Thanks to Stephen Downes for this link on OLDaily to a short 15 second video from CBlissMath illustrating the connectivity of participants in a c-MOOC. In this case the MOOC was CMC11, which described itself as a connectivist MOOC that focuses on sharing and building knowledge on connectivism and PLE’s. Unlike x-MOOCs such as sponsored by CoursEra, MITx and others, c-MOOCs (origionally designed by Downes, Cormier and Siemens) explicitly focus on the development of networks of participants and objects(see Rodriguez for more on c and x- MOOCs). The x-MOOCs seem to follow a content centric model that some would call an instructivist pedagogy (or what Jon Dron and I referred to as Cognitive-Behaviourist pedagogy, in an IRRODL article from last year).
However what the video using Gephi network software illustrates is the large number of totally unconnected nodes that seem to make up the majority of the MOOC participants. Now, I realize there is some limited value to the participants of being a 100% lurker (I’ve done it myself on more than one MOOC), but it is especially ironical when the c-MOOCs, focused on connectivty, seem to demonstrate less connectivity (or at least engagement) than the x-MOOCs – especially if one counts as engagement submission of assignments or exercises to be marked by machines. I’ve long argued that such learner-content interaction can (and often is) a critical and if done well, a perfectly satisfactory form of learning and ca even be considered equivalent to other higher costs forms of learning (see our Interaction Equivalency site)
In a recent post Phil Hill identified four barriers that MOOCs have to overcome – one of which was high drop out rate. Daphe Koller co-founder of CoursEra has argued in an Inside Higher Ed post that “The [students] who drop out early do not add substantially to the cost of delivering the course,” she says. The most expensive students are the ones who stick around long enough to take the final, and those are the ones most likely to pay for a certificate.” So in both models of MOOC (as evidenced by the ;’massive’ in the acronym) adding a few hundred or a few thousand non participating students is easily done at extremely low cost. This does however demonstrate accomplishment or learning.
But distance educators have for decades struggled with ways to interpret high drop out rates associated with most forms of distance education. We have rationalized that “the student got what they wanted, even if they dropped out”, blamed the students for not being committed or being deficient in a variety of academic or personal skills or aptitudes, and made excuses about the definition of drop out (as compared to campus students). But it does raise the issue of personal as well as financial costs. Do non-engaged participants walk away with a sense of personal failure, a conformation of their not being smart enough to take a course, guilt that they hadn’t “made the time” or expended the necessary effort, or did they indeed get what they paid for (in the case of MOOCs, nothing!).
Lots more research needs to be done, but undoubtedly these demonstrations of scalability, unmatched since the impressive efforts of the Open Universities in the 1980′s, are hopeful signs that evidence a potential solution for the greater than inflation cost increases in higher education that we have seen for the last twenty years. However, lets not ignore the decades of research on drop out that these same open universities and distance education scholars have been gathering to insure that we are not just inventing more options for those minority of gifted and privileged students who can and do succeed under any form of higher education.