Friday, 12 April 2013

Good behaviour (don't call it a comeback)...

I have been looking through some sites that provide MOOC offerings, I am really surprised at the amount of MOOCs that are available and the diversity of courses they have on offer; I am really temped by some of them. I have however been making some comparisons of courses that I have come across, in this case ds106 and Coursera courses.

General approach and philosophy
It took me a couple of visits for me to get my head around the ds106 site and to get to grips with what 'digital storytelling' is all about. Instantly you know that it is multimedia based, where course members, (or 'ordinary people') are actively encouraged to use digital media tools to tell their own story. There is a philosophy of openness and sharing on the course where participants are expected to participate online. Educause (2013) describes ds106 as a course that explores 'the web as a culture, as a media source, and as a place to publish in the open'.

Daniel (2012, p. 2) has stated that 'MOOCs have already bifurcated into two types of course, which are known as cMOOCs and xMOOCs.' ds106 is very much in the older style of cMOOC courses where connective learning is central: learners interact with others as well as resources and are digitally literate. In a more broader sense, other pedagogies may also be at work: reflective learning (storytelling), active and constructive learning in that learners have to construct their own digital identity using tools that they see fit - or create their own Personal Learning Environment.

Technology is core to this course. The website itself utilises Wordpress effectively as it's base as well as plugins, for example for the assignment feature of the course. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that learners are, as well as having to be comfortable with the latest in web technologies, also have to be comfortable with more technical aspects such as domain names and web hosting.

General approach and philosophy
Comparing Coursera with ds106, Coursera is a completely different kettle of fish and seems a lot more 'serious'. Coursera offers a myriad of courses, everything from psychology to computer science based subjects. Coursera provides the foundation for other institutions to provide their own MOOC offerings and exists as a commercial entity.

Referring back to Daniels' paper, Coursera provides courses based on the more modern xMOOC type of course where 'drill and grill' behaviourist attitudes are prevalent. This is in keeping with 'traditional' university environment. Again, looking at pedagogy on a broader basis when examining, for example, Fundamentals of rehearsing music ensembles, there seems to be opportunities for active learning and collaboration.

The Coursera website is very much proprietary and serves purely as a portal site for course offerings. There are blog features available however. With regards to the courses themselves there is plenty of opportunity for getting involved in technical subjects, however the most popular technology available inside courses themselves is video lectures. Some courses also provide forum facilities and virtual labs.

The comparisons that I have made here represent the two sides of the coin when it comes to  approach/philosophy, pedagogy and technology. I was very much struck by how the Coursera offerings still stick to almost traditional (behaviourist) teaching methods and how this is in keeping with xMOOCs - is behaviourism really making a comeback? Did it ever go away? This investigation also took me back to the work of Sfard (1998) and how these two examples easily sit comfortably with 'acquisition' and 'participation' metaphors.


DANIEL, J. Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and PossibilityJournal of Interactive Media in Education, North America, 3, dec. 2012. Available at: Date accessed: 12 Apr. 2013.

Educause (2013) ds106: Not a Course, Not Like Any MOOC [Online] Available at: Date accessed: 11 Apr 2013

Sfard, A. (1998) On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One. [Online] Available at: Date accessed: 12 Apr 2013


  1. David it's interesting that Coursera looks more 'serious'. Ironically, I've happily signed up to Coursera courses for quick introductions to various topics, but have shied away from ds106 because of the commitment this one warrants. Do you think the different styles of MOOC might be differently useful for varying levels or subjects?
    I'm also constantly wondering if a Sfard or Daniel style dualism is helpful in MOOC development. Are we constrained by learning theory or can we create between these models?

  2. Hi Paige, I was really torn between Udacity and Coursera, however chose Coursera because it is at the opposite end of the spectrum from ds106. Also ironically, I am thinking on a Coursera MOOC - quite fancy the critical thinking course.

    I was really taken with ds106, to me it represents innovative ways of learning online and the use of digital resources. I know what you mean though about the commitment this course would require. In terms of adaptability, I had an interesting discussion with my wife (who is an English teacher) about how ideas in ds106 could be adapted for kids doing solo talks; do they have to stand up in class? Are they able to tell their story digitally?

    I don't think we have to choose between theories when developing courses, as Sfard states, there are dangers of choosing just one. Instead of having cMOOCs and xMOOCs, we could have yMOOCs - think I might be onto something there ;-)

  3. I shied away from the Ds106 course because it looked to "relaxed". Despite considering myself to be modern and a "digital native" I must be a closet traditionalist when it comes to education!