Saturday, 13 April 2013

Seen one MOOC seen them all!

How does the Change MOOC compare to what Udacity has on offer? Is is a case of seen one seen them all?

Activity 14 H817 MOOC Openlearn UK

This week the focus has been on MOOCs and as would be expected we've been asked to take a closer look at  a couple of examples. I've chosen to compare Change MOOC with the 'commercial start-up' (Daniel, 2012)Udacity. We've specifically been asked to look at technology, pedagogy and general approach and philosophy.

I've been curating a site about MOOCs and OER for a little while now and am always astounded at the  generalizations that are made about MOOCs. It's as if people assume that once you've participated in a MOOC, or read a few academic papers about one type particular type, then you've seen them all. I don't agree. We have to keep in mind that MOOCs are still in a process of development and therefore continually evolving and prone to change.

The first cMOOC which was designed by Siemens and Downes went online in 2008 (Daniel, 2012). The pedagogical approach taken was one of connectivism, which according to Downes implies 'successful networks' and the 'practices that lead to such networks' (2012). So this particular MOOC relied on participants being self-regulated or autonomous learners who could navigate fluently within this open online environment and make choices about who and what to connect with in order to make the most out of the learning experience. The emphasis here is on networking and practices and having adequate digital literacies to cope with the digital environment. So how does the Change MOOC and what Udacity has to offer compare?

Change MOOC and Udacity
On examining both websites my first impression was that Change MOOC is a no frills MOOC. No large slogans or banners to draw attention to the site. The look is slick, raw and transparent. Subjectively, the message I received is that this MOOC is about getting down to work, engaging with material and networking. This MOOC ran for 35 weeks between September 2011 and May 2012. The facilitators, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier and George Siemens are all well-known academics in their line of work which of course in itself will draw attention and attract participants.

In comparison, Udacity's site is colourful with a variety of images and headed with the banner, 'Learn.Think. Do'. As a sub-heading the persuasive rhetoric, 'Invent your future through free interactive classes'.  The message being sent is one of learner autonomy and interactivity. Again it's simple to navigate around the site to explore how the course works and if any hidden costs are involved. There do offer options for college credit points and tests with partner organisations can be taken, in some cases for a fee.  There are links to social media in the form of Facebook, Twitter and Google+ on the bottom of the homepage. The more I walked through this site the more I was confronted with smiling faces and catchy slogans. It seems as if they're interested in attracting a younger audience of learners. Udacity was founded by Sebastian Thrun a research professor at Stanford and the courses are based on computer science.
     That's enough of first impressions, what did I find out about both Change MOOC and Udacity when I delved a little further?

Change MOOC lists quite clearly in the menu what to expect in regards to technology i.e. MP3 audio, Elluminate for web-conferencing, slides, backchannel chat, blogs, digital newsletters and forum threads. Additionally, participants are encouraged to use information communication technologies ( ICTs) from their own personal learning environments (PLE) for networking. It may appear a bit overwhelming to those not accustomed to working within this kind of environment but each tool has its purpose. It's also enabling learners to choose what suits their needs i.e. some will prefer asynchronous over synchronous means of communication; others might prefer to blog rather than post in a forum etc. This MOOC offered 1-2 live Elluminate sessions per week and an easily accessible course calender provided dates and times.

Udacity on the other hand offers (in their words), 'bite sized videos' for interactive learning. They have livestreaming , blogs, forums and google docs. I saw  signs of social media all over the place but without signing on to a course I can't comment on whether students network via these channels whilst participating on a course.

Change MOOC was all about connectivism. They describe their pedagogical approach very clearly. It was about learning through aggregation, remixing, repurposing and feed forwarding across the Web. So distributed global learning which they hoped would continue once the MOOC was finished. In this sense, their MOOC could be theoretically viewed as a catalyst for the development of networks and the creation of content and further resources. Although there appears to be a clear structure with the provision of  a course calendar and scheduled live sessions the emphasis was on pick and choose and learner autonomy. They were not expecting the retention or regurgitation of material,  but were encouraging a cycle of creativity with the focus on discussions.

Udacity takes another approach. Students can commence their courses at any time and work their way through course content, quizzes and tests. Self-paced learning is promoted. There are some live tutorial groups with livestreaming for the distance learners, so I assume discussions are taking place here. Their slogans, 'Learn. Think. Do' and 'Learn.Think.Collaborate,' do suggest a mix of self-regulated and collaborate learning, so in the words of Sfard (1998) a blend of 'acquisition-based' and 'participatory-based' learning. However, at what level social learning is able to be constructed, is difficult to assess. Their pedagogical approach certainly doesn't resemble that of the Change MOOC at all. I had the impression that the focus was weighted more on the side of content transfer through standard online delivery methods rather than a social constructive approach or connectivism.

General approach and philosophy

As already stated the Change MOOC's philosophy is one of a global learning experience. It's about using the content and resources to network and stimulate creativity and about being critical and accepting criticism as part of the learning experience. Whereas Udacity promotes higher education as being a fundamental human right and that those who can educate themselves can take control of their future. The word mission pops up frequently implying a certain level of dedication behind the scenes.  

Change MOOC was designed as a cMOOC and Udacity's offerings as xMOOCs so it's not surprising to find little in common when comparing the models. Daniel (2012) cites Siemans (2011) who states that, ' cMOOCs focus on knowledge creation and generation whereas xMOOCs focus on knowledge duplication', which is the impression I was left with after exploring their sites. However, my opinion is purely subjective and certainly not an in depth analysis of either models. In defence of Udacity, they are starting to experiment with course pods which are weekly tutorials in an attempt to add value to the learning experience and encourage more social learning. (See figure 1)

Figure 1.   Coursepods from Chris Piech  

Although both models differ in many ways they are similar in their encouragement of learning beyond the course and improving the learner experience. Udacity is interested in having students who have completed a course successfully, return to teach others, so a kind of peer-to-peer learning experience. The notion of connectivism is similar in that learners also learn from others within their networks and sub-networks, but content takes on a different role. It's more the starting point from where the community can commence interacting and developing their network practices.

This was only a brief look at two MOOCs. The same name on the surface but the ingredients constituting the recipe are very different. They are an expanding model and an evolving model which can't be generalized about. The H817 model is very different again. To truly understand how learning functions within a MOOC, I recommend trying a couple out and reflecting on the similarities and differences  for yourself.

Posted by Patricia Daniels


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 jime/ article/ view/ 2012-18 (accessed 13 April 2013).

Downes, S. ( 2012) 'Connectivism and Connective Knowledge: essays on meaning and learning networks.' National Research Council Canada,[online] http://www. downes. ca/files/books/Connective_Knowledge-19May2012. pdf  (accessed 12 April 2013)

Coursepods (2013), Slideshare,  added by C. Piech. [online] Available at (accessed 12 April 2013)

Sfard, A. (1998). 'On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one'. Educational Researcher, Vol. 27. No. 2. pp. 4-13  [online] Available at: ( accessed 12. April 2013)

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