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What is the role of the learner?
How are the learners building new knowledge?
How is learning assessed?
Who is creating the content?
What types of interactions are taking place?
How flexible are the course path and the course goals?
In this light, MOOCs themselves are as diverse as the
instructors who create them. As ed tech consultant Phil Hill
notes in his 2012 report, MOOCs are "so distinct in peda-
gogy...it is confusing to designate them by the same term."
The need to acknowledge the differences between
MOOCs has led to the rise of two main categories:
xMOOCs (using a more traditional, lecture-based format)
and cMOOCs (also known as connectivist MOOCs). A
lesser-known version of MOOCs, the Open Boundary
experience, is an online extension of a face-to-face course
experience. Matriculated students study side-by-side with
non-registered students, with the goal of exposing stu-
dents to experienced voices from the field. Some of the
differences between the two dominant "branches" of
MOOCs are highlighted in the chart at right.4
xMOOCs vs. cMOOCs
What is the ultimate goal?
Efficiently deliver content to larger audiences;
award learners with certificates/certifications;
reach new audiences; experiment with new
courses outside the university structure;
increase access to Ivy League content or
provide free access to education.
Foster connections and collaborations among
learners; kindle future collaborations rather than
provide a contained experience with a defined
end date; spawn smaller niche communities.
What learning or instructional
theories are informing the
Instructionism (teacher-centered): The
learning process focuses on moving
knowledge from the instructor to the student.
Connectivism and/or connected learning: The
learning process focuses on the connections and
collaborations between learners.
What is the role of the
The creator of content, assessments,
activities, goals, and learning path.
A colearner, working collaboratively with other
learners to create content, shape goals, generate
new knowledge, etc.
What role does the learner
The learner receives knowledge (usually
in video format), participates in small
group work, and responds to quizzes and
The learner is a cocreator of the MOOC.
How are learners building new
Learners view content developed by the
instructor and apply that content to problem
sets or projects defined by the instructor.
Learners create production-centered projects
that relate to course themes; share knowledge
they developed during the production process;
give feedback and support to peers; share
How is learning assessed? Learners complete assessments (quizzes or
peer-reviewed assignments) that evaluate
their comprehension of a topic as it is
understood from the instructor's view.
Learners share their insights as they go through
the knowledge-building process (e.g., via status
updates or blog posts) and self-assess their
Who is creating the content? The content is created by the instructor.
The weekly activities are created by a core group
of motivated learners and additional content is
created by participants.
What types of interactions are
Learners view content created by the
instructor and work in small groups to solve
problems/work on projects.
Interactions take place between learners as they
go through the knowledge-building process. The
course content is shaped by these interactions
as the learner contributes new material to the
How flexible are the course
path and the course goals? The syllabus, activities, and assessments
are determined by the instructor before the
course launches. Prerecorded video content
works well for xMOOCs since the learning
path is set.
The general themes/topics are collaboratively
determined by a small group of learners and
shaped throughout the course by the whole
group. Course goals are determined in response
to the community, on a week-by-week basis.
MOOCs are as diverse as the
instructors who create them.
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