Recasting H817open as a connectivist course


Having blogged previously about investigating connectivist pedagogy, in response to Activity 19 on H817, I thought I would consider how the H817 MOOC might be made more connectivist.  Actually this begs the question, in what ways is H817 not a connectivist course? After all it ticks many of the boxes outlined in Siemens (2004) connectivist elements:

Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.

H817 encourages discussion  and there are a variety of opinions and sources offered although (unsurprisingly) a lot that are from the Weller, Cormier, Siemens and Downes stable.
There is of course diversity in the learners’ opinions through their blogs and forum posts.

I think that the diversity element could be more stressed where there is more activity towards creating a curriculum. There is a general positivity towards openness, and more detractors in the readings or in live sessions in the form of debates might be helpful.

Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.

This happens in various ways – for example through the blog aggregator. However the presentation of the course in the Open Learn VLE is linear and the way the groups have developed suggests more of a mini series of networks than a larger network. For example, some people on forums, others on Google +, some H817 formal learners staying in their tutor groups, others going it alone on blogs or just sampling.

I am not sure it is possible to say whether this course has connected specialised nodes or information sources beyond making links to relevant readings and peer connections – the very nature of network building is that it is unpredictable. Perhaps post-course analytics might help establish the formation of a network.

Learning may reside in non-human appliances.

The products and outputs of H817open will reside online, on blogs, discussions and as an OER so in that sense it will reside in a non-human appliance. (This is different from learning residing in a text book or lecturer videos because that is not learning – those are static teaching materials). The digital footprint that learning leaves is in the artefacts and products produced by learners at the moments of learning through responses to activities or on reflection.

Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.

This might be understood as ‘learning to learn’ or nurturing the network so that participants have the network in place to enable further learning as and when required. The work on developing Personal learning networks stressed this. I am not sure how to measure this or design for this, but activities that encourage discovery and critical thinking (like this one) will encourage the development of a PLN and an attitude to ‘building the pipe’ (Siemens, 2004).

Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.

H817 can, I would argue, be worked through individually, so this is not necessarily true. The activities do state that blogging, commenting on blogs etc is a task to help facilitate connections and continual learning. However, the lack of mandated group work does not allow for the practice of collaborative working or a requirement that connections happen.

Ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill

The activities required that participants synthesize and bring together ideas presented. The activities that gave the opportunity to earn badges (OER and MOOC understanding) could formally be seen to encourage this. However, with no formal assessment, it is difficult for participants to know if they have achieved this, although comments by peers on blogs can give some indication.

Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.

H817 set down a curriculum that focussed on openness in HE and appears to have current resources in the form of readings, interviews and other media. The use and sharing of relevant research (on MOOCs for example) as it happens via Twitter and the Google+ group indicates that some participants actively share current knowledge.

Decision making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

The linear structure of the course and the emails that focussed on what to do if one was short of time acted against learners really deciding what to learn, as by signing up for this MOOC there is an implicit contract to accept what is offered. Participants constantly reported feeling stressed that they were behind and apologised for not getting through all the week’s activities. Some students, especially open learners, appear more free to pick and choose what they are interested in, but for many OU learners with an assignment following the MOOC, deciding not to choose to study something might be desirable but had to be made with one eye on the formal assessment.

Towards a connectivist design

Working through this suggests that there are many areas in which there are ‘maybes, perhaps, could be’. This post has made me realise that perhaps it is only possible to design for connectivist learning rather than design connectivist learning. The latter immediately mandates that learners must do such and such, which immediately negates learners’ decision making process and the meaning of incoming information. Designing for connectivist learning accepts that it is not possible to predict or control the learning that may (or may not) happen.

So how might connectivist learning be designed for?

Well, first of all if it looks like a traditional course (and H817 does) then many students will treat it as such. If there are activities, weeks, set readings arranged in a linear fashion, then students will assume that this is the way to do it. This is evident in some of the angst going on within the course forums, twitter, Google + as well as in the spaces only for H817 formal learners  such the H817 Facebook group as well in Tutor group forums. One option might be to throw out a linear course design altogether in favour of a problem or project-based approach with mandated group work. This thought-provoking post focusses on the importance of group work  in MOOCs (Cain, 2013) while Siemens (2013) advocates for group work and problem based learning within MOOCs.

Another area that might contribute to a more connectivist feel is the role of instructor or expert presence. The pedagogical value of this appears contested in the ‘sage on the sage’ and ‘guide on the side’ debates where the ‘sage on the stage’ is being replaced by the ‘guide on the side’. This is something I have previously blogged about when I was taking part in the BONKopen MOOC, where I slightly dispute that taking the sage of the stage is always effective, especially for motivation. This seems to be reinforced in recent article about how students on a Coursera course commented on the lack of an instructor in favour of what might be considered a more ‘connectivist’ course (Parr, 2013).

In fact this leads me to consider whether we should evaluate the value of the role of experts, lectures and the ‘sage on the stage’. Change11 was a cMOOC that heavily focussed on experts delivering a live lecture as the centre point of that week’s learning – a design that accords with Downes’ (2007) approach to connectivist teaching that has the teacher in the role of modelling and demonstrating. With social media and technology, the effects of the expert can be amplified through the connections made around the live event, much like attending a conference with a Twitter feed. Conversations and connections happen in real time during (say) a live presentation and then afterwards as recordings and associated resources are made available, commented on, blogged etc. While not only applicable to a connectivist approach, synchronous events can help establishing momentum and motivation giving learners a chance to interact with authentic practitioners at a distance, which can help build and nurture the network.

I said in a previous blog post that H817 looks like an xMOOC and behaves like a cMOOC. I would qualify that slightly now –  in looking like an xMOOC (linear week by week activities, no mandated group work, short video snippets) it may be that this militates against the nurturing of broader connectivist behaviours. Nevertheless, H817 also has positive connectivist elements such as the focus on blogging and responding to others’ blogs, the blog aggregator and optional badges rather than any formal assessment, yet could be enhanced with more frequent live expert interactions and group activities.


Downes, S. (2007) ‘What connectivism is’, Half an Hour, 3 February [online]. Available at

Cain, G. (2013) MOOCs, ‘Group work and Instructional Design’, Brianstorm in Progress, 17 April [Online]. Available at

Parr,C. (2013) ‘How was it? The UK’s first Coursera MOOCs assessed’, THE, 18 April [Online]. Available at

Siemens, G. (2004) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age [Online]. Available from

Siemens, G. (2013) ‘Group work advice for MOOC providers’, Elearnspace, 10 March [Online]. Available at

Image courtesy of Smarnad /

7 thoughts on “Recasting H817open as a connectivist course

  1. Hi Sukaina,

    Your comment about only being able to design for connectivist learning I think is a very relevant one. After all a MOOC is about providing a platform where content can be aggregated and then used to stimulate interactivity and connectedness amongst the participants.

    I also agree that if we want the H817 MOOC to behave or function like a cMOOC then perhaps as you say, engaging external experts for more synchronous discussions would be a part of the solution. I see this working in two ways: 1) due to the immediate nature of synchronous communication, learners would have the opportunity to take part in the discussion and throw around some ideas (will of course depend on numbers attending and whether audio is enabled or chat), and 2) with the recording, you have the creation of an artifact which should again act as a stimulus for distributed discussions and hopefully the production of further resources which can be aggregated into the cMOOC platform.

    Additionally I feel that the H817MOOC would need to be freed from some of its content to leave more whitespace so to speak, for learners to be able to explore, connect, create and distribute their own content. It sees that many learners have felt obliged to work their way through all of the activities and consume as much information as is possible, rather than concentrating on what is going to work for their own context and seeking out people that they can engage in dialogue with. And despite having been told weekly that they can be selective, they don’t seem to have been able to change their behaviour. ( Only a subjective observation here based on comments across various platforms.)So with less initial content being provided this may give the illusion of more space and time to connect.

    I would also like to see a more creative mix of multimedia, but that is a personal preference 🙂

    Thanks for the post


  2. Thanks for providing a clear and easy to read post on what Connectivism is. I know this isn’t what you were explicitly trying to do but in explaining how H817 may be made more connectivisg it has clarified the reading we did in relation to this subject.

  3. Hi … liking the notion that “if it looks like a traditional course… learners will treat it like a traditional course” … think this is actually central to some of the ways in which we have either engaged or not with the material in the MOOC and broader within H817

  4. Hi Sukaina

    Thanks for this thought provoking post.

    I wonder if your comments about linear presentation & group work relate partly to the desire to create an OER ? Weller was pretty explicit about designing this to be Collaboration Light

    Does H817 skew our experience of this MOOC? You raise interesting points here and I think you are right that it does in terms of connections and assessment.

    Venturing into this with an existing tutor group does give a safe place to return to, it’s been great to make other connections, but also seems to make strategically good sense to actively look out for and encourage your tutor group who you will be with for the remaining blocks ( BTW Hope you will keep on blogging).

    And assessment: “but for many OU learners with an assignment following the MOOC, deciding not to choose to study something might be desirable but had to be made with one eye on the formal assessment.” I totally agree with this Sukaina – Assessment disempowers me to pursue my personal learning goals.*
    I quite like the combination of x and c activities on this MOOC & have loved following through many of the resources others have generously shared.

    * unfortunate Assessment Skew

    • Hi Nuala
      Thanks for your comments. I wasn’t really thinking about creating an OER via group work (if that is what you mean) but making the point that the collaboration-lite model does allow people to work individually if they wanted to, (as well as giving them more freedom to do what they want).

      Although I think being a formal H817er does skew the experience of the MOOC, I think some MOOCs would work well as being ‘boundary courses’; it’s not the first MOOC that has some formal learners as well as open learners. It’s been a very very different experience from all the previous H8 modules (and this is my last one). I think it’s been a real benefit having open learners (for me as formal learner) especially as we have been able to break out of tutor groups and create other connections. I hope to keep blogging – I hope you will too 🙂

      And yes, I wish there wasn’t an assessment until the MOOC is well and truly over. We are missing out on potential great interactions this week and next.

  5. Hi Sukaina.
    Your blog post and all the comments here as well as in our Google+ group have been very interesting reading. Not only have I had a chance to review my own “behaviour” during this MOOC, I’ve also gotten some great ideas for cMOOC design. I agree with you on the benefits of synchronous sessions, and Trish’s idea of white space is something I really could have used in the course of this MOOC. Connecting to other learners and considering your own learning goals and paths require time and space. So white space would be a very valuable addition to cMOOC design indeed 😉

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