Scaling Education: The Absurd Case of the MOOC

Cameron D. Norman, Jul 21, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I think this commentary comes tantalizingly close to solving its own problem, but ultimately fails. The point of departure is Ghanashyam Sharma's criticism of MOOCs, covered here last week. The premise is that the MOOC does not address background, culture, personality and literacy, at least, not the way "speaking to a room of about 25 graduate students" can. We need to carefully consider what it means to take education to scale, Cameron Norman says. "We need to design our educational experience using the same principles or design thinking we would apply to any other service of value... What is being lost in the effort to make a common experience among a global classroom?"

Well, some people (ahem) have thought about this. What do we learn from other services? Does Apple make a different version of the iPod for each group 25 people? No, that would be absurd. Did Stephen King write a different version of The Dome for each reading circle? Of course not. The idea here is that you create something that can be easily modified or used when, where and how people want to use them. That's what our MOOCs did - we took the design thinking of an internet application, and applied it to an online course. And then we encouraged people to adapt, reuse, fold, mutilate and spindle our online work in their own fora to make it work for them. The approach to scale in online learning is exactly not to facilitate a common experience, but rather, to facilitate an experience each person can make their own.

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