Conversation vs. Cacophony?


How can this wealth of conversation be managed, so that it supports a process of learning, not a cacophony of voices?


Hi Mike,

I would look into trying to isolate the learning process happening in small groups from the masses. I envision people joining a small team based on a shared interest for a limited time. Perhaps some form of “project broker” might help the learner select a focus and find a team.


This is an interesting question. In her Carpe Diem MOOC Gilly Salmon put everyone in groups for the MOOC. Having cut my teeth on CCK08 the very first MOOC (not first open course), which promoted the idea that everyone had to find their own groups, I found I was irritated by arriving in the Carpe Diem MOOC and finding I was allocated to join a group of people. A lot of people really enjoyed the Carpe Diem MOOC, but I’m afraid I didn’t last the first week. I wanted to find my own group :slight_smile: You simply can’t please all the people all the time :smile:)

I usually find my own small teams, normally as follow up to the MOOC, rather than in it.

Another MOOC that also promotes groupwork, but allows for more autonomous organisation is ModPo - the Coursera Modern and Contemporary American poetry MOOC. In ModPo participants are encouraged to find people in their own geographical localities and meet face-to-face to work on close readings of poems. More recently these groups (which are world-wide) have been encouraged to video their meetings and post them to the course website. So it’s certainly possible.


@jennymackness I, too, was into the #carpediem MOOC - and it was such a turn-off for me. It wasn’t flexible - it was very instructionalist from my point of view. It seemed that the design was in the way of people working together aside from the pre-established groups of octopussies and what not.
I never quite understood the design principles and didn’t participate that long. From your account it seems that I didn’t miss a lot :smile:
The follow up on CCK08 (CLMOOC) was from my point of view a totally different experience. It seemed so well designed but also very challenging. I wasn’t able to put the effort into it and had to leave - although I was very much into the design with people forming groups for collaborative work on a whole lot of platforms. Very time consuming - but in the good sense: making meaning.
I think that MOOC designs should be sufficient flexible to address the learning need for a very diverse group of learners and of course the design have to leave a lot of people/groups out for the same reasons.



I think we self-manage if allowed to, and we know how to keep things below whatever each of us hears as cacophony. More problematic is how we avoid overmanaging the conversation so that it does not devolve into a recital of the same voices over and over again (a kind of echo chamber syndrome). That is an unnatural (we love our confort zone) but necessary challenge. In some senses it might involve inviting a healthily uncomfortable, and fertile cacophony that can evolve into a wider richer conversation.


I don’t recall this #mooc . . .


You can read about here:
It was marketed as a different kind of MOOC, but it didn’t appeal to me :smile:



The process of learning comes as a natural process to a lot of living beings, including us humans. Which is why I start to wonder if there is something like a one pedagogy or one approach to engage all learners into learning. Like some of the examples (@jennymackness @Zerove ) mention with regard to a particular MOOC, our personal willingness to engage in a MOOC, or be part of a group of learners, seems to be deeply rooted in our willingness and character to do so.
I too never liked being put into a group, yet have no threshold to step into a group of my choosing. Looking at my family (or those who really like to learn), I see similar decisions: a nephew of mine who really likes structure, only enters courses that are very well structured and follow the syllabus rigorously. He does not mind being put in a group, as long as that group will do what it is supposed to do.
In a way the result of learning is also emotional, as many of us show in our remarks “I like that MOOC”, and according to our emotions we either decide to read up on MOOCs, or simply leave them.
I feel that conversations are natural, and as such similar dynamics can be seen across locations that provide space for conversation: receptions of any kind (not really learning, but on what grounds does one think: I will stay with this group, or I will move around a bit more?), Hyde park soapboxes (very informal, very face-to-face), even the post-conversation we might have at night when writing in our diary (the conversation is with one self, yet it is a reflection of the experience and not without inner-conversation). When in a MOOC or in a diary a moment appears that ‘touches’ us in some way, be it rational or/and emotional, we tend to explore it a bit further. But these aha-moments are very personal, thus difficult to manage I think.


FutureLearn had some interesting ideas for algorithmic group allocation based around preferences for styles of interaction and interests back in the day. I think the intention was that this would be based on pre-course surveys rather than data generated by platform use.

Students would have the option of different organisational modes of social interaction - the groups mentioned above, people they found and followed on the platform or whole cohort. Presumably blending all three would be possible.

This seemed to fall off the FutureLearn ‘roadmap’ for a couple of years but may be back in some form or other now.


@hsp ModPo stands out for me as a good example. It grounds the cacophony (which spins of happily in many media and platforms) in a live open (one hour) conversation, with well-managed pick-up facilitators from others. It also sums-up and ties together the conversation at the end, then leaves it to spin-out into free cacophony, only to gather together again in a week’s time.

This modus operandi is also spun out, in many weekly face-2-face meetings, organised within the general cacophony.

So … interlacing and interleaving cacophony with nodes of coagulation (or something like that) is one option. (And its based on talk - live talk, no presentations, which is quite powerful).


@jennymackness Hi Jenny, me too, I didn’t last more than a week in my first ‘grouped’ MOOC, and only one day in the next one.

I still think it is possible to provide the tools, affordances, probes, etc (see my probe on ‘what did you add to you last tuna salad to make it more interesting’ probe elsewhere) … for people to ‘coagulate’ into groups within a MOOC.

Anyone for salad?


@Ignatia Hi, great point. With apologies to Umberto Eco, who said the definition of a ‘sign’ is ‘anything that can be used to lie’, its might be useful to define a MOOC as ‘anything that you are free to leave at anytime’ - which puts the onus on the convenor / designer / facilitator to design their MOOC either for particular types of people (lots of structure, lots of cacophony, etc) or for more than one type of person, or to provide tempting options for the ‘structuralists’ and the ‘cacophonist’ to go their own way within a single MOOC (and for some human or virtual aggregator to provide meeting places along the way).


Another good point @dustcube. MOOCs are open spaces for learning - you vote with your feet :smile: I’m not sure Eco would mind and his point, actually, could be seen/head/read as a commentary to another discussion taking place in the forum. The reason a sign is anything usable for lies is, that it represent the world. The discrepancy between world and sign is what makes signs good for knowlege (= takes on the world). The world is not a sign, but to do anything with the world you have to see you understanding as as sign (representation). We exactly ‘know’ the world because we cannot ‘grasp’ it, we can conceptualize it. Thanks for pointing to that :smile::sunny:


@dustcube - Proper Icebreakers. See my reply .


@dustcube I like your suggestion where the MOOC is designed in a variety of ways. When I read it, I immediately thought: of course, just like books where you can have fiction/non-fiction, and for each an array of notes or not. I would love to get into those types of algorithms.


@dustcube @Ignatia to what extent do you think some have begun this? Not the big platforms who lose agility and flexibility, but some of the ‘independent’ MOOC designs. I’m trying to find my notes on those that offered a ‘full-fat’ structured pathway and then an indication of which are the crucial readings to join the current discussion (so semi-skimmed) but had participants who were comfortable with the topic area and stretching by simply engaging with and helping to shape some conversations. Is this something that should be more conscious in design or might we then inadvertently segregate different levels of learners and not only different ‘personalities’ of learner?


@jennymackness @Zerove @dustcube Ok, I stuck with Carpe Diem - out of curiosity - for a good few weeks, but our group collapsed and when it got down to 3 people ticking off the required activities in a systematic way I did eventually crack and leave. It was very interesting to see how it felt, as this design is de facto the way we teach in formal study. indeed the Gilly Salmon model brought a great deal to formal online learning so perhaps this supports @sharplem point in this talk, (if I’ve read it right) about appropriate pedagogies in this context being different from those for other contexts. It reminded me of how important is the research around developing trust between those sharing online space and allowing for creativity. Even bad experiences are learning, though, as I’ve taken this back to my work setting :smile:

However how we support learners new to an area, in large scale courses (using that word lightly), or those less comfortable with self-introduction and self-grouping that @Ignatia has rightly reminded us of, remains moot. I am concerned, however, that those talking in this space might be a self-selecting bunch who are comfortable diving in, and that we don’t fully appreciate the position of those only reading. If ‘social learners’ in open spaces number between 9 and 36%, we have work to do to support the majority of learners differently. So the Salmon model didn’t work for me on a MOOC, but does it show something about what might be needed for the silent majority?
(loving this line, but want to go away and ponder the original question more too.)


I stuck with Carpe Diem till our crew was down from over a dozen to just two of us paddling furiously towards the finishing line.

I thought that the pedagogy of CD, collaborative development of online teaching ideas until they’re usable around themes of your own choosing was absolutely fine. The option to choose your own tool worked well (we went with Padlet). What let it down was that its designers seemed to understand very little of how to structure online spaces so they support people to do particular activities. It lacked clarity of design or language. A lot of people left because they simply couldn’t figure out what they were supposed to do.


Horses for courses, in principle, is fine. I would rather approach it from the other end, namely, for the convenor / designer to state up front what kind of MOOC (or course - Carpe Diem doesn’t sound too MOOC-ish to me) it is, so that people can preselect before they spend the effort engaging with a new course, and possibly wasting their time.

Our research group has developed a tool for designers to do this (footprints of emergence) which could help designers think through what they expect the range of learning experiences to encompass in their course.

Sharing this with a naive audience would (of course) be unrealistic and probably confusing, but what could be shared is a short summary of a few of the most important points from the ‘designer footprint’. (See if you want to explore this).