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This subgroup is wonderful – a meta discussion and in line with the original notion of a MOOC. The earliest MOOCs like CCK08 (before there was a word for this) encouraged all manner of “learning” and encouraged participants to decide what they wanted to learn and how.

Many people found the big discussions overwhelming and said so. Many participants elected to “lurk” in many discussions and other communications streams. Some participants blogged or tweeted about resources they found useful, summarizing key points and adding their own reflections as a “product” of their learning. These post were then gathered up electronically into a daily summary email that was available to any participants who subscribed to the email newsletter.

But the current MOOC (and most others) are different. There is a prescribed course curriculum to be covered. It is considered somewhat unusual to have all modules open on Day 1, and permit participants to work though the material in any sequence. Most are linear, some with “gates” preventing access to the next module until all requirements for the current module have been completed.

Many participants “lurk” through some or all of the proceedings. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t “participating” and learning – just not publicly. They may not want or need the credit, so completing “required” assignments isn’t a good use of their time. They may be gaining a tremendous amount from the experience. Blocking access to content seems pretty narrow-minded. Either the MOOC is open to all for whatever reason or it isn’t a MOOC.

Some MOOCs do try to have smaller groups for projects or peer review of assignments, but these aren’t usually too successful. Even though participants are assigned a group or select a group, most groups never gain a “critical mass” – enough participation to sustain a meaningful exchange of information and ideas. In some cases the groups have been formed by people who have some common group outside the MOOC and are participating together. Outsiders need not apply.

If the objective is to find a cheap way to get masses of students through common courses, a MOOC is unlikely to be a satisfactory solution. At least not with learners who are not well versed in independent learning. Many students are challenged by conventional online courses with more structure, scaffolding and facilitator intervention.

Learning to learn in a MOOC of any kind will have to come first. This is not intuitive nor is it taught to the best of my knowledge. It isn’t the same as taking a conventional online course. Learning in a MOOC is something quite different. Think guided independent study…

MOOCs have great potential to provide a learning experience about a subject to vast numbers of learners on their own terms. Each learner comes with prior knowledge, interests and expectations as well as limitations. Everyone should be able to take away something more than they came with, to varying degrees. What that might be can only be determined by the participant. Sadly, some MOOCs are developed as poor substitutes for massive on-campus lecture courses at prestigious institutions for students who have been prepared to excel in this environment only. Out in the real world, MOOCs can be so much more. The MOOC creators and facilitators can only imagine, and enjoy the ride as it unfolds.

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