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[2b2k] MOOCs as networks

Siva Vaidhyanathan [twitter: sivavaid] has a really well-done (as usual) article that reminds us that for all the excitement about Massive Open Online Courses — which he shares — we still have to figure out how to do them right. There are lots of ways to go wrong. (And I should hear note that I’m posting this in order to: (1) recommend Siva’s article, and (2) make an obvious point about MOOCs. Feel free to stop here.)

The fundamental issue, of course, is that real-world ed doesn’t scale very well. The largest classes in the real world are in the hundreds (oh, maybe some school has a course with thousands), and those classes are generally not held up as paradigms of Western ed. Further, traditional ed doesn’t scale in the sense that not everyone gets to go to college.

So, now we have a means for letting classes get very big indeed. Hundreds of thousands. Put in the terms of Too Big to Know, the question is: how do you make that enormous digital classroom smarter than the individuals in it? 2B2K’s answer (such as it is) is that you make a room smart by enabling its inhabitants to create a knowledge network.

  • Such a network would at a minimum connect all the participants laterally, as well as involving the teacher

  • It would encourage discussion of course topics, but be pleased about discussions that go off topic and engage students socially.

  • It would enable the natural experts and leaders among the students to emerge.

  • It would encourage links within and outside of the course network.

  • This network would enable students to do their work online and together, and make those processes and their traces fully available to the public.

  • All the linking, discussions, answered questions, etc., would be fed back into the system, making it available to everyone. (This assumes there are interactions that produce metadata about which contributions are particularly useful.)

  • It would encourage (via software, norms, and evaluations) useful disagreements and differences. It doesn’t always try to get everyone onto exactly the same page. Among other things, this means tolerating — appreciating and linking to — local differences among the students.

  • It would build upon the success of existing social tools, such as liking, thumbs upping, following…

  • Students would be encouraged to collaborate, rather than being evaluated only as individual participants.

  • The learning process would result in a site that has continuing value to the next students taking the course and to the world.

I’m not trying to present a Formula for Success, because I have no idea what will actually work or how to implement any ideas. Fortunately, there are tons of really smart people working on this now, with a genuine spirit of innovation. All I’m really saying is something obvious: to enable education to scale so that MOOCs don’t become what no one wants them to be — cyber lecture halls — it’s useful to think about the “classroom” as a network.

13 Responses to “[2b2k] MOOCs as networks”

  1. Hi there! We’ve been outlining some plans in a very similar spirit over at the Peeragogy project. Maybe we can chat sometime!

  2. Hi David,

    Connectivist MOOCs are network-based and have been running since about 2008. See: &

    (I took one for credit.)


  3. […] Downes relates to this post on MOOCs as […]

  4. Hi David, I’ve been a fan ever since Cluetrain blew my mind about 6 years ago. I was really excited when my colleague, Dr. Chris Sessums, sent me a link to this article after we did a webinar on Friday about how to turn a MOOC into a MOON (Massive Open Online Network) using the GoingOn academic social networking platform. I appreciate you shedding light on this topic, as I think it is exactly how educational institutions should be thinking about the way forward in a broader connectivist network that can be supported and fostered within the virtual or brick walls of the institution. Thanks again for pushing the envelope!

  5. I really like your post!
    thanks so much for sharing it.

  6. Hi there, it’s always insightful to read what people are doing and discussing in regards to MOOCS. Ben, I like the terminology ‘MOON’.
    There has been discussion on the different types of MOOCs, mainly between MOOCs that give content across to learners and then MOOCs where the learning comes from the discussions. The later being the original idea behind what is called a MOOC.
    Here’s an interesting article to read through:

    – this is not my own blog, just a good source of information.

    It’s definitely those constructive & focused online discussions that appeal to me about MOOCs and just general online learning.

  7. ONLINE HE is in the USA for 20 years.
    And sold at $ 1,500 per course.
    Nobody understood that ONLINE is for masses for millions .
    First MIT recognised that in 2001.
    They made a long range plan.
    They declared first massive course in December 2011 then Coursera and Udacity came .
    ONLINE is for masses for millions .
    Therefore it has to be shared by millions .
    Model 1 :
    Share it with the world at a small fee
    Model 2:
    Share it with all colleges in the USA
    ANTIOCH University started that .
    Learn how to get credits and degrees from MOOCs

  8. […] MOOCs as networks […]

  9. Echoing Alison’s comments, well-designed connectivist MOOCs such as #change11 and #fslt12 and the CCK series deliver on the networked learning value that you described above.

  10. […] [2b2k] MOOCs as networks […]

  11. […] David Weinberger: MOOCs as networks. JoHo The Blog, […]

  12. […] [2b2k] MOOCs as networks […]

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