Monday, April 29, 2013

The MOOC Mantra: Top 5 Tips for Success

In February, I completed my first #MOOC course titled, E-learning and Digital Cultures (#edcmooc). At the time, this was one of six MOOCs being offered by the University of Edinburgh through Coursera. This was a 5-week course with two major themes followed by completion of an artefact to summarize the key learnings from the course. The artefact was evaluated by peers and a median grade was reported to each individual.

This post is a reflection of my learning from the MOOC experience and aims to help others who are riding this wave. This post is not about the #edcmooc course though it does use the course as an example.

MOOCs are massive open online courses, which means:
  • Massive: There are massive numbers of students enrolled in a course. #edcmooc had 40K enrollments. However, enrollments don’t say much about participation. I would suspect that for #edcmooc, there were around 2-3% participants.
  • Open: They are open meaning free to enroll and attend with an open structure. This could also mean the courses use open content for teaching as was the case for #edcmooc.
  • Online: This is self explanatory. The online intervention includes reading, viewing videos (lectures or other instructional videos) and lots of interaction and discussions via discussion forums and other social media tools such as google, facebook, twitter etc. This may also include online assessments such as quizzes and perhaps creating a portfolio or an artefact.
  • Course: While they don’t offer any credits (yet!) or charge tuition fees, MOOCs are courses and have learning objectives and an overall learning goal.

There are two types of MOOCs:
  • xMOOCs – These are the traditional format MOOCs that are made of video-based lectures, assignments and quizzes.
  • cMOOCs – These are based on the constructivist approach to learning, as #edcmooc was. They are more open in structure and provide the environment for participants to construct their own knowledge and perhaps find more meaning in what they already know.

In terms of overall experience, for me, #EDCMOOC was a fantastic experience. I don’t necessarily believe that the course was about e-learning but it certainly was about digital cultures. Having said that, it was a good learning experience and perhaps, it might have set a high standard for any other MOOCs I participate in the future. Here’s the introductory information for #edcmooc that hooked me in!

As I walked the MOOC path, I lived and learned every day. On the facebook group page for #edcmooc, a participant posted an interesting question: “what would be the single best piece of advice to give someone about to embark on their first MOOC?” 

And I thought to myself what would this single piece of advice be. If you only want that single piece of advice, see bullet 5 - the MOOC mantra!

If there is scope to absorb more, how about the top 5 tips to be a successful MOOCer?

1) Find your underlying motivation to enroll in a MOOC
I understand that each of us is motivated in different ways. For me, part of the motivation to enroll in a MOOC was to experience a MOOC, to connect with people from all over the world, to develop my own personal learning network, to explore how learning happens with massive number of people online etc. So, for me, my motivation was to explore all characteristics of a MOOC. Recognizing and remembering this motivation kept me on track.

2) Be genuinely interested in the subject
I realized that if I have to spend a couple of weeks doing this, I better like the subject! So, I started searching for MOOC courses and found my interest in #edcmooc. Not surprisingly, the honeymoon period with MOOCs as a phenomenon ended pretty soon for me. I quickly figured out the organized chaos in the environment and realized that some of us were thriving in it and others were quickly being left out. In such a situation, choosing a subject in which I had a genuine interest really helped me stay motivated. If the subject area does not attract you deeply enough, it will be tough to continue. If everything else fails, the subject area will challenge you, motivate you and inspire you to continue.

3) Engage with the content and others
Whether xMOOCs or cMOOCs, all MOOCs are organized around self-paced reading, viewing videos, participating in discussion forums and/or chats and completing assignments. As you can notice, these learning modalities need you to invest a time. This is tough to do and even tougher when it is all online. But this also means that the more time and constructive energy you invest, the more ‘benefits’ you will reap of that investment. More on this in point 5 below.
I realized that the more I participated in the discussion forums, twitter chats and google hangouts, the more I wanted to learn. Through various social media tools and the Coursera platform, I was sharing my point of view and learning to absorb and accept many other ways to look at the same stimulus. In all MOOCs, the instructors and the content act as catalysts but you got to do the dirty job of learning on your own. Learning best happens when you truly and deeply engage with both the content and with your peers who are going through the same process.

4) Make the ‘massive’ more personal
Massive can be intimidating and overwhelming. For #edcmooc, with 40K enrollments and 500 people active most of the time, my mailbox was overflowing, my facebook notifications for the #edmooc group were endless, the twitter stream moved faster than I blinked my eye.
After going through a week of stress related to various platforms to connect and contribute, I chose my top 3: twitter, discussion forum on the Coursera website and #edcmooc content aggregation stream. I had to find a simple way to deal with the ‘always being online’ phenomenon. I figured that there was no way I could interact with 40K people, so I created my own personal circles of learning. I used select social media tools with a select list of participants and found my way to work around the massive to make it more personal.
5) Give more to get more:
You will get more if you immerse yourself in each of the four characteristics of MOOCs and truly embrace massive open online courseware. My final “mantra” for budding MOOCers is:

 “WYGIWYG” - What You Give is What You Get

If you put in quality time and sincere effort, you will get the return on investment that you are looking for. The best way to offer your best to a MOOC is to pace yourself. As tempting it might be to look at what’s in store for week 4, I suggest that you study within the proposed structure and sequence of the course and do your readings and assignments every week. Participate in the discussion forums and share your views on a regular basis. Find the inclination to comment sincerely on other posts and give inputs. Create the time to do atleast one activity a day. This is perhaps one of the most critical ways to give more and get more and feel a sense of completion and accomplishment at the end of the course.
MOOCs are really about what you can offer to yourself and to others. The course coordinators organize the learning for you but you need to take responsibility for your own learning. There is immense potential for generating meaningful content as you move through a MOOC course but you will need to realize that you are the one who’s going to be creating that content.

So for all of you out there who want to enroll in a MOOC , there is no better time to do so. Find a reason why you want to do the course, chose a subject that you are passionate about, engage, participate and give more to get more.

By the way, for the artefact that I submitted for the #edcmooc course, I received a median grade of 2 (meaning the artefact achieved all evaluation criteria fully) and have a ‘Statement of Accomplishment with Distinction’. 
But more than the grade and the statement, I value the entire learning process, the debates and discussions on twitter chats and discussion forums, the inputs from the instructors and 'hanging out' with them, the feedback that my peers shared about my artefact and how they were able to relate to the artefact in their own ways. 

There is definitely more to MOOCs than what we can see today. It is about a learning experience and I believe it will only get better.