H817open: A Tale of Two MOOCs

This post looks at two MOOCs: Change MOOC and Coursera and compares the technology, pedagogy and other general approaches. I researched this post by reviewing the Change MOOC website and was able to draw on my own experience as an occasional lurker on that course late 2011 and 2012. Additionally, this week, I joined Coursera and signed up for Gamification which started at the beginning of April 2013. I have moved around the Gamification course, listened to some videos and viewed the discussion forums. Additionally, I read blogs of participants who had taken both these MOOCs previously to  provide an insight into some of the issues from learners themselves.


Change MOOC comprises of a course website with the course schedule, speaker names and relevant information including  help on how to succeed in MOOCs. A daily email newsletter was produced during the course  and a blog aggregator using gRSShopper  aggregated participants’ blog posts.  Elluminate was used for the live events.  There were no prescribed technologies for participants; the site states that ‘participants will use a variety of technologies, for example blogs, Second Life, RSS Readers, Ustream etc.’ (Change MOOC). Change MOOC adheres to what is typically considered a cMOOC mashup approach with a central web based platform and then distributed tools for engagement and where the actual work happens.

Coursera offers participating universities a technology platform for hosting and delivering MOOCS so it cannot be necessarily assumed that one Coursera course is like another, as individual courses may give different emphasis to different tools. There are however some core tools that comprise typical LMS features such as learner profile/dashboard pages, week by week readings and assignment, video lectures, quizzes, and discussion forums for discussion week’s activities. Unlike Change MOOC, all of these are hosted inside the platform. However, on the Gamification MOOC at least, the instructor encouraged Twitter and Google+ interaction. The discussion forums look reasonably populated. There’s also a course wiki which leads the user to a Coursera wiki system, currently marked as ‘beta’, where students are encouraged to upload resources.


Screen shot of Coursera menu and video links

One aspect of Coursera is the importance of video lectures. The quality and style of video was attractive with short snippets and good production quality. Videos appear to be released a few weeks at a time, with tracking of what has been viewed.

While both Change MOOC and the Gamification course supply a useful contrast between a central platform offering all tools to learners and distributed platform offering tool suggestions and accepting learner contrived spaces into the platform (through the blog aggregator), in reality the influence of social media, even on a central platform such as Coursera is apparent in the blogs, tweets, wiki option and communities that exist for each course. Additionally, Coursera provides links to Meetup to encourage physical meetups for students taking Coursera classes.


Change MOOC aligns with connectivist pedagogy where the learning happens in the interactions of students with content and instructors. Change MOOC enabled synchronous contact with high calibre individuals allowing for direct contact and questions from students.The students are able to make whatever meaning and products they want to through blogs, discussions with none being mandatory, although some might be recommended.


Change MOOC description on website.

As each week is facilitated by a different researcher or expert, the format and style of any activities varies week to week. There is no formal assessment for students on Change MOOC, nor any sort of certificate of completion. A comment on Cloudworks from one of the Change MOOC instructors indicates that this open pedagogy challenged instructors to deliver a week’s worth of learning in such a distributed course (comment from Diana Laurillard, 1:25pm, 4 July 2012)

The Coursera platforms’s core pedagogy is more instructivist with recommended videos and readings followed by quizzes and writing assignments. On the Gamification course, there is a peer grading exercise, which replaces a more traditional instructor feedback, not possible due to the number of participants. Assessment is very clearly linked to participating in the course. The  course blurb states that they consider students who do not take part in assessments to be ‘auditing’ the course. This does not really take into account that learning might be taking place elsewhere or even what activities might constitute as achieving the learning outcomes. Even taking a quiz late incurs penalty points.

One consequence of this difference is that is is fairly easy to ‘fail’ a Coursera MOOC if you don’t follow a pathway, while there is no such concept on Change 11.

It is possible that the presence of assessment may put off some students, especially if they fault to complete the first quiz and may lead to demotivation. On the other hand, the presence of assessment goals may motivate others. It’s not clear if assessment impacts on drop out rates as drop out rates are high on both cMOOCs and xMOOCs, but this could be a fruitful area of research .

General approach and philosophy.

With Coursera, the whiff of commercialisation and possible monetization is immediately evident. When I signed up for the (free) Gamification site, I was immediately prompted as to whether I wanted to join the ‘Signature Track’ for USD39, which would verify my identity through a photo and typing style which would create a biometric profile, with which I could sign my assignments and for which I would get some sort of verification certificate. And  if I was quite serious about doing this course, I might well buy this, if only to keep me on track. The instructor’s book is also made gently available to buy, even though it is stated it is not necessary. But I imagine if I was enjoying the course, I might well buy the book, especially as it is available on Kindle for about $5.

In a restriction of openness, Coursera course materials and videos are not openly licenced, and I don’t think it is possible to even view previous presentations of the course once it is complete.

No such commercial elements are apparent in Change 11, which seems to be more like a very long online conference and way of gathering some brilliant OER over 7 months. All the content is available aggregated, captured and created is available and the site serves as a valuable resource.  A community may still exist as learners formed groups during the course. I lurked a little in Change MOOC and when I went back into it again, I was pleased that I could go back to view videos for weeks I would have liked but couldn’t at the time.


While these differences seem stark, on both of these MOOCs, it is clear that there is passion on the part of instructors for the subject and the desire to share that passion with others. This is a difference I have noticed with MOOCs and formal online learning; the MOOC format seems to ignite some sort of passion and drive. Beyond personal inclination however, it is evident that Coursera is also a business entity. This impacts on what success means in a MOOC.

Completion rates and notion of success are an interesting area to discuss. The completion rate for the first Gamification presentation was 10% (Jordan, 2013), which seems to be an average completion rate for a Coursera course. I haven’t been able to find data for Change MOOC and I am not sure it is a meaningful question, as I think people could follow it without registering. However, even posing the question about whether drop-out rates are necessarily an indicator of a poor course is perhaps premature, since it is not clear why a student leaves a course or why a student even chooses to participate.

Perhaps they never intended to finish it. Signing up isn’t the same as committing, especially as no money has exchanged hands. Students may be using a course as OER to support formal study they are doing and might get what they need from a snippet or two. Leaving a course is not necessarily a sign of failing, although evidence on the digital literacies needed to engage in connectivist MOOCs is emerging (Kop, 2011).

Follow-up research on Change MOOC on how learners acted has revealed different groups of learners ranging from lurkers, passive participants (wanting a traditional learning experience with goals being set by course) and active learners (setting their own goals, creating artifacts, social networking). While these are broad (and contestable) categories (Hill, 2013), the research indicated it is these ‘passive participants’ that struggle to find direction and location in a connectivist MOOC (Kop 2011) and for whom a Coursera approach might be more attractive.

While Change 11 and Coursera seem miles apart in pedagogical approach and philosophy, asking which one is better for learning is the wrong question. If learning is to be truly learner-centred, there’s value in giving learners (and instructors) choices and experiences with different types of learning environments. Coursera’s seeming dominance in this sphere (Siemens, 2013) is also pointing to interesting developments; will there be one MOOC platform to rule them all and what will this look like, or can Coursera prove to a be a powerful force for experimentation and innovation in this space?

All in all, this has been an enjoyable and immersive activity. Despite negativity towards the pedagogical underpinnings of xMOOCS (Daniel 2012), there are evident co-influencing factors between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. Is H817open a cMOOC or an xMOOC? Four weeks in, to me, it looks like an xMOOC but behaves like a cMOOC.


Daniel, J. (2012) ‘Making sense of MOOCs: musings in a maze of myth, paradox and possibility’, Journal of Interactive Media in Education, no. 18 [online]. Available at http://jime.open.ac.uk/ jime/ article/ view/ 2012-18

Hill, P (2013) The Four Student Archetypes Emerging in MOOCs, e-Literate  [Online] 2 March. Available at http://mfeldstein.com/the-four-student-archetypes-emerging-in-moocs/

Jordan, K (2013) Synthesising MOOC completion rates, MOOCMoocher [Online] 13 February. Available at http://moocmoocher.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/synthesising-mooc-completion-rates/

Kop, R. (2011) ‘The challenges to connectivist learning on open online networks: learning experiences during a massive open online course’, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 12, no. 3 [online], http://www.irrodl.org/ index.php/ irrodl/ article/ view/ 882 

Siemens, G, (2013) Coursera needs to start acting like a platform, Elearnspace 14 March  [Online] http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2013/03/14/coursera-needs-to-start-acting-like-a-platform/