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.