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No Dropouts, Just Learners #etmooc

January 28, 2013

I tagged this question from the #etmooc twitter stream over a week ago and it has been nagging me to respond ever since. Through all of the reading I’ve done about moocs int he last two years, which has been just enough to make me dangerously loaded with opinions, I still like Dave Cormier’s YouTube video for my working definition.

Cormier says at the end that “only you can tell, in the end,  if you’ve been successful…just like real life.”

While Cormier’s words might not apply to other types of MOOCs,  in a connectivist MOOC like #etmooc, I hope the resounding answer to Jenny Ankenbauer’s question is that only she can categorize her course experience.

Audrey Waters, in her blog for Hack Education, posed the question, “How do we know if students are learning – even those who complete the courses?”

Loaded dangerously with opinions as I am, and having lurked, participated, flourished and fizzled in MOOCs, I think a great question to ask yourself about your learning in a MOOC is:

What stuck?

The #change11 mooc was a 35-week marathon offering and if memory serves, the home page explained to participants that practically no one would participate actively in all 35 weeks. For my part, I arrived late then drifted in and out, but the learning I did in the course was as meaningful as any I’d done in my graduate program at a local university. One week in particular that stuck for me featured Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge, presenting on complexity and the Cynefin framework.  I’ve since discussed his framework with different people in my learning network and recently reread A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making, which I find helpful in my work. The learning I’ve done about complexity and Snowden’s framework is an example of the rhizomatic  nature of learning, which was an idea I was exposed to in #change11.

To  return to Water’s concern about how we know, I’m not certain that it is important that we know what people are learning in MOOCs, especially if we have to use any measure besides asking them.

Since a traditional university couldn’t have managed the openness or the complexity of that MOOC and certainly would have no use or category for my late arriving, here-one-week-gone-the-next approach to the course, I don’t think that the categorizations from traditional institutions ought to apply to MOOCs.

Just as  the number of inactive Twitter accounts doesn’t diminish the power of Twitter for joining conversations or expanding a PLN, MOOC dropout statistics don’t paint a picture of the amplified learning opportunities in a MOOC, even for participants who come and go.

More important than deciding if you’re a dropout or a finisher, is knowing if you’re contributing to or benefiting from a connectivist MOOC. On the “How this course works” page of #change11, Downes, Cormier and Siemens paint the picture of a MOOC in full swing.

When a connectivist course is working really well, we see this great cycle of content and creativity begin to feed on itself, people in the course reading, collecting, creating and sharing. It’s a wonderful experience you won’t want to stop when the course is done.

And – because you can share anywhere – you won’t have to. This course can last as long as you want it to.

To which I’ll add, if the course can last as long as a participant wants it to, we should reflect on the need to identify dropouts when we can be making connections.


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