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Posted by on Jun 12, 2012

MOOC Theory: Engagement with mobile learners in developing regions

John Traxler posed two questions to Twitter the other day that have had me thinking for a bit on the appropriateness of MOOCs as a vehicle for (learning about) mobile learning in developing regions. I will just put the questions out front and than stumble about trying to determine answers (if they even exist). Either way, they are great questions especially as many of us prepare the next installment of MobiMOOC (set to kick off in September).

  • Does MOOC theory keep up with mobile connected learners / society?
  • Does MOOC theory engage with remote mobile learners in developing regions … not just bandwidth, infrastructure but pedagogy?

Great questions so let’s have at them one at a time. These are merely my opinions and I encourage the debate. I think we as a disciplinary community need to get better at having these pedagogical conversations in real time, devoid of some of the stability of (lengthy) trends and unlimited observation.

Does MOOC theory keep up with mobile connected learners/society?

Some of this depends on a further breakdown of MOOC as container for learning (open learning structure) and MOOC as vehicle for disciplinary practice. So if we are thinking of MOOCs as container for learning, then the answer to the question of whether it keeps up with mobile connected learners/society is a qualified yes (a strongly qualified yes).

Since the MOOC structure is designed to be (and I am just blatantly taking from Siemen’s recent post on MOOC theory) a combination of the following, it would appear that MOOCs are flexible enough to ‘keep up with mobile connected learners’ in terms of attending to their learning needs.

  • Connectivist-mobile connected learners would presumably engage with networks, grow them, curate them, engage with them, and detach from them as needed. However, at the core is the network, the network that even the connected learner would engage with.
  • Connected mobile learners would presumably value generative knowledge, knowledge distributed over a network. MOOCs are, in some respect, meta-skill courses on how to generate a network and then extract generated knowledge from it. This provides value to connected mobile learners.
  • Interactions are distributed, multi-spaced- the MOOC (at least as I understand and engage with it) is the definition of an aggregated open design. Cobble together what is necessary to build, engage, and extract knowledge from your network. This feature of a MOOC course as opposed to a more traditional offering would presumably offer value to mobile learners as they wouldn’t need to significantly alter their augmentative tech infrastructure (the ways they engage with learning via their technology), their levels of engagement with communities, spaces, personalized or otherwise, nor their desired learning outcomes. The MOOCs, as I mentioned before, might be most valuable as meta-courses in network literacy.

These are some of the ways that MOOCs could maintain usefulness for connected mobile learners. All of this presumes that a connected mobile learner/society is

  • aware of a network literacy need
  • hasn’t addressed that need elsewhere
  • hasn’t distributed their network even further than a distributed network-if MOOCs are ephemeral confluences of like-minded participants and purpose, presumably that ephemeral-ness can be pushed even further. Immediate need, immediate inquiry, immediate knowledge. That would presume a sturdy network already in place but that could also assume an evolution in the way we engage with individuals online or face to face.

So, can a MOOC serve the needs of connected individuals, societies? Sure, as long as it maintains its flexibility in both form and function.

Does MOOC theory engage with remote mobile learners in developing regions … not just bandwidth, infrastructure but pedagogy?

I am actually something of a technological utopian in my general inclinations, so this is a tough one for me to tackle. I do believe that there was always that additional imperative to address whether the pedagogy of openness (open learning) was appropriate for developing regions. I believe it is. I believe it to work. I would like to see it work. I won’t know if it works until I see either

  • high levels of engagement in MOOCs from developing regions (and our experience with MobiMOOC doesn’t suggest this). This could be due to language issues (certainly contributing), pedagogical issues (I think this is one of the culprits), accessibility issues (we are still talking cost here in terms of access to these materials). Either way, the heady mix of variables has limited participation. This could be a bit of a long tail issue of engagement, but it is still troubling.
  • developing region-generated MOOCs (or open courses or any name they would like to attach to it). I would like to see a Swahili MOOC in particular on development issues. A West African MOOC for mobile development, etc. I want to see localized efforts at open learning; these efforts would presumably reveal the optimal pedagogical structure for the locale in question. Optimal as it is generated by the locale.

A localized effort, perhaps sponsored by the East African Community towards mlearning, or mhealth, or data collection, or any or all of the above would offer some comparison point for the MOOC as developed-world vehicle (I don’t think that to be true necessarily, but a counterpart might be useful for comparison). Either that or higher levels of engagement in MOOCs from developing regions, plus their stake in an emerging design for the MOOC itself, (plus tons of feedback from these participants during and after the course) might reveal the appropriateness of the design pedagogically (and culturally).

A question I have (which I think John accounts for in his question) is whether these models of openness, of rapid congregation, engagement, collaboration, and (knowledge) construction have a conceptual/cultural antecedent in certain developing regions. I am guessing there is not cultural antecedent in many developed nations (especially those that are highly contextual-I am not naming names, but I am living in one right now) for these types of initiatives, either. So I am not sure that the appropriateness of open learning should be limited to developing regions alone, but the question is still valid.

Sorry for the lack of conclusions here, but I am not sure there is enough ‘evidence’ to support one conclusion or another at this stage. I would love to see some localized attempts at MOOCs, though, in developing regions.


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  1. Hi Michael
    I read your post and before debating about your questions let me make a few remarks.
    1 I understand that by MOOC s we are referring to connectivist-MOOCs (c-MOOCs). Answers to your questions in relation to other types would be totally different.
    2 Developing regions are very dissimilar and again the answers will be different. Africa is very different from Latin America. The same questions posed in relation to Brazil would not have the same answers than to Bolivia or Argentina.
    3 c-MOOCs pedagogy, if applied to “learning about mobile learning” for example in Argentina, would be extremely useful and successful within the realm of teachers and educators.
    4 Can a course like MobiMOOC engage participants from developing regions? Very few. The biggest problem is the language barrier. To actively participate in such a c-MOOC you need not only to be able to understand other people’s blogs but to master the English language. I can imagine that even as a lurker the language barrier is the biggest drawback. I can guarantee that a MobimOOC in Spanish would engage a huge active community in Latin America .
    Osvaldo Rodriguez

  2. Hello there, Osvaldo. Good to hear from you. I was indeed referring to connectivist MOOCs and I should have made the distinction between different areas of developing regions. My focus is generally East Africa, so I should have stressed that area in my post.

    I am glad to hear that you think MOOC pedagogy referring to mobile learning would be successful in Argentina. And the language issue is considerable. I wonder if there are any Spanish-language MOOCs taking place? Any open courses on mobile learning? How widespread is the open learning movement in Latin America, for example? I would love to localize in a few different languages, Swahili, French, etc, to see what levels of engagement that would create.

    Take care, Osvaldo!

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