Image used to publicise the Elearning & digital culture course

A couple of months ago I had no idea what a MOOC was. Now, I not only know what it means but I’m starting to wonder if this represents the future of education as we know it.

A MOOC is the somewhat ungainly acronym for the equally ungainly term Massive Open Online Course.

They are courses because you learn new stuff, they are available online, they are open because anyone can sign up free of charge and they are massive because they are very, very big.

My first MOOC starts at midnight (GMT). This is hosted by Coursera and provided by Edinburgh University. It’s called Elearning and digital cultures and “will explore how digital cultures and learning cultures connect, and what this means for e-learning theory and practice”. It’s safe to say it is already creating a buzz in cyberspace. Last night I participated in my first Twitter chat (#edcmchat) session in which I and other Moocers excitedly shared our collective hopes and dreams.You only have to Google ‘MOOC’ or consult the Mooc List to see how this thing is taking off big time.

The academics behind it are not planning to correct all (or any?) of the participants’ work since the principle is one of peer evaluation.  In other words, the professors set the ball rolling and where it goes from there is then determined by activities on Facebook, You Tube, Wiki, Google +, Twitter and practically any other social network resource you can think of.

I got my degree through the Open University; six years of pleasurable work back in the pre-digital age when distance learning meant you tuned into the TV at ungodly hours, received packs of study material (including cassettes and even vinyl albums) through the mail and wrote assignments by hand. This makes me sound ancient but I graduated in 1990.

MOOCs are a measure of how the world of education has changed and I was excited to learn that the Open University is getting involved too through Futurelearn. A number of other British universities have signed up to this although no courses have yet been announced. When this gets underway it will provide online learning opportunities to rival what has up till now been a phenomena dominated by U.S. establishments. Hopefully the baton will also be taken up with non-English speaking institutions.

A number of reservations and questions are being raised about how this trend can continue without funding. Sharing all this empowering knowledge for free is amazing but can surely only be a short-term offer. It’s hard to see how university staff can devote the woman/man hours on these projects without there being some way of generating income. Some have already voiced concerns that fee-paying students may get a rawer deal if their lecturers are sidetracked into these new fields.

Sooner or later (probably sooner) I’m sure there will some ‘premium’ offers requiring online students to pay for services and if/when this happens the onus will be on course managers to do more than simply write the material. They may, for example, be expected to give more direct, personalised feedback to participants, a daunting prospect given the high take up rates.

What happens when Moocers bond?

For the moment at least, I’m looking forward to seeing how my chosen MOOC turns out. One participant on the Twitter chat commented on how this whole massive attack/movement  is blurring the line between teachers and learners. I think this is true and also one of the most inspiring aspects of the trend.

People do have the power and with the right technological tools the future can be brighter. The altruistic nature of the courses is its strength and this aspect must be preserved if it is to maintain the buzz and momentum that has been achieved in such a short space of time. My fear is that businesses will try to muscle in with more exploitative plans designed more to generate finance than to improve our brains.

Over the course of the next month, I suspect I’ll be using this blog as a way of evaluating the quality of the Edinburgh course and reflecting on what I have learned.  I hope to make some new contacts along the way . Digital friends forever (DFF) is another term that is being banded around and such is my current level of enthusiasm that I’m even prepared to overlook the cheesier aspects of such a concept and give a virtual hug my MOOC.

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