Associations Should Consider the MOOC

BY Jeff Cobb

Note (Fall 2012): When I wrote this post back in 2008, the term MOOC – for “massive open online course” – was only just starting to be used, and even then only among education geeks. Since then – and particularly over the past several months – it has headed towards mainstream status as a number of major universities and high profile start-up companies have embraced the idea. (Just Google MOOC and see how much comes up.)  For the time being, it is rocking the world of higher education, but I have no doubt it will also disrupt the continuing education and lifelong learning market.

Here’s the original post:

Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC. That’s the name that has been given to a new initiative by thought leaders George Siemens and Stephen Downes. The educational blogosphere is buzzing with the implications. Membership organizations, in my opinion, might want to tune in.

Connectivism and Connective Knowledge”  is the official name of the learning event that Downes and Siemens will co-facilitate. Over a twelve week period, it will cover “concepts of connectivism and connective knowledge and explore their application as a framework for theories of teaching and learning.” Siemens and Downes will take advantage of a range of social media tools for facilitating learning and interaction and the course is open to anyone who wishes to enroll. So far, more than 1200 people have.

(If you are not familiar with “connectivism” as a concept, check out Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age or a presentation on connectivism that George Siemens did quite a while ago (or simply Google connectivism – plenty out there). Aside from connectivism being the topic of the course, an understanding of it can significantly deepen appreciation for the MOOC as an approach to learning.)

I suspect I don’t really even need to spell out how the MOOC model could be of value in the association sector. Or for nonprofits hoping to engage a large group of stakeholders around a cause. Or for businesses seeking greater engagement with their customer base.

Just taking associations as the main example, imagine bringing together a significant slice of your audience online – member and non-member – over a period of days, weeks, or even months to engage on a topic that is central to their day-to-day work. Not just an online conference with a line up of presenters – plenty of that has already been done with widely mixed results. Rather, an event that is truly facilitated, in which key thought leaders help evoke shepherd audience input and participation, taking advantage of social media-driven Learning 2.0 approaches.

The potential seems tremendous. And not just for professional development or continuing education. I sincerely hope this idea will not be relegated to that. This is the stuff of missions.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of what Siemens and Downes are doing will not even be the course itself – though I have no doubt that will be incredibly valuable, and I plan to participate – but rather observing the thinking and processes by which the course comes about. Siemens and Downes have been documenting their efforts on the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge blog, and have also engaged in at least one podcast interview so far on EduTech Talk.

P.S. Thanks to Jennifer Maddrell over at Open Education News for highlighting references to the Connectivism course as a MOOC.

P.P.S. – Although the term “course” is already being applied, I’m not all that found of it. “Learning event” feels more appropriate. Make it a Massive Open Online Democratic Learning Event, and of course, you’ve got MOODLE ;-)

More notes:

The above is really a re-issue of a post I did on massive open online courses (MOOCs) in 2008 on the Mission to Learn blog. It was lost in a server crash in 2009 and I did not restore it because it no longer fit the focus of that blog. I’ve decided to restore it here for a number of reasons:

1. Someone recently contacted me about having come across a link to it that no longer worked. I e-mailed this person the text of the post, and his comment was, “Now you can understand why I was so interested on your post. It has the best explanation on the business potential of MOOC.” Perhaps others will be interested as well.

2. George Siemens and Stephen Downes – originators of the MOOC – are at it again with a massive course devoted to personal learning environments.

3. It’s always nice to have some ready-made content to post!

4. [Added December 10, 2010] Dave Cornier has recently published three good videos about MOOCs

Note [August 2011]: Ellen Behrens has recently added to the association conversation around MOOCswith Are You Ready to MOOC?

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