Welcome to the Hot Seat discussion on Massive Open Social Learning!


Massive Open Social Learning

Welcome to the hotseat discussion on Massive Open Social Learning. Some kinds of learning just don’t scale up – sports coaching for example. Others are pretty much the same whatever the scale, so that watching a lecture is a similar experience whether you are in a lecture room with 200 people or viewing online with 20,000. But what kinds of learning improve with scale? Can we develop a pedagogy that is suited to large-scale learning events such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)?

My starting point is that Conversation Theory (based on the foundations from Gordon Pask and Diana Laurillard, see http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Laurillard_conversational_framework ) is a general theory of learning that can inform the design of systems for learning that improve with scale. As more people engage in educative conversations, offering differing perspectives and solutions, so the quality of learning might improve. Furthermore, it is a theory that can be, and has been, implemented, in MOOCs and other learning platforms.

But this raises a host of questions, which I will use to begin other discussion topics.

Please introduce yourself briefly and mention which MOOC platform you used. If you haven’t experienced learning at scale, then it would be really helpful to know your concerns or expectations.

I’m looking forward to a productive conversation!



Hi Mike,
Looking forward to learning/ lurking on these threads. I have engaged in/ researched into a couple of cMOOCs but in terms of the MOOCs that I think you are talking about, I am a serial non-completer. The community guideline popup has now obscured your question :slight_smile: but I think you named lectures as something that scaled successfully. I would think that is open to question but, more importantly, educational provision would include lectures as part of a range of organised activities that would address the limitations of the lecture. And of course, the provider perspective is an inadequate lens to explain learners’ experiences that occur in all sorts of nooks and crannies, often beyond the gaze of the teacher, or in the case of MOOCs, the teachers’ technologies.


Hi Mike,
I’m Ove Christensen, Educational researcher at Unviersity College Zealand in Denmark.
I posted the below question in a wrong space, I’m afraid. So this is a repost:
Thanks for opening a discussion on the social learning aspect in MOOCs.
I’ve started 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 (on a #Moodle platform) 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 : )


Hi Mike,

My background is as a learning technologist and ementor for educators in Australian higher education!

I have designed and facilitated a couple of MOOCs using a combinaton of MOODLE, MAHARA, FACEBOOK and BLACKBOARD COLLABORATE. I am now even more interested in how to attract and engage with culturally and geographically diverse participants using the MOOC concept! Eg projects that target specific International Educational programs such as TOASTMASTERS!

I have participated in a few of the MOOCs of varying flavours and enjoy being a connected learner

What do you believe are the critical ingredients for best practice in successful MOOCs?



The social context. Collaborative processes have become clearly the major ingredient for intellectual learning and problem-based learning as well.
MOOCs nowadays focus on the delivery and assignment aspects mainly. It barely needs the notion of social interaction as well. Together with Jonathan Bishop and Maarten de Laat I would like to focus at that aspect.
Piet Kommers


Dear prof. Sharples,

Thanks for the invitation. I’m currently teaching and researching at the Open University of the Netherlands (Maarten is a colleague). I’m an educational psychologist and am very much interested in social aspects of (online) learning and design of social learning environments. I’m a member at Coursera, but haven’t participated much till now (mainly workload issues). I did research about MOOCs in the context of a European project on OER’s before, and am very interested in cMOOCs, about which I read a lot and was part of a twitter group for one cMOOC for teachers before.

I think your question about the scalability of arrangements for social learning is a very interesting one. I think overload is a big problem here. I’m exploring with colleagues which technologies can help simplify and visualize important social cues for learning. But maybe more importantly I wonder about the accessibility of such social constellations (now: at scale). What if there is a whole bunch of newcomers trying to engage all at once? How does socialization happen? How does this impact the social configuration and patterns of knowledge co-creation? How do we keep such a massive social space manageable for learning? What are the entry points and strategies for learners?

Looking forward to all the discussions.



@sharplem Thanks for getting the first Hot Seat of our 2015-2016 series started. While I know you will not be able to reply and engage with the conversations that have started here until you return on Sunday, 25 October, it is great you opened the discussion to begin earlier.

These sorts of questions related to MOOCs remind me of a divergence between open and somewhat informal moocs and those that are more formalized (both corporate-supported ones and non-corporate-related higher education ones). Glad we have a couple days to begin this conversation and include a diverse set of voices.

Thanks also for posing this topic within the Conversation Theory framework, something I have not encountered in some time.


Dear Mr. Sharples,

Maarten de Laat invited me to join this hot seat discussion. I’m a PhD student and just starting my research on informal learning and learning networks in agile organisations in the Netherlands. I’m an educational technologist.

My experience with MOOCs is limited to one which I joined a couple of months ago. This MOOC was about informal learning. It struck me that the learning proces itself was still pretty linear and traditional, although the interaction between students was starting to evolve. As others I am very interested in the way you can facilitate these interaction in such a way that people are more willing to join, but also are more able to trace back important information. For this last point I discovered it to be pretty hard, having 700 people joining the MOOC and giving their opinions. Only 10% really did, but this was still too much information to really read.

In a short while I will develop a MOOC on Curatr for a large company. It will be one of my questions how to get people moving through this huge amount of info in such a way that they will find the key issues for them fast enough and still get inspired by new ideas as well.

Kind regards for now


@Sebo, can you speak a bit about the MOOC you will be developing; is it for higher ed or corporate end users?


Thank you for the welcome Mike. I am an independent education consultant and researcher - and one of my research colleagues - Frances Bell - has already posted in this thread.

Thanks also for the prompt about how many MOOCs we have attended and completed. I have registered for at least one MOOC a year since 2008. I keep a spreadsheet of my participation! Looking at it I see that I have registered for 20 MOOCs (platforms have been Moodle, Blackboard, Coursera, Cloudworks, Wordpress, P2PU and a whole host of social networking sites), been highly engaged in 8 MOOCs, collaboratively designed, developed and taught on a MOOC with a team from Oxford Brookes University, and published 9 research papers as a result (actually 2 - written with Frances and Mariana Funes - of these are in waiting!)

I like to think about levels of engagement rather than completion - a high level of engagement through all the weeks can equate to completion for me, even if I don’t submit all the required work/assignments etc.

Your question Can we develop a pedagogy that is suited to large-scale learning events such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)? comes as I have just viewed a conference keynote video from Al Filreis where he explains how he engages with over 30000 learners in his MOOC http://linkis.com/www.youtube.com/gvgnk Having taken and fully engaged with this poetry MOOC I can testify that he has succeeded in developing a MOOC with substantial content, a strong pedagogical philosophy and an ongoing world-wide community of learners. But I’ll let you view the video and judge for yourself - although the experience of ModPo itself is even better.

Looking forward to the discussions.


Hi Mike,
I am a PhD student at Trinity College Dublin studying communities of practice in support of teacher professional development. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s degree in Instructional Design.

I think I have signed up for one MOOC. Attended a couple of sessions and then abandoned it. The lecture model is not a particularly student needs focused model. I suspect your Conversation Theory perspective would add value, but for me, MOOCs are too overwhelming and too loosy goosy. :smile:

I’m curious to see the video Jenny has posted. Looking forward to the conversations as I love to understand learning theories.

All the best,
Barb McDonald


Greetings everyone.

Thank you Mike for this prompt.
I enjoyed reading about the different experiences and interests of all you folks here :smile:
Personally I registered with the FutureLearn in 2013 and soon started on my first MOOC experience. I only managed the first two weeks. Earlier in the year during a workshop on computing education and research I was pretty much baffled by the exotic costs (running into hundreds of thousands) involved designing and implementing these courses :no_mouth:
I was enjoying my first MOOC experience and soon found myself establishing a number of connections using Google+ but unfortunately I had to give it up because of pressing teaching commitment and thesis development at the time. From my brief experience, in this MOOC instance at least, it was mostly up to the student whether to go through the course working at your own pace or co-operate (more than collaborate) with others for learning. There were prompts encouraging students into discursive activities but much of the conversation was disjointed. When the numbers are large you end up following a small subgroup of participants whose comments you find of interest and that’s it. Another case which comes to mind is a group of people who know each other and take up doing a MOOC together supporting each other while ignoring everyone else. What I mean here is that the question of inclusion/exclusion looks as if very relevant here … as maybe the question of interculturality and the intersection between these two issues. Or is it the case of ‘who cares’ in the MOOC environment?


Welcome everybody!

It’s very nice to see the hot seats taking off so rapidly this time. Feel free to build on each others ideas and contributions.

As this hot seat officially starts on Sunday. Mike will probably not be with us before then. I hope he won’t be too overwhelmed by your warm and enthusiastic welcome. But i guess this is related to the topic of massive social learning.



Regarding the theories we can use, I am not yet familiar with the conversational framework, but I did once write a piece on socio-cognitive models for learning trajectories in MOOCs for an International research proposal. It wasn’t funded, but I proposed the following:

I think that new combinations have to be made – e.g. combining Bourdieu’s theories of field and capital and contemporary iterations of Foucault’s work on governance. Governance produces a certain type of individual through e.g. pedagogic or punitive instruction towards a specific end, and is exercised both laterally (between participants) and hierarchically (by the platform design/ effort by designers to alter participant actions). We may also need to bring in an ANT-informed approach to understanding non-human agency and the heterogeneous network (e.g. Keatinge, 2010 -The Expression and Constraint of Human Agency Within the Massively Multiplayer Online Games of World of Warcraft and Eve-Online: a Comparative Case Study)

Furthermore, how do we define structure and agency in the contexts of MOOCs? For instance, Bourdieu’s concepts of field and capital can be incredibly useful in defining the spaces humans act in, but what about affordances of technical objects in the environment, do we define that as a sort of agency brought into the situation by the object? Settings, for instance, are simultaneously perceptible as technical objects and as ‘places’ which, in either instance, facilitate human interaction.



Hi Barb - so pleased to see you here. Just to say that not all MOOCs use the lecture model, so it sounds like you were unlucky with your first experience. But I’m not anti lectures myself. I find that some ‘lecturers’ and lectures can be very engaging and entertaining and can hold my attention for up to an hour or more, particularly if I focus on taking comprehensive notes. If the lectures have been videoed I often treat them a bit like reading a book chapter or article. I will pause and replay sections of the video and then write my own version of notes.

I’m wondering what you mean by MOOCs being too ‘loosy goosy’. What is it that they just don’t do for you?

Hope the PhD is going well. It sounds interesting.


Hi Jenny!
It’s so good to see you here, too! It’s been too long since we’ve talked “learning.”

Loosy goosy for me means there’s no accountability. Without that, I lose my motivation to learn “stuff”. The MOOC I joined was through MIT, I think – Creative Learning. It was very activity and group oriented. But while I was very interested in the topic, I didn’t really care about the details that we were talking about. That, coupled with working full-time, doing a PhD part-time, and having a husband and two small children – it probably wasn’t something I had time to start anyway.

I guess I’m very much bought into the idea that learning happens in practice (ala Wenger) and unless I’m going to be doing something, there isn’t much to hold my attention.

I appreciate your explanations of how you use lectures. I’d like to turn the question around on you and ask, “What do you get out of participating in MOOCs?” :slight_smile: Perhaps I’m going at them wrong. That’s part of why I want to follow these conversations.


Hi, I am from Argentina. Thank you for this new Hot Seat! I have been following them since 2010 and they have always been great!
I work at the CITEP - Center for Innovation of Technology and Pedagogy - at the University of Buenos Aires. The center was created in 2008 to advise faculty on the pedagogical inclusion of technology in their classes. We also explore new tendencies and offer faculties teaching professional development courses.
In 2013 we designed the first MOOC. It was designed with a great motivation for innovating in online pedagogical approaches, and massive open courses. We wanted to invite participants to interact and actively engaged in a learning experience. We had 2800 participants from different countries of Latin America and Spain. The platform chosen to design the course was developed by the team of CITEP in an open source platform. We needed different level of integration with Social Media and opportunities to create collaboratively.

Jenny highlighted the difference between levels of engagement and levels of completion. [quote=“jennymackness, post:12, topic:164”] I like to think about levels of engagement rather than completion
[/quote]And I agree! After having signed up in several MOOCs in which I wasn’t able to actively participate, when I had to design our first MOOC we gave participants three different levels of involvement to choose from. That proved to be a good strategy.

Thank you for all the links you are sharing to learn more form your experiences!!!


Hi Fleaur,
It seems we have very similar interests :grinning: Having read your post I wonder if the twitter group #hashtag still exists - and under which hashtag. The most common used hashtag on Twitter for MOOC discussions is to my knowledge #MOOCs. I’ve been following and participating in some MOOC discussion on Twitter. You’ll find me as @oveucsj - It would be fine to integrate Twitter for our discussion.


Perhaps use #nlchotseat as hashtag?


Thanks @ryberg, but I think it’s better to stick with the hashtag already in use: #NLC2016 :smile: