I was asked (along with Dave Cormier and George Siemens):
"How might it be possible to show that cMOOCs are effective for
learning, in the sense of providing evidence that institutions might
accept so as to support opening up more courses to outside participants (a
la ds106, Alec Couros' EC&I 831, etc.)? Or, more generally,
providing evidence that participation in and facilitating cMOOCs is
worthy of support by institutions... What I'm looking for are criteria one might use to say that a cMOOC is successful. What should participants be getting out of cMOOCs?"
I think the best way to understand success in a MOOC is by analogy with, say a book, or a game, or a trip to the city.
The person taking the MOOC is like a person reading a book, playing a
game, or taking a trip to the city. It is impossible to talk about 'the
objective' of such an activity - some people want to learn something
(and others something else), others are doing it for leisure (and others
as part of their job), others to make friends (and others to get away
from their friends for a while), etc.
If we were a commercial enterprise we could focus on sales. Then we
could focus an ad campaign on the actual reasons people take MOOCs -
but we wouldn't need to worry about whether they were met, only about
whether our advertising enticed people to pay the fee. But I think that's
a pretty narrow criterion for success.
I would adopt George's suggestion, and look to the institutional goals
for offering MOOCs. But again here we find a wide array of interests:
some want to use MOOCs as advertising, to entice people to enrol in
other courses; others want to experiment with new methods of delivering
learning; others want to support products or services they sell; still
others want to serve a social good and provide free learning from the
community. Each objective will have its own metric for success.
My own response treats a MOOC for what it is: a network. I then ask
whether it satisfied the properties of a successful network. I can do
this from two perspectives: first, from a process perspective; and
second, from an outcomes perspective.
The process perspective asks whether the MOOC satisfied the criteria for
successful networks. Of these, the most important are contained in what
I call the Semantic Condition, which ensures that the MOOC remains a
living system. The semantic condition contains four parts: autonomy,
diversity, openness, and interactivity. The MOOC is assessed against
each of these and a degree of compliance may be found.
The outcomes perspective looks at the MOOC as a knowing system. By that
what I mean is that the MOOC should exhibit network properties on a
macro scale - in other words, that we should be able to say things about
the MOOC without reference to particular individuals in the MOOC. This
is to treat the MOOC as an entity which perceives, or which learns, as
a whole. These things are emergent properties, for example, emergent
knowledge or emergent learning. Did the MOOC as a whole produce some new
insight, or recognize some new phenomenon in its area of study?
MOOC success, in other words, is not individual success. We each have
our own motivations for participating in a MOOC, and our own rewards,
which may be more or less satisfied. But MOOC success emerges as a
consequence of individual experiences. It is not a combination or a sum
of those experiences - taking a poll won't tell us about them - but rather a result of how those experiences combined or meshed together.
This may not reflect what institutional funders want to hear. But my
thinking and hope is that over th long term MOOCs will be
self-sustaining, able to draw participants who can see the value of a
MOOC for what it is, without needing to support narrow and specific commercial or personal learning objectives.