Activity 14: No such thing as black & white

Comparing MOOCs

For activity 14, I’ve chosen to compare DS106 to two courses offered through Coursera. Course one is called “Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence” offered by Case Western Reserve University. The course description can be found here: The other course is “Human-Computer Interaction” and is offered by Stanford. Course description:

The analysis below is based on readings, the two course descriptions mentioned above and the DS106 website:

I started out by looking at the course objectives of all three courses in order to have these objectives as a point of reference for the comparison. This proved to be quite interesting. Inspiring Leadership aims at developing understanding and Human-Computer Interaction aims at developing skills. DS106 has by far the most ambitious course objectives. The aim for participants is to develop skills, frame a digital identity and critically examine the digital landscape. See full version of course objectives below.courseobjectives

Let’s take a look at the technology and tools used in the three different courses:

Inspiring leadership makes use of video lectures, quizzes, discussion forums, personal journals and peer assessment tools. I presume that these tools and resources are available on the Coursera platform – a closed environment only for participants. I’m enrolled in the course which starts on May 1, but haven’t yet got access to the platform. You Tube videos are also included.

Human-Computer Interaction also includes video lectures, quizzes, peer assessment tools and a Q & A forum with ranking of questions.

Unlike the two courses offered by Coursera , the DS106 course encourages participants to use a wide range of services on the web: Gravatar, Twitter, Flickr, Google, SoundCloud, personal blog etc. The DS106 website includes a toolbox with links and tips with regards to useful software and services. DS106 provides a blog aggregator and you can sign up for daily notifications on “Today’s daily create assignment”. There’s a radio, a live streaming station where participants can share their work. An assignment bank is also available. You can search for, choose, create and remix assignments. Google Hangout is used for the DS106 show (

The two Coursera courses thus seem to use the technology and tools associated with formal education: closed platform and “traditional” tools that have been selected and made available by staff. DS106, on the other hand, makes recommendations concerning useful software and services and encourages participants to explore and be creative. This is in full alignment with the DS106 course objectives listed above.

Now it’s time to study the pedagogy used in the three courses:

In Inspiring Leadership and Human-Computer Interaction there is a clear emphasis on knowledge transfer which becomes visible in the emphasis on video lectures and quizzes. Learning is seen as “acquisition, where learners acquire knowledge, pre-packaged by educators” (Kop, 2011). The courses are thus based on cognitive-behaviourist pedagogy, described by Rodriques (2012) as a first generation distance education pedagogy and by Kop (2011) as “the norm in formal education settings” (Kop, 2011: 20). This type of courses has been labelled xMOOCs by Daniel (2012) who also stresses that “The Coursera model emphasises a more traditional learning approach through video presentations and short quizzes and testing” (Daniel, 2012: 7).

Things are not all black & white, though; the Inspiring Leadership course also includes learning activities that move beyond knowledge transfer, namely a personal journal for participants’ observations and experiences, and both Coursera courses employ peer assessment. While the latter is most likely employed to save costs, peer assessment is also a valuable learning activity. When a learner becomes an assessor, learning objectives and criteria are scrutinized more carefully and the learner engages with these to construct his/her own understanding of the bad, the good and the excellent assignment. Both the personal journal and the peer assessment methods fall into the category of constructivist pedagogy. My impression is that there is more of an individual than a social twist to these learning activities.

It is also worth mentioning that the Inspiring Leadership course has two tracks: the core track which is made up of the video lectures, readings, You Tube videos, discussion forums, personal journal and personal learning assignments. Then there is the practicum track, which includes the core track plus three action learning assignments where participants must coach a colleague, reflect and write about the experience and engage in peer assessment. This is a far more participatory approach to learning (Kop, 2011).

Participation is certainly the keyword when it comes to the pedagogy employed in the DS106 course. Creativity and assignments are at the heart of the course together with sharing and commenting. “Give some comment love” is one of the phrases that you meet on the DS106 website ( Thus DS106 resemble the original MOOC concept from 2008 now labelled cMOOC which “emphasises creation, creativity, autonomy and social networking learning” (Daniel, 2012: 7). It is also easy to see the similarities compared to the pedagogical model of MOOCs outlined by George Siemens in McAuley et al. (2010: 23). I would like to draw particular attention to the “high levels of learner control over modes and places of interaction”, the “emphasis on learner autonomy in selecting learning resources and level of participation in activities” the “emphasis of social systems” for self-organising, and “the criticality of ‘creation’” (McAuley et al., 2010: 23). The DS106 course fully supports this pedagogical model and the website contains a lot of advice for participants on “how to be an open participant” (

General approach and philosophy

The Inspiring Leadership course aims to develop participants’ understanding and the Human-Computer Interaction course aims to develop participants’ skills. However, the understanding and the skills have been predefined by experts and are ready to be transferred to the participants in a rather traditional setting that resemble formal education. As such, these courses move within the existing knowledge structures. The philosophy is to enable participants to find answers as mentioned by George Siemens (Weller, 2012).

The DS106 course also aims to develop participants’ skills, but have added the aspect of digital identity and critical examination, thus a knowledge transfer paradigm would not do to create alignment between course objectives and pedagogical approach. Rather the philosophy in the DS106 course is that different people have different pieces of the puzzle, so by connecting, people can inspire each other and learn. Courses like DS106 strive to enable people to choose solutions and answers to the complex problems that we are facing today (George Siemens in Weller, 2012).

It’s been quite an adventure to study different MOOCs, and I’m happy to be able to conclude that it’s not all that black & white. There are examples of cMOOCs and xMOOCs and then there is a range of MOOCs in between experimenting with constructivist and participatory learning activities. “[C]ognitive-behaviourist, social constructivist, and connectivist […] pedagogy [all] have an important place in a well-rounded educational experience (Rodriques, 2012: 2).


Daniel, J. (2012). Making sense of MOOCs: musings in a maze of myth, paradox and possibility. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, no. 18.

Kop, R. (2011). The challenges to connectivist learning on open online networks: learning experiences during a massive open online course. In International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 12, no. 3.

McAuley, A., Stewart, B., Siemens, G. and Cormier, D. (2010). Massive open online courses – Digital ways of knowing and learning. The MOOC model for digital practice:

Rodriques, C. O. (2012). MOOCs and the AI-Stanford like Courses: Two Successful and Distinct Course Formats for Massive Open Online Courses.

Weller, M. (2012). Interview with George Siemens and Dave Cormier on a range of issues concerning MOOCs.