aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

You Ready to MOOC?

Posted by Ellen on August 8, 2011

All the recent discussion about how we learn from information has spurred me to post on MOOCs, before I’m really ready for it… but I do have a bit of insight to share, so that’s where we’ll start.

Haven’t heard of MOOCs yet?

MOOC = Massive Open Online Class. All the rage.

Okay, maybe within some circles.

The MOOC Guide on Wikispaces describes them this way:

“It is a gathering of participants, of people willing to jointly exchange knowledge and experiences for each of them to build upon. As such it is within the hands of the participants and organizers of a MOOC to change it to their needs. This allows them to use the information and to construct their own ideas or projects. A MOOC is by itself a non-defined pedagogical format to organize learning/teaching/training on a specific topic in a more informal collaborative way…. Connectivism theory … (paraphrasing heavily here) says that learning/training in this era will be successful if we learn how to connect and build relevant networks. This idea of connecting to each other to construct knowledge is one of the key dynamics of a MOOC….The MOOCs were following the trend of Open Education movement described by Iiyoshi and Kumar (2008). The open educational movement focused on open technology, open content and open knowledge. The MOOCs have given rise to a more specific focus on the actual human networking factor within these open courses.”

Touches on a lot of thought-provoking (and — therefore, for me — comment-provoking) threads… social learning… connectivism… where to start?!? (You can find more info from this source here.)

Interested in jumping into a MOOC? Here’s an opportunity for you to join the EduMOOC, offered by The Center for Online Learning, Research and Service at the University of Illinois Springfield. Topic? “Online Learning Today…and Tomorrow.” It’s going on now and continues through August 19.  Here’s their description:

“It is totally open, free, and collaborative. It can be totally asynchronous, or those attending can join in weekly panel discussions with experts in various aspects of the topic. This is an active and growing resource and networking center on the topic of “Online Learning Today, and Tomorrow.” You will have the opportunity to meet many people around the world who share your interest in this topic.

“You are invited to register (see right column) with only your name and email address so you can be given access to all materials, panels and discussions. Within a day after you register, you will admitted to Google Group Edumooc which will allow you to enter into discussions and – if you so designate – to receive a listserv of postings. You are invited to list your networking contacts such as email, blogs, twitter, etc. at the form linked in the left navigation column….

“We are elated to see enormous interest in this topic!  Since the Monday morning announcement of the MOOC, we  have  enrolled more than 2,500 participants from some 65 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas; still no one has identified as themselves from Antarctica, but we remain hopeful!  Those participating are from colleges, universities, community colleges, libraries, school systems, educational association, and many other entities.”

I signed up, but — quite frankly — I wasn’t keen on creating yet another e-mail address (a gmail address is required). If you’re game to see what’s going on, here’s the link.

A lot of great information is appearing on the Web about MOOCs… mostly because the sessions themselves generate thousands of posts and links and … stuff!

Here are just a few places to start:

“A Massive Open Online Class for Edupunks” from the site.

“U of Illinois at Springfield Offers New ‘Massive Open Online Course'” via the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Marc Perry.

And in this Chronicle article, credit goes to Stephen Downes and George Siemens for offering the first MOOC and the rationale behind it.

What Does This Have to Do With Associations and Non-Profits?!?


First of all, they’re relatively inexpensive to produce — free at their most basic level, because they’re conducted online and utilize readily available Web apps (wikis, bookmarking sites, etc.). If you want to pump it up a level, you could include the occasional Web conference event so participants can connect directly over the phone/Web, which would add $$ to your MOOC budget. If you do that, however, be warned: the point of a MOOC is to involve as many people as possible, so if you include this, you have to be mindful of the factors that can make Web conferencing counterproductive to the MOOC culture (i.e., time zones in particular are a challenge).

Second, the nature of a MOOC is in line with how knowledge is usually shared within association communities. Experts and novices alike come together at our annual conferences all the time to learn and re-learn and connect and share best practices, seek solutions to challenges, and in general swap resources and ideas. All of this happens in a MOOC, too.

Third, the MOOC facilitators really just facilitate! And participate. The facilitator’s role is to keep the resources roughly categorized (if needed) and maybe offer some guided questions or areas of discussion… The facilitator is never supposed to be the “expert.” Sage on the stage becomes “everybody on the stage.” Think of a MOOC as an educational flash mob 🙂 Everybody is an expert. Everybody has something to share and something to learn.

Finally, MOOCs are catching on really quickly, and they’re sure to keep growing. They’re particularly popular right now in the academic environment and for those involved with developing online learning. Those who have participated in MOOCs are (as far as I can tell) coming out of those experiences like the newly converted — ready to carry the message, emulate what they’ve experienced by offering their own MOOCs, and advocating for their benefits.

MOOCs won’t replace any of the things we’re doing. As we’re always saying here, there are appropriate uses of various educational modes, and that’s true of the MOOC. But you need to know what they are, how they work, and how they’ll fit into your curriculum.

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore MOOCs

One of the biggest challenges you’ve been facing is increased competition for your members’ time and money. Maybe another organization beat you to the punch with Webinars. Maybe social networking sites such as LinkedIn are cutting into your membership renewals — why join your organization when people can connect for free outside of it?

Now imagine what happens if someone announces a MOOC on a topic that hits right in the heart of your members’ industry or cause?

Here are a few pretend examples (with apologies to any real-life organization with one of these names) :

  • The National Beekeeping Institute discovers that someone is offering a MOOC on starting your own beekeeping business. Who’s doing it? A passionate beekeeper — who’s also one of the orgs most respected leaders.
  • The National Novel-Writing Coalition discovers a famous romance writer is offering a MOOC on writing and publishing.
  • The Association for International Envelope Manufacturers discovers a vendor member is offering a MOOC on equipment — finding, selecting, re-selling, and recycling. This one MOOC will cover at least three face-to-face events the organization offers each year.

But remember: these are “MASSIVE OPEN Online Classes.” They will attract people from around the world. Competitors. Members. Non-members. Everybody.

So this is the promise — and threat — of MOOCs. As with all innovations, you need to figure out how to leverage the promise of MOOCs to your advantage. You need to be aware of the potential risk they pose, if you have content that’s highly prized. With a MOOC, if it’s not proprietary, it’s fair game.

What To Do?!?

So… what should be done about MOOCs? Refuse to stand on the sidelines. Ignoring MOOCs is not a good idea. This leaves two primary options:

  • Offer your own. Amass a greater body of resources around a topic than you currently have. Involve your members and attract non-members. See the power in numbers, the value in “more heads are better than one.”
  • Make your resources available to MOOCs by others. Instead of fighting a MOOC on “your” topic, join the MOOC and offer up your own links, white papers, articles, blog posts, and comments. If you can’t fight ’em, join ’em!

You’re either in or you’re out. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.


11 Responses to “You Ready to MOOC?”

  1. Lynda Williams said

    Makes me want to go out and start a MOOC. But odds are someone else has already created one I should join, instead. 🙂

  2. vcvaile said

    Good piece and an expressive reflection on what MOOCs are like. You make an excellent point about their suitability for existing communities formed around an existing knowledge / skill base ~ a community of practice. I just posted the link to the EduMOOC group on Facebook.

    MOOCs have been mostly about online learning, e.g. about themselves. Only recently are starting to branch out into subject areas with just a few testing those waters so far, none on such a grand scale as the Stanford course in the news (and not considered being a “true” MOOC for being so structured and top down managed. There’s one in the works for language learning, another on Civil War history, one creativity and multicultural communication (a combination of communication and social studies, I’d guess).

  3. Ellen said

    Lynda — Maybe there is a MOOC out there already on the subject you’d like to offer… but the beauty of MOOCs is that they thrive on the dynamics of the Web and the ever-changing, ever-growing wealth of resources. Why not offer your own anyway?!? If if 5000 people sign up for one by someone else… that still leaves billions of people in the world to sign up for yours 🙂

    Vcvaile — Thanks for your comment and confirmation about what I’d been able to uncover (that MOOCs have mostly been about online learning; a perfect fit, really for “learning while doing”). Leave it to providers of formal, structured educational sessions to offer MOOCs that are also structured… though they might very well be “unstructured” in Stanford’s point of view 🙂

  4. […] You Ready to MOOC? All the recent discussion about how we learn from information has spurred me to post on MOOCs, before I'm really ready for it… but I do have a bit of insight to share, so that's where we'll start… Source: […]

  5. […] read this post on MOOC with […]

  6. It is just great.
    Let us access to 7 billion people of the world
    First let them speak English through MOOC.

  7. Ellen said

    Muvaffak — Thanks for your comment! I agree that the more education and learning we can spread throughout the world, the better! But it doesn’t have to be in English. I’m sure as MOOCs catch on — and all forms of online learning — more and more of it will be found in other languages as well. I took a quick look at your Web site and it looks as though you’re providing a great portal for some excellent, free, online courses. Keep up the good work!

  8. […] You Ready to MOOC? All the recent discussion about how we learn from information has spurred me to post on MOOCs, before I'm really ready for it… but I do have a bit of insight to share, so that's where we'll start… Source: […]

  9. vcvaile said

    Ellen – returning late. I recalled coming across a reference to a subject specific mooc (language learning) but could not find it to share. However, I have been sharing this link to nudge mooc-makers from one direction into getting more subject specific and from the other to get higher ed colleague interested. I am very interested in whether or not you or another professional association will dance with the mooc at least for a conference short course or workshop. If you do, I’d like to know that goes, follow if possible.

    I am in a scaled (smaller) one for certifying online instructors. Although not subject specific, class members come from different discipline and will probably use or adapt structure for their disciplines. Yet another is about ESL but still for training teachers.

    The purpose you propose interests me because I do community networking in a remote rural community with a high drop out rate and insufficient preparedness for college or certificate training among those who do not drop out. Not being prepared means more debt because of the additional non-credit course they must then take. Then there is job training and preparation for various professional licensing exams. Training and continuing education are needed but not accessible – and for many, not affordable.

    Sorry for going on longer than intended… Vanessa

    PS I like your eLearning Fundamentals – adding it to my resource list. If there is any general topic tutorial that a writing teacher (who has done real life and work place writing) could help with, ditto for GED prep, let me know.

  10. Ellen said

    Vanessa — Thanks for returning and adding more detail to your original comment. I’m curious about what *you* think of the MOOCs you’ve been participating in… you mention your involvement, but I’d love some elaboration about what you are gaining from the experience… what you wish might be different… etc.

    I don’t know of any MOOCs in the association or non-profit sector (yet!) but have been toying with the idea of conducting one. Figure I ought to participate first, but have been on the road so frequently it’s been hard to be consistently engaged over time.

    I appreciate your adding the aLearning Fundamentals tutorials to your resource list! So glad it’s of value. Because I don’t track visitors (I only see hits/visits via Web analytics) so it’s hard to know where people are finding the most value with them. Comments like yours help a lot! At this point, we’re not planning any writing-specific nor GED topics… more likely will focus on alearning areas such as planning a budget or avoiding scope creep in elearning development projects… but I will keep you in mind as a willing SME on the topics you mention 🙂

    Thanks again!

  11. […] a way to effectively serve their broader market and to attract new members. (Ellen Behrens posted a good piece on MOOCs a while back and Audrey Watters has done a nice round up on all the attention MOOCs have been […]

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