Massive, Open, Online, Over?

A quick write up of last month’s #EdDigEra Webinar, which brought together 6 experts to discuss the future of European MOOCs. You can view a recording at

  • Ruth Kerr, EMMA
  • Mike Sharples, FutureLearn
  • Fabian Schumann, Iversity
  • llaria Merciai, Federica
  • Edite Sarva, Mission Possible
  • Judit Llavina, Empieza Por Educar

Massive. Open. Online. European.

European MOOCs have their own distinctive character. They are democratic, social and utopian. In the US a competitive marketplace exists, whereas in Europe there is a commitment to collaboration and openness. Still, Fabian Schumann argues it is hard to encourage collaboration. MOOCs cost something to create, so collaboration needs to benefit institutions in some way, for example via an exchange of content.

European MOOCs are also notable for their diversity, with many different providers working in the field. Ruth Kerr said argued we should build on this base, moving beyond a “cottage industry approach” to a more collaborative, multi-disciplinary model.  If so, we can continue to promote social constructivism, identified by Mike Sharples as the key characteristic of European MOOCs.

European policy-makers are strengthening this work through the Bologna Process, expanding the possibility of European accreditation via ECTS or EQA.

New Pedagogies of Massification

European MOOCs are designed with a variety of pedagogies. They might be lecture-style or dialogic in format, involving campus interactions or purely online. EMMA actively encourages diverse pedagogies, while Iversity posits thelearner as creator of knowledge, rather than the recipient of knowledge. Our experts are hopeful about massification, predicting a future in which pedagogies improve at larger scale, using quantity to achieve quality.

Social media techniques are increasingly bringing to life the otherwise passive consumption of content. Mike Sharples called this learning in 3D. These techniques are particularly useful for peer review and assessment. Liking and sharing are now being used in MOOCs to rank and review content in a way similar to sites like Facebook or Tripadvisor. Soon these will be highly reliable systems that get better with scale.

Learners can then choose their own adventure, which opens up different payment models. Course content might be free and open, but 1:1 tuition could be added as an optional extra cost, or financial incentives employed to encourage peer-peer interactions. The big challenge is how to support the maximum # of people, while maintaining the human touch.

Encouraging Participation

One of the big challenges with European MOOCs remains the divide between creators and practitioners. Illaria Mericai said that the response to MOOCs in Italy had been low-key. Often students and universities chose those offered by US companies like EdX and Coursera. Federica tackle this through encouraging a more participatory approach.

We were joined in the webinar by two teachers and MOOC users, Edite Sarva and Judit Llavina. They suggested that opportunities for peer interaction andpersonalised exchanges with educators are crucial for ensuring participation. Edite revealed that 85% of her teachers complete their MOOCs. Rates are high because she supervises the 50 teachers that she works with, and holds them accountable to completing the MOOCs. This points to a new mass-localism, and the continued importance of the teacher.

Edite and Judit revealed that the biggest barriers to participation in MOOCs aretime and digital literacy. Lots of teachers don’t even know how to use Skype, and some can’t commit to regular time slots.

The Future is Bright. The Future is MOOC.

Our experts predicted two big trends for European MOOCs. First, the development of a system of formal accreditation. Second, the growth ofaggregated websites with reliable consumer ratings for content. These will be built on a foundation of collaboration, not competition.

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