IMHO, a MOOC is an evolving and dynamic learning and collaboration

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This is a continuation of my MOOC series and also a post that draws a lot from the #MSLOC430 Community and MOOC (“C” type) that I am participating in — the open section of the graduate course in the Master’s Program in Learning and Organizational Change at Northwestern University.

Before I plunge into the heart of my analysis and discussion, I want to share a couple of snippets on Networked Learning from Wikipedia. (

Networked learning is a process of developing and maintaining connections with people and information, and communicating in such a way so as to support one another’s learning. The central term in this definition is connections. It takes a relational stance in which learning takes place both in relation to others and in relation to learning resources.”

Network learners of the future will have access to formal and informal education of their choice, wherever they are located, whenever they are able to participate… The network learner will be an active participant … learning with and from experts and peers wherever they are located.”

In this post, I am going to focus on what IMHO are requirements and demands from MOOC participants and organizations looking to go the MOOC way. I have written about what constitutes a corporate MOOC and some of the design principles of a MOOC in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, respectively. With organizations thinking of MOOCs as a scalable and cheaper way of providing training and professional development opportunities to the workers, it is important to keep in mind a few considerations before launching a MOOC.

One of the shortcomings of being human is that we tend to measure & judge the future through the lenses of the past. As Marshall McLuhan so memorably put it: “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” We run the risk of evaluating MOOCs using traditional learning principles. Worse still, we will end up trying to design MOOCs to reflect traditional, linear learning models. In both cases, we will fall short and will not be able to perceive the benefits of a MOOC ecosystem. Here are a couple of things that MOOCs are NOT:

  1. A MOOC is NOT an on-line course with a discussion forum and a couple of other “social features” tagged on to it.
  2. A MOOC is NOT a linear program (though xMOOCs do give that feeling) with a neat start and en end.

IMHO, a MOOC is an evolving and dynamic learning and collaboration ecosystem that may encompass more than one technical platform and various modes of learning from short, byte-sized videos and e-learning capsules to user-generated content in the form of reference links, blog posts, discussion threads, and much more. MOOCs are well-suited for open-ended topics that generate discussions and debates, have new knowledge and research growing around it, and are of interest to a wide audience.

I came across a telling sentence in the article, MOOCagogy: Assessment, Networked Learning, and Meta-MOOC that completely resonated with my belief of what a MOOC can be, and hence my focus on what it takes to design an ecosystem for a MOOC.

MOOCs are anthropological opportunities, not instructional ones.

Having said this, I also understand that MOOC as a design methodology is flexible and can be crafted to suit an organization’s needs, culture and context. I am calling out a few things to distinguish traditional learning design approaches from a MOOC. Moreover, for organizations looking to adopt MOOCs as one of the methodologies, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. To make MOOCs successful, it is important for orgs to have:

Community managers and facilitators — I have written about this later in the post.

The rest of the points below are more to do with the culture within an organization.

  • Executives who participate and “walk the talk”
  • A culture of sharing and participation
  • A willingness to make mistakes, ask questions
  • A spirit of collaboration over competitiveness
  • A level of comfort with social tools and norms (discussion forums, blogging, micro-bloggging)


A MOOCs core aspects are participation and emergence. The characteristics and context of a MOOC (when effectively facilitated and thoughtfully designed) evolve as it progresses. The initial topic becomes the trigger around which communities and cohorts form, discussions take place, resources get created and shared. MOOC platforms like Coursera and Udemy have mobile apps that make accessing these MOOCs at any point of time a seamless experience. It also means that participants engage more actively and can share content in various forms — videos, pictures, podcasts, micro-blogs, and forum posts. The other social aspects of liking and rating add to the engagement level. Enter wearables into the scene. And user engagement might see another dramatic shift. MOOCs and wearable tech together can create a world of working and learning as yet unexplored and unimagined.

As mentioned by @LnDDave in his presentation on Wearable Tech, it has enough disruptive power to forever change how we work and live. Learning will simply become integrated into our life-stream. A MOOC, even within the context of an organization, has the capacity to bring together an incredibly varied group of people with wide cognitive diversity — different world views, perceptions, frameworks and heuristics. Thus, a Community of Interest can form around the original topic of the MOOC, which serves as a catalyst to bring people together.

FUTURE OF MOOCs – An Example

Imagine a student conducting a lab experiment somewhere in one corner of the world. She works out loud and records it on her wearable camera (part of any one of the devices she’s wearing), and uploads it to a forum which happens to be part of the MOOC she is attending. Others in the forum get to see the recording, share their opinions, discuss it further, conduct their own experiments and upload videos. All of this happens within the span of a day. The participants are an eclectic bunch ranging from students doing part-time MOOCs and full time regular classes to folks working in different sectors.

Let’s take this imaginary example a bit further. One of the MOOC participants (let’s call her Amy) happens to be scouting for likely candidates to assist in a research project. The work will happen on-line. The selected candidate needs to have a flair for research, an innate curiosity and an exploratory mindset. As she participates in the forum, she reads responses from one participant that piques her curiosity. Amy gets in touch with the participant, and finds her research assistant.


Coming back to some practical suggestions for facilitating MOOCs: A YouTube video on Community of Inquiry shared by +Helen Blunden in her post, cMOOC, Social Learning Guided Design or Community of Inquiry – All The Same? refers to three kinds of presence within a Community of Inquiry: teaching presence,social presence and cognitive presence. This is a different lens and framework through which to view facilitation of an online community. While CoI’s exist within an academic setting, I think the framework can be applied in a corporate setting. Can we take this framework — the three roles of facilitators — and extrapolate into a MOOC environment?

Within an organization, the three aspects of the role may not / need not be played by the same individual.

  1. Teaching Presence: This role can be played by the SMEs (subject-matter experts) for that particular topic who pose queries, respond to questions of a technical nature, and share their expertise.
  2. Social Presence: This can be taken up “community managers” / individuals who are comfortable with social tools, have an understanding of online participation and can facilitate the participation of others. Maybe, someone from the L&D team can take up this role within the context of an org. I have written about the importance of acquiring new skills for L&D. It is also very likely that the participants will step into this role, enabling and encouraging each other.
  3. Cognitive Presence: This aspect of the role is going to shift among everyone. I have to still build this out and am mulling over the topic.

I am looking for inputs from my network. This blog is still work in progress and and mostly a summary of half-baked thoughts. A shout out to the #MSLOC430 community for triggering various ideas and sharing so generously.

Here are all five posts of this series…

1. MOOCs in Workplace Learning – Part 1: Some Points to Consider
2. MOOCs in Workplace Learning – Part 2: Designing a MOOC
3. MOOCs in Workplace Learning – Part 3: Launching a MOOC
4. MOOCs in Workplace Learning – Part 4: Their Role in Corporate Universities
5. MOOCs in Workplace Learning – Part 5: Skills Learners Need Today

Written by our Guest Blogger, Sahana Chattopadhyay

Sahana Chattopadhyay is an L&D Consultant, OD Specialist, Blended Learning Architect, Social Learning Evangelist, and Blogger.

Sahana’s work cuts across performance consulting, workplace learning strategies from formal to informal and social learning, knowledge management methodologies and adult learning principles. She is passionate about helping organizations become learning organizations through community building, enabling personal knowledge management, and bringing working and learning together.

Sahana has appeared in the list of Top Ten e-Learning Movers and Shakers for the Asia Pacific region for four consecutive years from 2011 to 2014, topping the APAC list in 2014 and appeared in the top ten of the global list.


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