For MOOCs to be considered valued spaces for learning, they need to adopt aspects of the earlier connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs) and reintroduce social elements. While it might seem logical to copy our largest traditional course format when creating MOOCs, the importance of social connections in learning has been recognized in environments highly relevant to MOOCs. Researchers have described social elements as key to self-directed learning.2 Referring to online learning environments in particular, Kreijns, Kirschner, and Jochems identified two pitfalls for social learning online: "the assumption that social interaction can be taken for granted and that it will automatically happen" and "forgetting the social-psychological/social dimension of social interaction that is salient in non-task contexts."3 These shortcomings have been widely recognized in xMOOCs, with even the president of Stanford saying, "When I think about MOOCs, the advantage — the ability to prepare a course and offer it without personal interaction — is what makes them inexpensive and makes them very limited."4
While distinct, these two separate forms of learning networks — cMOOCs and open content–focused xMOOCs — need not conflict. In addition to the content, learners require opportunities to reflect on and use the new information they have acquired. Bringing together learners around a common topic or theme is what MOOCs have to offer the open content movement as a whole. By creating these communities, MOOCs can create a cycle of using, producing, and improving open content on the web. For this to happen, courses need to have interaction built into their platforms and consider the advantages of complete openness at scale.
Platforms with Support for Social Interaction
The major MOOC providers' platforms bear a striking resemblance to the learning management systems popular on most campuses: The primary function is to provide content, with the only tool for learner-to-learner interaction frequently being the discussion board. The central content is almost always video lectures, divided into segments and often with multiple-choice questions interspersed. While many pundits claimed MOOCs would revolutionize education, really they reverted to the most traditional and hierarchical model of online education. One of the original MOOC creators, George Siemens, lamented, "One of the drawbacks of MOOCs are [sic] that they've really instantiated the worst pedagogical practices, and they've allowed us to broadcast [them] and export [them] more effectively."5
Although changes are limited, we have begun to see a shift back toward the social within the larger xMOOC platforms. Coursera has introduced hubs where course participants can meet in the real world. Many of the courses within the major MOOC platforms provide participants with the ability to connect via popular social media platforms as well, usually via a common Twitter hashtag, Facebook page, links to regular Google Hangouts, or OpenStudy. While an improvement, these tools generally remain underused because the course design continues to mimic a traditional lecture course.
Via Miloš Bajčetić, Lynnette Van Dyke