A Tale of Two MOOCs: The Importance of Community in Online Learning

8028605773_857fcd5548_bFundamentals of Online Education (FOE), and E-Learning and Digital Cultures (EDC): two Coursera courses, two courses on e-learning, both MOOCs, both on Coursera, both offered by prestigious universities.  They even started the same day: January 28, 2013.


Now let’s look at the Twitter streams.


#foemooc: 17 tweets over the past 24 hours


#edcmooc: …well, after 298 tweets, my column on Tweetdeck ran out, and I had only gone back eight hours.


The difference in tone is just as striking.  #foemooc is filled with complaints about the mechanics of the course, of the way the material is presented, about the material itself.


#edcmooc is filled with enthusiasm, excitement, energy.


What’s up?


I think it comes down, in part, to making effective use of digital tools.  FOE is structured like a traditional course.  There are lectures to watch, articles to read, discussions to participate in (in online discussion forums), and quizzes to take.  The final assessment is the construction of a proposal for an online course–very similar to the final assessment I had in my education course at Princeton, except that was about bricks-and-mortar education rather an e-learning.


EDC has a completely different feel.  Rather than presenting lectures, the course designers are curators of material.  They prevent videos, not of themselves, but of visions of technology, and they assign readings that engage the students–more in depth, more thoughtful.  The final assessment is, as they put it, a multimedia “digital artefact” that explores the themes of the course.


Just as importantly, they use social media to promote community–as much as you can in a 30,000-person course.  They set up a Twitter page for the course, and suggested a hashtag.  They encourage students to blog their reflections and share them with other students (that’s a large part of that Twitter stream).  They’re going to try a Google hangout, to build relationships between teachers and students (though I’m still not sure how that’s going to work with 30,000 people).


Contrast this MOE tweet:

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 9.21.23 PM


with this EDC one:

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 9.17.17 PM

I think you get the picture


You’ll probably say E-Learning and Digital Cultures.  But here’s the twist.  As a classroom teacher, looking to do more with e-learning in my course, Fundamentals of Online Education is the more useful course.  E-Learning and Digital Cultures has the cool philosophy, but Fundamental of Online Education will actually help you design a course.  EDC is cool; thus the buzz.  But FOE is helpful.


And that’s part of the problem.  Would you rather hang out with the cool thinkers, or the nerdy tech designers?


Probably the cool thinkers.  But the designers are often the people who get things done.  The trick is to bring those two together, Steve Jobs-style, into one package.


What you need is the content of FOE, with the packaging of EDC.


And I think above all, what you need is community.  People come to classes to learn, but they stay in part for the community.  So it seems to me that anyone doing e-learning has to use the tools of social media to promote that sense of community.  Encourage Twitter use, and blog sharing, and Google hangouts, and all the other social media tricks that EDC has used, but do it with the nuts-and-bolts content that we need to run the world, in a practical way.  You need visionaries, and you need organizers–but there’s no reason the organizers can’t be part of a cool community, too.


What social media tools do you use to encourage community in your online classes?


MOOC movie poster credit: Guilia Forsythe

David Korfhage

David Korfhage

History Teacher at Montclair Kimberley Academy

I am an upper school history teacher at the Montclair Kimberley Academy, in Montclair, New Jersey, where I also teach comparative religion. I am particularly interested in the application of technology to education, in using effective assessment and feedback to improve student learning, and in promoting thoughtful wisdom, insight, and reflection in my students.


  • Its funny in that when I was looking at the Coursera listing back in Dec, I thought EDC would be a bunch of lame philosophy so I didnt register for it. Noting the huge disparity in twitter streams, I wonder what the deal was with EDC so I jumped into the fray. As a nerdy tech guy, I don’t know that I’d call it visionary, as much as it is seeing a given issue through totally different worldviews. Its also my first real experience within a very constructivist leaning environment. Bottom line, I find it extremely fascinating, but am far from sold on the whole minimally guided instruction thing.

    Your insight into community as being what is needed is another fascinating bit… Its a part of human behavior that a lot of us tech folks discount as community building is so time intensive that many don’t see it as being worth the opportunity cost. Certainly if I were in the midst of a big project, it wouldn’t be… but being this is a lull, i’m giving it a shot and some light bulbs are going on.

    As far as what social media tools… I hate to say it but Vb with minimalist plugins for twitter, youtube, & facebook, would have to be my choice. It scales without too much trouble, and is easy to use with volunteer moderators/janitors to keep chaos at a reasonable level. Its dated, its old, its spendy, and when it breaks or needs upgrades, its a royal pain if you’ve done any mods, but in factory default mode its like grandpas old rusty hammer. It gets the job done.

  • Interesting comparison. I’m in EDC and am enjoying reading the comments made by other participants. You can only get much of a feel of social interaction on the discussion forums – my blog hasn’t shown up on the News feed nor my tweets on the Twitter feed. With over 40,000 participants the News and Twitter feeds would inevitably become a waterfall – or crash.

  • David Korfhage


    Thanks for commenting. I’ve noticed the way in which individual contributions can get lost in the tidal wave of contributions. I know the groups on MOE were an attempt to get around that–but I think the technology chosen was not ideal. Not just the Google doc trainwreck, but perhaps the discussion board format.

    I’ve noticed that EDC has a blogroll, but with so many blogs, one’s blog would tend to get lost. The hard part is having a large course with a small, personal feel. I think EDC is handling that better, but there’s still work to do.

  • David Korfhage


    Nice to hear from you. I’ve been seeing your posts on Twitter, and you seem like one of the more sympathetic students (though I think people are becoming more positive). I’m not sure if EDC would be “lame philosophy,” but I definitely agree that it’s not exactly practical for designing an e-learning course. At the same time, there’s value in thinking about your guiding philosophy, your ideals and so on. Something from each course.

    It may be that discussion boards remain the best technology. Some on Twitter have doubted that, and I would say for myself I’ve found the Twitter stream from MOE to be more useful than the discussion forum (almost no one else from my group has posted). But, as Alan noted in his comments, with 40,000 people the Twitter stream can be overwhelming. I’m not sure what the solution is, but the technology does, I think, have to have an interactive, social component. I know from face-to-face teaching experience that that’s what students like.

  • Pingback: 5 Things I’ve Learned from My MOOC experience | edSocialMedia()