Retrieved from

Kim, J. (2012). Open Online Courses Are No Substitutes for Classroom Learning. Retrieved from

LaGrow, M. (2013).  Rethinking the Class Paradigm: MOOC’s as a Community. Retrieved from

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Rethinking the Class Paradigm: MOOCs as a Community

Martyby Martin LaGrow

In his February 28th post called ‘Rethinking the Class Paradigm: The Rise and Potential Fall of MOOCs,’ Hap Aziz posed the question, “Is there truly a way for a single instructor to teach a class with 30,000 students,” and went on to suggest that the answer is no—a MOOC should not be perceived as a course so much as it should be a community. If this perception does not change, he predicted that “the whole MOOC movement will come crashing down by not being able to meet some very important learner needs.”  So what are the limitations of the MOOC as we have come to know it, why do those limitations exist, and what do we do to overcome them?

In a sense, the MOOC is a product of evolution. However, it is not a haphazard mutation. It is evolution influenced by the application of technology to education. The problem with this kind of evolution is that our preconceived notions are carried over from its predecessors—along with their limitations.

The first e-books are a great example of dragging physical limitations into the technical sphere. To increase consumer acceptance of the new technology, the e-book experience was designed to be as much like the book experience as possible. The end product was a book—a book that was functionally no more exceptional than a standard book, even to the point of turning pages. The technology was limited in its scope and provided little improvement over the actual book experience (or none, as some opine). It even brought its own limitations—expense, the need for power, and the dangers of reading in the bathtub! The e-book has since all but disappeared, absorbed into the tablet trend, as any tablet in existence can provide a far richer e-book experience while performing other functions as well.

When higher education ventured into online learning, much the same approach was taken. Educators took their paradigms about the classroom and shifted them into the online modality. When this was done, often the limitations of the classroom carried over, the limitations of technology were added to the mix, but the benefits of technology were not adopted, creating a shallow academic experience. After all, what was an in-person classroom? A synchronous group of 15-25 students, perhaps, an instructor, some lecture component, assigned readings, the submission of papers and perhaps quizzes and tests. Not surprisingly, this was the shape that most online courses took (any many still do today). The classroom paradigm has been transferred online with mixed success. When designed and facilitated well, the limitations are mitigated by a sense of community. As noted by the Illinois Online Network (ION),

“Online learning has its most promising potential in the high synergy represented by active dialog among the participants, one of the most important sources of learning in a Virtual Classroom. However, in larger classes…the synergy level starts to shift on the learning continuum until it eventually becomes independent study to accommodate the large class. At this point, dialog is limited as well as interaction among participants and the facilitator. The medium is not being used to its greatest potential (source).”

Enter the MOOC.

The MOOC is the next evolution of online learning. The limitations of the classroom, once passed down to online courses, are now also in the DNA of the MOOC. Often, the MOOC is little more than a standard online course opened up to a much greater number of participants, inheriting the issues of its predecessor without embracing the new opportunities that the structure provides. If ION is correct, then the MOOC that fits this description is the worst of both worlds.

If, however, MOOCs are removed from their historical roots, and considered to be Massively Open Online Communities, as Hap suggests, the limitations of the class may be released along with the paradigm. This view is also espoused by Doug Holton of the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Center in Daytona Beach.

“The question is, are MOOCs an example of imposing an existing worldview (traditional instruction, courses, and instructors) on a new medium for learning?  Is it necessary for all the ‘students’ in a MOOC to be learning the same topic at the same time (synchronous learning)?  That appears to be a common defining characteristic of all MOOCs.  Does there have to be a single, unchanging instructor?  Does it have to be a ‘course’ at all, with a finite beginning and end?  Most students forget much of what they learn once a course ends…Many topics are constantly changing and evolving (like science and engineering and technology), and one’s learning may be out of date sometimes within months, if not years, after a course ends.  Much of what we learn comes from outside the classroom anyway – what we call lifelong learning and informal learning (source).”

Holton gets to the heart of the issue. What if the finite classroom model, which is the basis for online classrooms and thus the grandfather of MOOCs, is flawed? After all, what is a course? It is usually a set of predetermined objectives that are stated, accomplished, and measured upon completion. It does not necessarily represent authentic learning. It does not model the professional realm, or the communities for which students are being prepared, in which they will be expected to continuously learn, contribute, and foster relationships. These are the things that a MOOC does well. The question is now, how can higher education leverage the strengths of the MOOC without also applying the limitations of the classroom?

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Filed under eBooks, Hap Aziz, higher education, Martin LaGrow, MOOCs, virtual classrooms