Recently, we’ve been getting inquiries from associations and corporations interested in having their own MOOC. Unfortunately, you can’t have a MOOC. Sorry. End of blog post.
Why not, you ask? I guess I’d better explain myself.
The barrier is not technology–we (and many of our competitors) have the software and infrastructure to support a MOOC right now. The problem is that you don’t have the brand to draw a truly massive number of learners, and that critical mass is required to make MOOCs work.
But there is good news! You can create a MOOC-like experience–a “quasi-MOOC.” Below, I’ll explain why massive numbers are essential to making MOOCs work, then offer five simple tips for creating a quasi-MOOC that gives almost the same experience to your learners–even if they don’t number in the tens of thousands.
MOOCs, Mass, and Social Learning
Let’s start with definitions. The term MOOC (coined by Dave Cormier) stands for massive open online course. So, it’s a course, it’s online, and it’s open–free to anyone with an Internet connection. But why is the “massive” part so important?
Massive is a borrowing from techie precedents like MMORPG (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, like World of Warcraft). It means this open online course is big, of course, but it also implies that the mass is simultaneous: tens-of-thousands-of-learners big, with everyone working on the same content at the same time. Without that, it’s not a MOOC. The educational experience does not work the same way without those tens of thousands of “multiplaying” users.
A MOOC works by substituting its gigantic online community of learners for traditional student-instructor interaction. As the New York Times (among others) has noted, a MOOC instructor cannot answer all the questions generated by students. Instead, students jump onto the discussion forums or other social tools to put their questions to the user community. If the MOOC really is massive–think of those thousands of students all working on the same assignments–then it’s virtually guaranteed that someone else has already asked a student’s question, and that another person has taken the time to give a helpful answer. Just as quickly as you could get a personalized answer by raising your hand in class, you get the answer by typing it into a search box. It just comes from another student instead of the instructor.