MOOCs I have known

So far in 2013, while on sabbatical, I’ve actively participated in two MOOCs (Massive, Open, Online Courses): the OU course on Open Education, and ETMOOC (Educational Technology and Media MOOC). The latter was one of the best educational and professional development experiences I have ever had. The former…well…was just okay. Not bad, but not transformative like ETMOOC was.

I want to use this blog post to try to figure out why this might have been the case, and in the next one I’ll focus in on one particular difference and discuss it in more depth. 

I don’t think it was just the most obvious difference, that the OU course was an “open boundary” course, meaning it was a face-to-face course that invited outside participants as well, and ETMOOC was not–though ultimately, this may have been an important part of why the two differed so much.

A heated discussion

A heated discussion, CC-BY licensed flickr photo shared by ktylerconk

1. Synchronous presentations/discussions

ETMOOC had 1-2 synchronous presentations weekly, some by the “co-conspirators” (the group that planned and facilitated the course), and some by people outside the course. These were mostly held on a platform that allowed interactivity between the presenter and participants, including a whiteboard that participants could write on synchronously, and a backchannel chat that presenters often watched and responded to.

Instead of synchronous presentations, the OU course had assigned readings and/or videos for each week. ETMOOC had no such assigned materials, just the synchronous sessions. These are somewhat similar, though of course the presentations get you a sense of being more connected to the presenter than does reading a static text or video from them. There is at least the chance of asking live questions.

The OU course had one synchronous presentation and two synchronous discussions–the last one a discussion of how the course went & thoughts for the future. I could only attend one of these because of time zone issues, and there was much less interactivity–the chat was much less active, e.g.

2. Twitter

ETMOOC had a weekly Twitter chat that was, most weeks, very lively. I met numerous people through these chats that I followed/got followers from, and I still interact with them after the course. The Twitter stream for the #etmooc hashtag was quite busy most of the time, and still has a good number of posts on it. The OU course had no synchronous Twitter chat, and most days saw maybe 2-3 tweets on the #h817open hashtag. Few participants used Twitter, and those that did, didn’t use it very much. Mostly they announced their own blog posts/activities for the course, though some shared some outside resources that were relevant.

3. Discussion boards vs. Google + groups

OU had discussion boards where, I imagine, much of the discussion took place (instead, e.g., of being on Twitter). ETMOOC had no discussion boards, only blogs, Twitter, and a Google+ group.

Iwent to the OU boards a couple of times, and remembered that I really don’t like discussion boards. I am still not sure why. Partly because they feel closed even if they are available for anyone to view, and partly because I don’t feel like I’m really connecting to people when all I’m getting are their discussion board posts. Unlike Twitter or Google+, I can’t look at their other posts, their other interests and concerns. I stopped looking at the boards after the first week or so.

Fortunately, some of the members of the OU group set up their own Google+ group, so I did most of my discussion on there (and on others’ blogs). There was a small group of active participants on G+ that frequently commented on each others’ blogs, much smaller than the ETMOOC Google + group.


Linked, CC-BY licensed flickr photo shared by cali4beach

4. Building connections

ETMOOC started off with some presentations and discussions on the sorts of activities needed to become a more connected learner (unsurprisingly, as this was a connectivist MOOC), such as introductions to Twitter, to social curation, and to blogging (one of the two blogging sessions stressed the importance of commenting on others’ blogs, how to do it well, etc.)  (see the archive of presentations here). Many of us are still connecting after the course has finished–through a blog reading group, through Twitter and G+, and through collaborative projects we developed later.

OU had no such introduction to things that might help us connect with each other–again, unsurprisingly, as it wasn’t really designed as a cMOOC, it seems. There was a blog hub, and there were suggestions in the weekly emails to read some of the blog posts and comment on them, but it wasn’t emphasized nearly as much as in ETMOOC.

I don’t see myself continuing to connect with any people from the OU course; or maybe I will with just a couple. I didn’t really feel linked to them, even though we read and commented on each others’ blogs a bit. I think the lack of synchronous sessions, including Twitter chats, contributed to this–even in the ETMOOC presentations we talked with each other over the backchannel chat. Of course, things might have been different if I had participated in the online discussion forums in the OU course; but I still think those are not a very good method for connecting with others, for reasons noted above.

5. Learning objectives

The OU course had explicit learning objectives/outcomes for the course as a whole, and for each topic in the course. ETMOOC, by contrast, explicitly did not–see this set of Tweets for a discussion about why. The quick answer is that ETMOOC was designed to be a space in which participants could formulate their own goals and do what they felt necessary to meet them.

6. Dipping vs. completing

ETMOOC had about five topics, each of which ran for two weeks. They were more or less separate in that you didn’t have to have gone through the earlier ones to participate in the later ones. There was an explicit message being given out by the co-conspirators, picked up and resent by participants, that it was perfectly fine to start anytime and drop out whenever one needed/wanted, coming back later if desired. There was no “getting behind” in ETMOOC–that was the message we kept hearing and telling to each other. And after awhile, it worked, at least for me; I missed a few synchronous sessions and didn’t feel pressure to go back and watch them. I just moved on to things I was more interested in.

The OU course seemed more a “course” in the sense of suggesting, implicitly, through its structure, that it was something one should “complete–one should start at the beginning and go through all the sections, in order. Some of the later activities built directly on the earlier ones. Now, clearly, this makes sense in the context of having a set of course objectives that are the same for all–participants can’t meet those if there isn’t a series of things to read/watch/do to get to the point where they can fulfill them.


So, clearly, two very different MOOCs, doing different things, for different purposes. Obviously, for some people in some contexts and for some purposes, each one is going to have upsides and downsides. In the next post I focus on one particular downside, for me, of the OU course (though, as you can tell from my tone in the above list, I found ETMOOC more engaging). I also appreciated the flexibility, which the next post addresses.




  1. Christina:

    thanks, as ever, for reflecting out loud. I always learn something from your thinking. Partly, this is explaining to me while I’m a little hesitant about diving into another course (though, I think I’m going to dip my toes into #teachtheweb, because it appeals to me); #etmooc was so ideal for my learning style, goals and needs right now. As much as there were a lot of platforms to keep track of, it meant lots of places to connect with others.

    One thing that was interesting to me is that participants in your OU course didn’t tweet much. I found that kind of intriguing/telling. Maybe people weren’t at the same level of “sharing”, and understanding that the smartest person in the room is the room, as people were during #etmooc. I would also say that the co-learners we shared #etmooc with were a pretty motivated, engaged bunch, well-versed, for the most part, in social media, and ready to be pushed a little bit. So that’s making me think about how much difference the cohort can make to my learning (not that that should be a surprise, I certainly see it as a Core French teacher when I see how different classroom mixes make a phenomenal difference).

    1. I agree with you, Lisa, on how etmooc just fit what I needed then, and now. But I have to remember, and the comments on the next post are helping me to do that, that what others need may be very different! And for some, the OU course was exactly right. Thus, I should emphasize that all this is my own view, based on what I personally want from an online course, and what I, you, and the others who were active in etmooc loved would probably be aversive to some, or even many.

      And I think part of the reason for this is exactly what you note–that etmooc worked for those who were already self-motivated and who had a certain degree of facility with edtech and social media. Many of us who ended up being very active are also already fairly far along in our education careers, and hold certain shared views of education and pedagogy. So yes, the cohort makes all the difference (especially in a connectivist MOOC!). This isn’t to say there weren’t some great people in the OU course–I regularly read a few blogs and really enjoyed them. Some of the students decided on their own to start a Google+ group, and the people on that were great. There just wasn’t much in the way of Tweeting, for some reason. Probably having weekly Twitter chats in etmooc made a difference there.

      I’m really glad many of our fellow etmoocers are continuing the cohort through the blog reading group, which I have yet to be active in (but plan to, starting next week!). And some of them are doing the Mozilla course, so you may see them there!

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