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Editors’ Choice: The Theory and Infrastructure Behind Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) Round-up

What is the theory that underpins our moocs?

By George Siemens

If you’re even casually aware of what is happening in higher education, you’ve likely heard of massive open online courses (MOOCs). They have been covered by NY Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, TV programs, newspapers, and a mess or blogs. While MOOCs have been around since at least 2008, the landscape has changed dramatically over the past 10 months. In this timeframe, close to $100 million has been invested in corporate (Udacity) and university (EDx and Coursera) MOOCs . And hundreds of thousands of students have signed up and taken these online course offerings.

Personally, I’m very pleased to see the development of Coursera and EDx. The learning potential for society (globally) are wonderful. All of the critiques that I’ve read so far ring hollow compared with the tremendous learning opportunities that these MOOCs provide. This hit home for me when I was in India a few months ago. I met with numerous university students and the message was clear: we simply can’t get the quality of instruction from some of our colleges that we get from Coursera. While we debate pedagogical models and the ideologies informing different MOOCs and the corporate interests of open courses, the lives of students in different parts of the world are being changed with these projects. And that should be our real focus.

A secondary focus, for me (and far lower on the scale than the primary one mentioned above), is around the learning theory and pedagogical models that influence different types of MOOCs.

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 What Lies Beneath: Some Thoughts on MOOCs’ Tech Infrastructure

 By Audrey Waters

Much of the mainstream media attention paid to MOOCs lately has involved the content, the credentialing, the cost, the class size. But what about the technology?

…. I don’t want to make too much of the difference between the learner-focused gRSShopper and the community-oriented Lernanta. Sure, there is plenty of difference, but I don’t think Lernanta is quite as demonstrative of P2PU theory as gRSShopper is for connectivism. And too, both these are both open source systems serving OER communities.

There’s another gulf again between these two systems and the new Stanford-model-MOOCs. (Although MITx – and now presumably edX – does say it will open source its MOOC platform (source code link?).) The latter MOOCs have recreated a traditional LMS in many ways for their technology platforms, driving (almost) all course activity onto their own course sites. Udacity does host its videos on YouTube. Otherwise, there’s no RSS. There’s no integration with external student blogs. The social or peer element involves primarily class forums. All work is done on and submitted via the platform….I’m curious to see if learners will bubble out beyond the confines of the tech platform once Coursera offers more humanities and social science classes.  Bookmarking, blogging, social media, RSS – will the new MOOCs open to these technologies?

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This content was selected for Digital Humanities Now by Editor-in-Chief based on nominations by Editors-at-Large: