Coursera+DS106This is my assignment for activity 14 of the Open University’s ‘Open Education (#h817open) course  in which I look at how MOOCS have been defined and  compare the Direct Storytelling courses (ds106) with those provided by Coursera.


The MOOC acronym was coined in 2007 by David Cormier and Bryan Alexander to describe the University of Manitoba course ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge’. This attracted less than 3,000 students so was, by some degree, less massive than more recent online courses.

Some have argued that the monolithic nature of MOOCs now depersonalises them to the point that they can only pay lip service to the principle of ‘connectivity’ and makes the use of the adjective ‘open’  a bone of contention.

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An example of the backlash can be found in Reclaim Open Learning, a network which prefers to talk in terms of “small pieces, loosely joined’ rather than an unwieldy and impenetrable mass of resources.

Sir John Daniel’s paper on Making Sense of MOOCs looks at the history of online courses and sets them in a wider educational context. He talks a lot about the intense media interest surrounding them and even goes so far as to refer to them as ‘fads’.

Daniels makes a distinction between cMOOCS and xMOOCS yet, irritatingly, doesn’t bother to define exactly what he means by these terms. Elsewhere, I found the following definitions:

  • “cMOOCS are discursive communities creating knowledge together”  
  • xMOOCS are “based on the teaching model where the teacher teaches, and the students learn and consume the knowledge”

The fundamental difference is between active and passive learning activities; a process neatly represented by these two diagrams where the image on the left represents the x-model and that on the right shows the connectedness between learners


Daniels implies that he doesn’t believe MOOCs in their current form will survive long and writes that “the discourse about MOOCs is overloaded with hype and myth while the reality is shot through with paradoxes and contradictions”.  Much of his scepticism derives from the high level of dropouts and the fact that nobody seems to be sure how to generate income from these online courses.  He does, however, concede  that it is too early to draw any definitive conclusions.

My first brush with MOOCs was The University of Edinburgh’s E-Learning & Digital Cultures (edcmooc) on Coursera. This was such an enjoyable and informative course that I find it hard to share Daniels’ grumpy attitude.

I liked the fact it seemed as if it was as much of a learning experience for the organisers as it was for the participants.  Jeremy Knox of the Edinburgh team describes MOOCs as “an emerging pedagogical mode that is significantly under-theorised” which I suppose is academic speak for ‘the jury is still out’ with regard to their long-term potential.

Elsewhere, we hear a lot of  course designers talking  in terms of MOOCS as online ‘events’ and ‘offerings’ – the first suggesting they are something akin to a 60s-style ‘happening’, the second making them sound like gifts for the masses.


The changing face of graduates!

To digital immigrants like me, Direct Storytelling (DS106)  looks very daunting indeed. I feel immediately that I am in a place where those who have grown up with technology are looking to show off their expertise and creativity to the world.

Although the organisers describe it as an “open, online course”  it is arguably neither  a ‘c’ nor an ‘x’  MOOC.  There are no lectures or prescriptives; the brains behind DS106 imply that ‘open’  means that nobody is really in charge. It’s  a digital Fight Club – the only rule is that there are no rules.

I can see that something important is happening here but, like Dylan’s Mr Jones. I don’t  exactly know what it is.

What  it is most assuredly NOT is a traditional educational resource where the teachers and learners roles are fixed.

There are recommended “tools for the trade”  but how these are used is entirely up to course participants.  It is like a classroom full of materials where students are let loose to express themselves. Those enrolled  are encouraged to  “frame identity in their own way”, to avoid repeating what others have done and to create something new, bold and original.

But you don’t just do the work. You also have to tell the story behind what you have done. rather like a movie director talking about why she chose a particular shot, soundtrack  or type of lighting.


I feel on much safer ground with Coursera. It has obvious appeal to people  like me who were brought up, some might say indoctrinated, by traditional learning methodologies.

The philosophy is determined by  established educational institutions. Courses utilise a patriarchal pedagogy designed to “help learners learn the material quickly and effectively”.

The website invites surfers to be awestruck by the wealth of courses on offer and by the prestige of the top universities partnering the company, 62 at the time of writing. And, make no mistake, it is a very impressive list. I recall the first time I searched the site, wondering what the catch was.

The courses offered through Coursera show that making distinction between cMOOCS and  xMOOCS adds a level of complexity which serves no useful purpose.

The five-week Edinburgh course I participated in was teacher-centric in the sense that five instructors chose the course themes and the links to core  texts.  However, beyond this x-factor, the ‘c’ for connectivity  was also immediately present through the enthusiastic engagement by the course participants. The official forum was not where the most meaningful discussions took place. The main action was on social network sites  like Google+. Facebook and Twitter where there was an explosion of lively discussion about the course itself and the MOOC experience in general.

The edcmooc course assessment involved the creation of a digital artefact that demonstrated an understanding of the course theme.

As with ds106, the format of the artefact was entirely up to the student and was submitted for peer evaluation. The limitations for each depend mainly on the degree of expertise and knowledge of online tools.


The difference between ds106 and Coursera can be boiled down to the fact that participants of the latter were responding to a specific set of resources whereas ds106 students are creating something new based on their own instincts and experiences.

This takes the principle of ‘learning by doing’ to its logical conclusion in that  it suggests that the Punk DIY ethic can also be applied to education. If they are right, this means that the role of instructors in the 21st Century will become more and more that of facilitators rather than educators.


At the risk of sitting on the fence on this issue, my own view is that the future of education lies at a middle point between the mainstream and radical models.

There is no question in my mind that we can all learn a lot by self discovery and from sharing knowledge with our peers. But network learning does not entirely negate old teacher-centric models.

Both ds106 and Coursera have devised frameworks for virtual classrooms in which  the boundaries are limitless. The innate danger is that these will end up as an anarchic free-for-all that diminishes rather than enhances the learning potential.

How these and other online courses will evolve in the future still remains an open question.