Classroom as Shire; MOOC as Middle Earth #change11

In his final Week 11 post (sorry, I’m navigating the Change MOOC a tad asynchronously) Jon Dron reflects on the challenges of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) structure:

I’m not the first to observe that a big problem with connectivist-influenced MOOCs like this is that they are, well, chaotic and lacking in centre. People are contributing all over the place in a hundred different ways and certainly not in an orderly fashion. This is not your grandmother’s kind of course and that would be fine, apart from the fact that such a small percentage of people wind up getting fully engaged and so many drop out, one of the main reasons being the complexity of following and keeping up with the course. If we had drop-out rates of this magnitude in our universities there would be some very serious questions asked.

He then goes on to say we can’t apply the same standards since MOOCs are not meant to be formal and, in fact, need to be chaotic and freewheeling in order to make possible the kind of learning often lacking in the traditional models.

I like to use a metaphor from The Lord of the Rings: the traditional classroom is the shire. The MOOC is Middle Earth at large. It’s important to have a home base, a tradition, and a safe place to return to. But sometimes in order to grow we must leave the familiar confines and learn to navigate through unfamiliar land. This poses all sorts of dangers. However, if the goal is learn more about ourselves and our world, we can’t stay stuck in one spot on the map.

Here’s the key: Frodo doesn’t go alone. He travels with a small band of helpers, friends, and skilled warriors. If we can take a small, structured classroom into a MOOC (instead of tossing people into Mordor on their own) we can have the best of both worlds.

A traditional course of 15-30 people should stick together while exploring a massive gathering of people and information. Someone will always have your back, and, of course, you’ll have your very own Wise Old Man or Wise Old Woman swooping in with white light.


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  1. If Joseph Campbell made a MOOC #change11 « Andrew Neuendorf

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