I’m in this weird space right now where it seems like there’s a lot of public conversations going on around topics I’ve been immersed in for years, like student loan debt, college access and quality, and educational innovation. I’m trying to stay fresh by moving into the world of K-12 but of course I also want to be part of these conversations, without feeling like I’m repeating myself.

I’ve also been working a ton, because I’ve finally been released to freelance on education topics and at the same time shifted to contributing a lot more to Fast Company’s website. Here’s my cover story on charter schools in the Village Voice. Here’s two pieces in the American Prospect on higher education aid and student loans. Here’s an op-ed in Inside Higher Ed. Here’s my last ten pieces in Fast Company. All of that in the last month. And I have three feature stories going on right now. Whew.

But I have something to say about MOOCs. Specifically about the quality of pedagogy in MOOCs as offered by platforms like Coursera and Udacity and edX. David Wiley, who has taught me a lot of stuff, said this at least five years ago, actually. MOOCs are content. Content is infrastructure. Infrastructure is just the first step.

MOOCs are content = a MOOC is not a course. A sage-on-stage┬álecture-based course is not particularly innovative, I know. But take those same lectures, chop them up into short segments, make them fastforwardable, pausable, allow people to add comments, ask a question in the forums, start and stop any time they want, work examples in realtime alongside the instructor, go to Wikipedia to look something up–

–you have changed the fundamental nature of the experience. The power relationship is different. The talking head is shrunk to the size of a thumbnail. She speaks at the whim of the student. And her truth is represented as one among many hundreds of options, all of which are accessible for free.

Content is infrastructure = If you look at it this way, a MOOC is really more like a glorified (really glorified) textbook. It’s not an end-to-end solution. It’s the basis of an experience that people have individually and collectively. Interaction with other people around the ideas is always going to be the important part of what happens to people when they are engaged with any kind of educational content.

Infrastructure is just the first step = People give MOOCs too much credit and too much blame. Obviously there are better and worse ways to design them. But more important to look at the system they’re a part of.

What’s the most important thing about MOOCs? The people who are engaging in them. The numbers — the volume– the scale–the impact. This is what blows peoples’ minds. It’s not what is in the MOOC, it is who is in the MOOC that matters. It’s the way that they engage with each other and the ideas. And it’s what they do with it next.

One Response to “MOOCs are Infrastructure”

  1. jean devine says:

    check out the connectivist mooc #etmooc…the creativity, collaboration and elevated experiences shared amongst innovative educators around the world magnifies your final paragraph 10x!

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