Friday, 14 March 2014

MOOCs v e-Learning

Many of you may have asked, been asked, or been to afraid to ask what's the difference between a MOOC and e-learning?  Unless you've been somewhat insular over the last couple of years you will have heard of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and their huge impact on what we broadly class as education.  But aren't they just e-learning?  Well, that depends on your definition of what e-learning is...

So MOOCs are a form of e-learning in its purest sense because they are based on electronic media.  The only questionable part is the learning - of course this in itself is sometimes a misnomer for e-learning so without getting in to good examples or bad examples MOOCs are and example of e-learning.  So why would we consider them otherwise?  It's because of the way they've grown up and constructed that a lot of e-learning purists (assuming such a thing even exists in our blended world) are of the impression that a MOOC is really a collection of resources and a bit of social media rather than properly designed learning media.  Some of this stigma is valid, for instance in the early days (and still sometimes) people put resources in a 'course' add a forum, put a quiz on it (if they're really advanced) and call that e-learning.  Again, broadly it is, but if you want to call it good e-learning that's something different.

If you insist that your e-learning be highly interactive then a lot of the 'resource' based learning (and lots of MOOCs fall into this category) fall short of this and consist of pages, links and lots of videos which seems to be a bit of a rewind given modern learning theory.  Of course the 'quality' can be off-set by putting good social tools around it and invoking great response from the community.  A MOOC with just resources but a very active and involved community will actually be a success.  If you think about it this makes a lot of sense when we remember the learning is pervasive (that old 70/20/10 model again).  If only about 10% of learning is from the formal - then it makes sense that the focus should be on the environment and social tools where the bigger slice of pie can be accessed.

So does this mean we swing the other way and proclaim that a MOOC is actually superior to an e-learning course?  No joy that way either, because good e-learning not only gets maximum effect out of the small piece of pie, but it is also able to use social media by either sitting in an environment that allows and promotes this (such as a good LMS) or has supporting infrastructure and tool access.  In fact if MOOCs are part of e-learning you could swap that around and say that e-learning is a part of a MOOC too - the only distinguishing part being how big it is (Massive) and how available it is to a wider audience (Open).  Given that most e-learning is online (yes, there are still some non-web based learning examples and closed systems of course, you could say e-learning was an OC and therefore the only differentiation between a MOOC and OC was the MO - or in other words if you e-learning is accessed by lots of learners and open to outsiders to join you've effectively got a MOOC.

That's all fine and dandy, but in reality the question isn't what's the actual difference between the two it's how good the design is of whichever is suitable; that means everything as usual is going to boil down to your instructional design first and foremost.  High-quality e-learning is not only interactive with a learner and system, but also with learners and trainers/teachers and of course learners and learners. 

So if that all boils down to 'click next to continue' and good social tools around the media to I have to suck back on an earlier blog?  Maybe a little!  But unless you're working with highly limited resources strive for interactive and engaging pull e-learning on your 'modules' with highly engaging social tools around it and reap the rewards with engaged learners... yeah MOOCs and e-learning alike.