xMOOC Communities Should Learn From cMOOCs

My sense is that xMOOCs have a community problem.

Sure, you can get an answer to a math problem at 2 a.m. from a student in the Czech Republic, and that’s pretty cool. But whereas cMOOC communities persist and do meaningful things in the world, in general xMOOC communities are less robust. They don’t persist. They connect students as students, but not as colleagues. It reminds me of this old diagram from Jon Mott and David Wiley comparing Open Learning Networks to class networks based on a CMS:


Which could easily be updated as


One of the reasons this happens is that too much of the conversation happens inside the proprietary system. A lot of people teaching xMOOCs have worked around that. I know Stanford Online sets up IRC channels for their courses that live long after the course is gone, and that many professors in the CourdacityX courses push conversations to Twitter and other social media channels. That’s good, and I hope they keep moving in that direction.

But the other piece that makes the networks less robust is that the primary focus of the social interaction is often the course itself, and not the individual work or interests of the students. Communities thrive and survive when they are tied to things you do — your work, your hobbies, your music. They will survive the class to the extent that they have been built around activities that are bigger than the class itself.

That’s why I think that if xMOOCs want to truly have persistent, effective communities they are going to have to build the community not around success in the course, but around larger, more authentic applications of course content. To a certain extent, the xMOOC will have to become the chewy center of the cMOOC.

xmooc is a chewy center

I’m not saying this is revolutionary. It absolutely already exists. You can make an argument that this is a version of ds106, or a cMOOC with a more rigid assignment core. And you can, of course, cut out the F2F layer there if you want — it could be an online subcohort layer, or you could eliminate it entirely. I work in blended learning, so this happens to be the scenario I’m interested in.

You can also argue that if the massive cohort is structured as a cMOOC, then the xMOOC is really just a collection of shared digital resources. and not a MOOC at all. Perhaps it’s a “distributed flip“. I wouldn’t argue with you there.

But I think the basic idea is sound, and the direction that the “massive” communities of xMOOCs are going to go if they are going to retain meaning. This is particularly the case now that xMOOCs are moving into blended scenarios where a global community based on xMOOC assignments is a bit redundant when students have access to a local face-to-face subcohort. That subcohort will absorb a lot of the interaction that is now being handled in the massive cohorts of xMOOCs, potentially making the larger community a bit meaningless unless it becomes somewhat more authentic.

3 thoughts on “xMOOC Communities Should Learn From cMOOCs

  1. hi Mike, I’ve been thinking the same thing!!! I was wondering, though, if you’ve seen any cMOOCs whose topics have been NOT connectivism/educational-technology/technology related??? Is it possible that the concept of connectivism is so unfamiliar to xMOOC professors (as regular bricks and mortar teachers)? On the other hand, the connectivism is really for the students, who are probably more open to it (I don’t know about demographics, but the older MOOC students are probably among the tech savvy older folks; I do know of research on cMOOCs that showed how many people were uncomfortable with the lack of structure – but as you say, building a cMOOC atop an xMOOC takes care of that).

  2. There’s a definite paucity of cMOOCs in more traditional subjects — one tension here is that as Downes will point out in a true cMOOC there’s no coercion: the student gets to decide what they want to learn and how they will assess their progress. That works well for professional development, but doesn’t map onto the traditional course very well.

    I think the closest stuff to what I imagine is the sort of stuff going on at UMW blogs where they have engaged in “thinning the classroom walls” (was that Alec Couros’s phrase?). They ran an experiment with simultaneous Whitman classes at different institutions that I think is still under-appreciated as a model.

    I also remember a couple papers in IRODDL saying what you mention about structure — this one by Kop comes to mind: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/882/1689

    Glad to meet you!

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