What is MOOCification?

by Sean Michael Morris



The MOOC is dead. It is a death that was predicted, inevitable, and one that will linger for some time, the odor of its putrefaction filling our hallowed halls. What is more interesting about the MOOC’s death than its inevitability, though, is that the MOOC was always a corpse to begin with. This is a fact we contend with as culture begins the autopsy of this educational phenomenon.

In the early days of the MOOC onslaught, Jesse Stommel whispered under the din that “MOOCs are a red herring.” And only a short time later, he and I called attention to the fact that the MOOC is not a thing. We said that,

“Try as they might, MOOC-makers like Coursera, EdX, and Udacity cannot keep their MOOCs to themselves, because when we join a MOOC, it is not to learn new content, new skills, new knowledge, it is to learn new learning. Entering a MOOC is entering Wonderland -- where modes of learning are turned sideways and on their heads -- and we walk away MOOCified.”

When I say that the MOOC is dead, what I mean is not that nodal online learning will cease. There are many very successful MOOCs out there that will likely run again and again, providing opportunities for participants to connect with one another, with a community of ideas, and with the vast resources of the Internet. However, the furor around MOOCs during the last year has centered almost exclusively on the MOOC-as-college-course, the MOOC-as-threat to higher education, the MOOC-as-disruptor, instigator, interloper, monster. That is the MOOC that has died; that is the MOOC that never was alive. It was a MOOC that was a concept only, not an artifact, not an experience, not a thing. That MOOC was the MOOC of our worst nightmares, and the object of our projections. The MOOC that higher education has belittled, fought against, and denied is one that never existed, except in the wild imaginations of tenured professors and Frankenstein pedagogues. And so, while that MOOC was decidedly always already dead, it did manage to give birth to some very interesting, very important offspring.

The idea that MOOCs were something other than what they appeared to be first surfaced in our experimental, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, mini- micro- meta-MOOC about MOOCs endearingly titled “MOOC MOOC”. That week-long course -- offered first in August 2012 and again in January 2013 -- began with the premise that we did not know what a MOOC was or could be, but that it was worth exploring. Behind that premise was a sense that the MOOC-as-strategy did indeed have something to offer our pedagogies. We didn’t know what, and we let the 1,000 or so participants in MOOC MOOC figure it out.

Among those first participants were Janine DeBaise and Chris Friend, our collaborators on this 24-hour MOOC. Neither of them was interested in running a MOOC of their own once MOOC MOOC was over, but they found that the tools, techniques, approaches, and innovations that MOOC MOOC made possible could -- and should -- have a place in their on-ground courses. Essentially, they chose to MOOCify the courses they offered.

But what exactly do we mean by “MOOCify”? In large part, that’s what you’re here to discover, through invention. But for the time being, here’s a handy working definition of MOOCification:

MOOCification: to harness (in an instant) the power of a nodal network for learning. Rather than creating a course to structure a network, MOOCification relies on nodes to power a learning activity (or assignment). MOOCification also refers to a pedagogical approach inspired by MOOCs that is unleashed in an otherwise closed or small-format course.

The point of this 24-hour MOOC is not to learn to make a better MOOC, it is to learn to make better learning by using the lessons MOOCs have to teach us.

And what are some of those lessons? For one, a new learner has been unearthed: a learner who is more autonomous, who is less interested in the credential a course provides and more interested in the learning experience, and who is willing to take her education into her own hands. As Cindy Selfe, et al., discovered in Ohio State University’s Writing II: Rhetorical Composing MOOC,

“All of these people share a desire to learn, not for credit (the course offers none), not for a conventional grade (there are none assigned), and not because they paid tuition (they didn't), but simply because they want to write, share their writing, and improve their talents as writers.”

This is not every learner, but it is a learner who has been largely untapped by an academic system that relies on a different kind of commitment to the authority of the teacher and the completion of a course or course of study. This new student (who is not actually new, but who has always been around in the form of the lifelong learner) is part of a whole networked learning culture that has been educating itself for some time.

And that’s another treasure the MOOC invasion has uncovered: networked, nodal learning. Or, as we knew of it before MOOCs came on the scene, social learning. People do not just learn better in groups, they learn more. Learning is magnified through the connections that people make, that they’re allowed or encouraged to make, and that are fostered by pedagogies with an eye toward interactive, student-centered work. MOOCs made this connectivity apparent through the use of social media, and in doing so, they pointed out an ingredient that had been missing or overlooked in many a pedagogical approach.

The MOOC has created debates about the ownership of ideas, the sharing of resources, the role of the teacher and learner, the notions of authorship and collaboration, the sticky mess of FERPA, and much more. When they haven’t been busy trembling or raising their fists at MOOCs, academics and pedagogues have been intrigued by issues and themes that were underlying education all along, but that the MOOC laid bare. In these ideas, notions, messes, and themes lie new pedagogies waiting to wake up. In them lie the potential to change the way we teach to better match what is really going on in learners’ lives and in our hybrid culture.

MOOCification, then, is many things, can take many forms. And it’s up to you and everyone else in this course today to figure out just what it can mean.

Some Additional Material to Explore

Al Filreis, Cathy N. Davidson, Ray Schroeder, and Ian Bogost, “MOOCs and the Future of the Humanities: a Roundtable (Part 1)
MOOCON 24 - a 24-hour MOOC conference organized by students of Social Media class in Kelowna B.C. Canada
Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel, “Digital Pedagogy and MOOCification
Robert Maxwell, “Learning Objects and MOOCification
John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas, “Learning in the Collective