Let's Get Started Discussing MOOCs


To get us started, it would be good to hear your experiences of learning on large-scale courses, such as MOOCs or Open University courses. Did you go beyond watching videos and reading text, to engage with other learners or educators? If so, how did it go?


Hi Mike,

Welcome in the Hot Seat.

We are very happy that you accepted this invitation and I am looking forward to an inspiring conversation about the scalability of learning theories and MOOC designs to cope with massive open learners.
Also I hope we can away some lessons for our own hot seats events.

So now – even though it is still somewhat early - that the hot seats are officially open I wish us all some good and decent participation :slight_smile:



Thanks for opening a discussion on the social learning aspect in MOOCs.
I’ve participated in a great deal of MOOCs mostly on learning topics. I’ve only completed one of them.
My MOOC experiences has been mixed. Most MOOCs I’ve participated in has been very ill founded when it comes to scaffolding collaboration - social learning. Many MOOCs are constructed as read, view and take a short test. When cooperation and collaboration are encouraged it’s not been integrated in the technical design. Or - and that is the flip side - it has been to demanding. I once participated in a MOOC on #connectivism and participants were encouraged to make groups of collaboration in whatever social media they decided. It was great in the beginning but it generated a heavy workload flipping from one discussion in #Facebook, answering tweets and doing collaborative work in #GoogleDocs not mentioning the discussions in #GooglePlus.
I’ve also been involved in constructing a MOOC for teacher education and here I experienced how difficult it is to technically scaffolding social learning. The MOOC is in Danish so the sheer amount of participants can be challenging in that social learning on-line relies on a critical mass.

What is your take on the social aspects of online learning? How do you see the development of MOOCs in the light of social learning? Do you consider the MOOC development as a decline from the original ideas (Cormier, Siemens, Downes) in connectivist MOOCs?

I’ve been writing a little on MOOCs and social learning myself. And I’ll like to share a short version written in English here: http://blogomalt.blogspot.dk/2015/10/massive-open-online-social-learning.html

I’ll be back : )


A far less sophisticated contribution than the previous writer, I’m afraid. I am entirely new to MOOCs and to the provision of education in a university setting in general. My background is in outdoor education, and social learning is so deeply embedded in everything we do there, but always with groups of up to 8 people. I can deliver exciting and engaging lectures, and I can create great video content, but in practice how do you move towards creating engagement with 100-1000 people, who don’t know eachother, and also might not want to know each other but just want to know what you know as the course provider? Some practical advice and basic techniques would be very welcome!


Hello everyone!
If I can add my bit here, since as Chris I am new to MOOC so did not use them fully, only surfed some platforms from time to time to see what they have in…So my comments come as a non-expert on the topic.
Ove’s discussion around social learning in MOOC is important. I think this is in my view the most missed piece in MOOC. If we think that the added value of online education is in its interaction, exchange and social aspect then MOOC providing mainly free content, do not seem to have this added value in my view. From a recent research carried out with some colleagues at Laureate Education, inside completely online programmes although somehow social presence is absent, students really give a great value to it. So if we want to encourage the development of social presence in MOOC more collaboration and interaction need to take place in my view in order to sustain this. This should be well designed and properly integrated into the course activities. Hence in my view is not only a matter of technology used to support this but also of course design. Moreover another big question how to make so many people interacting together in big groups? The added value of online education is also the possibility of interacting in small groups and build ties, when possible, in order to sustain social presence and learning…
In conclusion I do not have answers to all these questions but I have some perplexities on the use of MOOC for the future. However as stated at the beginning this is my view as inexperienced user, perhaps some more experienced colleagues here can illuminate issues and added value surrounding MOOCs.
Thanks for reading this


Hi @chris-ford you wrote “how do you move towards creating engagement with 100-1000 people, who don’t know eachother, and also might not want to know each other but just want to know what you know as the course provider? Some practical advice and basic techniques would be very welcome” as an aside to the conversation and incidentally I just stumbled across this on twitter: https://www.futurelearn.com/learning-guide - The Crowdsource Guide to Learning (from futurelearn actually) - perhaps this could be of interest to you. It was Tweeted by Alastair Creelman (https://twitter.com/alacre/status/656800284572844032). Not sure it covers what you were asking for but seems an interesting resource nevertheless :smile:

And I should just say that I am Thomas Ryberg from Aalborg University. I am signed up on Coursera but never attended one of the courses or logged in for a MOOC. Have however been joining online conversations in many other ways and have taught online courses, as well as blended courses - I supervise and teach in a online master programme for professionals called Master in ICT and Learning.

All for now as preparing lecture for friday :smile:


Welcome to the wonderful, and increasingly (IMHO) complex MOOC landscape, @clucilla.

To this point, I encourage our community to consider answering and engaging with one another as well. While @sharplem is in the Hot Seat and is our facilitator for our MOOC session (that he will officially be able to join on Sunday, October 25), we hope that in the spirit of networked learning we also share our expertise and ideas by engaging with one another.

@clucilla, which aspect of @Zerove’s comment resonated with you, and why do you consider it a missed piece in the mooc discussions?


Going through my filtered twitter feed this morning I stumpled upon this very interesting discussion on Open Education VS MOOCs. Normally I would argue that MOOCs epitomizes the idea of Open Education in that it makes educational and educational ressources and the chance to engage with fellow students possible. But now it seems that teachers at OU (Open University) in GB are experiencing - or at least are afraid of - MOOCs undermining the whole concept of open education. This change will be the end of the Open University as we know it It is obviously the truth that most people taking MOOCs are well educated in advance. And as Laurillard points out in the article most MOOCs are not designed for people not familiar with the higher/further educational system and way of thinking. MOOCs are putting the stress on the students when it comes to engaging in social learning and MOOCs are terrible at scaffolding the not so strongly inner motivated students.
MOOCs and Open Education as blended learning compete for the same students and the same funding. And that is the problem according to the teachers at OU. The teachers obviously has a strong interest in keeping their jobs, of course, and that has to be taken into consideration as well.
Just wanted to share this ongoing discussion with you guys in that it seems very relevant for this hot seat: The competition between MOOCs and blended educational formats with stronger scaffolding principles.


@Zerove Thanks for sharing this and the link to the article about the open university. I suspect that the Open University’s problems are more complex than simply being a result of MOOCs, but I haven’t investigated exactly what their problems involve.

I think perhaps we shouldn’t generalise about MOOCs. My experience is that they can be so different from each other. Tony Bates included a chapter on this in his recent e-book - http://www.tonybates.ca/2015/04/07/book-teaching-in-a-digital-age-now-ready-and-available/ .

There was quite a bit of discussion about the differences between MOOCs on his blog which he used to share drafts of chapters for the book - e.g. http://www.tonybates.ca/2014/10/13/comparing-xmoocs-and-cmoocs-philosophy-and-practice/

Perhaps you have already seen this?


HI Jeffrey and all here!
In relation to your question I think that the missed piece in MOOC as reported by Ove is the social aspect. MOOCs are rich of content but what is missed there is the connections with others and the social aspect. I think that even if MOOC are completely and full online products, people learn alone and not in connections with others. This does not help in developing further the social aspect very important in my view while learning and teaching online. Otherwise what is the difference between MOOCs and receiving books at home and learning alone on papers? I think that it is a challenge to develop this aspect online while bringing so many people together. The added value of online learning is rather then in its content mainly it is in the additional learning that we gain while interacting with others…at least this is my view. I can see that some colleagues here brought interesting examples on how this social aspect could be enhanced in MOOCs but still this remains a challenge …
I am finding this conversation interesting…happy to have joined it!
Have a good day!


It is interesting to see the conversation that is developing here about MOOCs. For me it is not so clear what we are talking about when we discuss MOOCs. Is it the platform with all kinds of possibilities for sharing, discussing, presenting, enriching and testing knowledge about whatever? Or the software? Or the way it is used when giving a course?

I can imagine that the way we look at learning and teaching has a much greater impact on the way the MOOC is designed then the MOOC itself. I was a bit disappointment with my first and only experience with a MOOC that, of all topics, was about informal learning. The funny thing was that the MOOC itself for me was a structured a bit too much, not so much congruent with the idea of informal learning. Despite that fact a lot of discussion was happening there among students, which I found very interesting and helped me a lot with getting new ideas and perspectives. And I am happy to see this is happening here as well. Thanks already.

Have a great day,



@jennymackness Thank you for your comment.
I do agree that MOOCs indeed are a very diverse phenomenon. You can judge MOOCs as such.
But still if you take a look at a majority of MOOCs (not that I can say this with authority) they are very much designed as efficient delivery systems. Digital technology is for the main part used as a way of transferring information (video lectures and written materials) to a wider audience.
The discussion about Open Education/Open University has to do with how MOOCs are designed - but maybe the more important discussion is who is the target group for different MOOCs - which also is/becomes a matter of/for design.
And I would also like to emphasize the concept of scaffolding when talking about MOOCs. Scaffolding taps into the wider discussion of affordance - but I’ll leave that a side for now.
Thanks for references to Tony Bates work. I’ve enjoined it - and your writing on MOOCs and the Rhizome - very much. I’m about to check out more of your work as you kindly wrote that you have written a number of research papers on the subject :smiley:

Ove/aka Zerove


Good point @Sebo
The discussion opens a lot of sub-discussion or sub-topics but I think that’s ok for now. Maybe when we go deeper we will have to split it into sub categories.
The MOOC design - as the technical skeleton - is or ought to be decided from a learning theoretical point of view with regards to the subject, the learning objectives and the target group/the students. But it seems to me that it is very difficult to translate from these to what is possible in say Moodle or any other pre-designed MOOC platform. Maybe it’s just a matter of maturation but I doubt that a great deal.
The one very challenging MOOCs I’ve participated in - The CL-MOOCs lead by Siemens and Downes - allowed for at great deal of student activity. But it was also really demanding keeping track of all the extra platform activities you had to engage in. For me it became to heavy a work load to stay an active student.
There is also a contradiction inherent in MOOCs between flexibility and collaboration (commitment towards others). The more flexible the less (real) collaboration.
I hope and think that we within education will be better to design for activities the are more likely makes student learn. For now it seems that the majority of (the) MOOCs (I know of) are information driven. Which, I should add, is still a great opportunity for a lot of people - just not for all.



Here are some of my experiences with the problem-based learning MOOC I attended. This Mooc, considering its subject, was all about collaboration. With respect to working with team members, I noticed that, while our group started with 14 members, only a few actually contributed. We ended up in some fuzzy state with 3 more-or-less active members. For such a Mooc it seems success depends on an active and committed team. There was, however, no way to make sure your team would be like that :wink:
The commitment problems showed themselves in many ways, from not putting an effort into understanding the design of Mooc, to not reacting to posts from others, to low quality contributions, and of course going absent-without-so-much-as-a-goodbye.
Some of these issues where perhaps also due to the course design and platform affordances. Group discussion could only take place in one long thread. Creation of documents on which to collaborate was cumbersome.
The design-choice was made to not provide support outside some general course-wide discussion boards.So there were no tutors, no teachers to interact with. Overall, the information about the PBL process and the workings of the system both were lacking in clarity. So if you ask me how it went, I would say: not so well. There was a lot of overhead to cope with.


thank you for sharing your experience Howard. I do sometimes wonder who does actually learn and is willing to go to any length necessary to reach their pre-set and personal learning goal? Maybe, such a study would show that a lot of people only go the full length of a course if it is mandatory (like university degrees or career training/compensation), and only a few of us attain our fullest potential (or as we see it) by learning no matter what we need to do for this. Well, I do put it more dramatically, but just to share the idea.


That is really interesting - have thought about working on a PBL type of MOOC myself (Aalborg University is founded on a Problem Oriented Project Based Learning approach) - however I have also had the concern whether strong mutual dependency and MOOCs are somewhat at odds - any thought or experiences on that anyone?

I am wondering whether a setup where people worked on solving their own real life problems or challenges in smaller groups
; or working as change agents in their own organisations (then a few could be from same place) - e.g. teams of teachers wanting to develop their shared course, or engineers working on a common challenge in a particular area - would work better…so there would already be some type of shared challenge among the learners…think that could be interesting to do - don’t know if it has already been done though?


@ryberg Sounds really interesting. At University College Zealand we are working with the concept that teachers from the same school should work in small groups to 1) support each others learning in the MOOC 2) Do assignments i groups with material from their own praxis - either as one collective assignment or common reflections afterwards. An strong element of peer-learning and collective reflection. Our experiences with this so far are not promissing. Teachers think it takes to much time for them - and they, actually, appreciate the flexibility not being dependent on other. Our cohort has been too small for any genuine conclusions, though. I still hope it is possible with that approach in that I believe it would be a stronger learning experience.
Maybe we should talk at some point (not only here, that is :smiley:)
(Info for this community: I served as a professor at Aalborg University for more than 10 year. Quited 2006)


Sounds like a good concept from a learning perspective - would be good to talk more about your experiences and the design. We have good success in our master for professionals (http://www.mil.aau,dk) with problem oriented project work, but I suspect MOOCs are a different beast and these kinds of “informal” or “casual” learning opportunities are even harder circumstances for mutual dependency? Were they working e.g. with re-designing their own practice or what were the assignments?


Thanks for you comment @ryberg. I think that @Ignatia points to (part of) problem when pointing out that MOOC participants are only responsible for themselves - there is no outer pressure (except of course social ones and pressure relate to work and the like) as with formal education where the pressure for passing is more obvious. MOOC participation is pretty much ‘informal learning’ even if you are going for a certificate, which you can with the teacher education MOOC from our UC. And then again I wanna point to the fact that the more communality the lesser the flexibility - but that, of course, goes for your students as well.
Add that many MOOC students won’t have any dedicated (paid for) time for participating.
That, however, mustn’t ruin good pedagogy :smile:


Yes - MOOC participants - I suppose - often have a completely different intention and point of departure than do formal education students (although many of them also prefer to work on their own) - and completely agree - collaboration does diminish flexibility - Morten Falte Paulsen and Christian Dalsgaard wrote something about such different models here:


Sorry - dinner time so will skedaddle :slight_smile: