X’s and C’s: All MOOCs are not created equal!

Just when some of you are hearing that MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) exist, you learn that there are two types of MOOCs: xMOOC and cMOOC.

Stephen Downes, the man who coined both terms (visualize Jerry Garcia or David Crosby), explains an xMOOC as “if anything, it stands for eXtended.” He meant for it to “indicate programs that aren’t part of the core offering, but which are in some way extensions.” With the passing of time- if you can call since 2008 much of a history- the xMOOC has transformed into more of a traditional college course taught with newer technology and en masse.

George Siemens, who along with Downs was the co-founder of the first MOOC, explains that the cMOOC is based on the learning theory of connectivism that basically supports the theory that learning happens out of chaos, which sees the “connection of everything to everything”.  With today’s technology, this involves learners connecting with other learners in a large network using discussion forums, wikis, blogs and other social media. They can collectively create and generate content. Critics of xMOOCs call it more of a “knowledge consumption” vs. the cMOOC, which is more of a “knowledge production.”

I have experienced being a participant in both types of MOOCs. In the spring of 2013, I enrolled in an xMOOC hosted by Coursera called “Gamification.” Dr. Kevin Werbach of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania taught the MOOC, which was structured like a traditional college course but had enrollment of over 66,000 students.

In September, I started my first cMOOC hosted by Blackboard’s CourseSites called “Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials,” which had an enrollment of just over 1,600 students. Several gurus of the digital-badges world, like Erin Knight (Mozilla), Deborah Everhart (Georgetown University) and Jennifer McNelly (The Manufacturing Institute), to name a few, were speakers during the content sessions on different weeks. These two contrasting MOOC styles appeal to different learners. For me, it was extremely organized content and social learning vs. esoteric chaos. The Gamification xMOOC motivated me to complete all of the assignments. Unfortunately, the Badges cMOOC had such arcane assignments, I only completed one. But, did I learn from both types of MOOCs? The answer is yes! If I had to do it all over again would I? Yes to that as well.

My suggestion is, if you haven’t experienced a MOOC yet, enroll in one and experience an xMOOC or a cMOOC.  The “open” part of MOOCs makes it easy. They are meant to be “open,” meaning no obstacles like educational prerequisites or fees.  So, what are you waiting for, go MOOC yourself!

Postscript – Now it’s 2016 and more terms have been added to our vocabulary along the lines of MOOCs. Now there are SPOCs and SOOCs. A SPOC is a “Small Private Online Course” and a SOOC is a “Selective Open Online Course”. SPOCs were popularized by the Harvard and UC-Berkeley crowds. SPOCs are mainly online courses that can be closed or private. Harvard, for example, offers a SPOC on “The Architectural Imaginary” to incoming Design School students. SOOCs tend to be open but may be massive or smaller (think hundreds instead of tens of thousands as for MOOCs) and are typically for a more targeted audience.

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My Second MOOC Experience: MOOC on Mozilla Open Badges

I started my second MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) September 9th. The format and how this MOOC is being run is a totally different experience from my first MOOC. The first MOOC I took was hosted by Coursera. This one is hosted by Blackboard’s CourseSites. The topic of this MOOC is “Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials.” My first thought was, I’m glad this wasn’t my first MOOC or I would have never continued.


The “M” in MOOC is for massive. That is supposed to mean thousands and thousands for most of the MOOCs I’ve read about. My last MOOC had over 65,000 people enrolled. This one has a little over 1,400. Not so massive.

Session/Video Format

The Gamification MOOC that I took provided small-chunked videos for each week’s session. These were pre-recorded to provide better video and sound quality and were probably edited to keep the flow. The videos were interesting and easy to watch. This “Badges” MOOC provides one live session each week. Then, they post the recordings for later viewing for those who are not available to watch it live. If you’ve ever attended a live webinar, then you pretty much know how this live session went. There were technical difficulties with video, the sound was inconsistent, presenter and her speech was off, slides didn’t show, and people kept typing distracting and rarely relevant comments while the speakers were talking. The live session had a posting of how many people were logged into the live session. The most I saw was 281 at 15 minutes into the hour-long session. There were only about 200 on it when it began. I have no way of knowing how many have watched the recorded session. At the second week’s live session, the most I saw logged in was 190 a little less than half way through it.

They do have the recorded sessions available via Blackboard as MP4’s a day or so after each live session. I watched one of the recorded sessions and it does not look like they have edited the live session at all before posting it. Too bad, it really needed editing.

MOOC Website

The Coursera Gamification website worked like a dream. I didn’t realize this until I had visited the Blackboard CourseSites website. It’s come to a screeching halt both times I’ve visited it in the last week. I’ve even tried different browsers (IE, Firefox, and Chrome) and get the same snail-paced response time. It is incredibly annoying.

CourseSite finally put up this on their website a graphic of a moon with “SHHH! CourseSites is temporarily unavailable…”

Now I’m three weeks into this MOOC on badges and it looks like Blackboard’s CourseSite website is finally moving a lot quicker. Wow, wonder how many participants they lost because of this?

Assignment Submission

Tried to submit assignment. Got error. Then it looked like it submitted a blank assignment and I couldn’t delete it nor add my assignment content. Ugh. I finally was able to submit my first assignment on the third try.


Before the first session, they recommended that we watch a YouTube video on Mozilla Open Badges. However, at the beginning of the first and second week’s live sessions they put the same video up and recommended (again) that students watch the video. Hmmmm. Annoying. I watched it before the first session like they had recommended. Looks like they got the hint (from the comments on screen) to put a different video up the third week.


All the technical stuff aside, I will say that the content presented about Mozilla Open Badges has been very interesting for this MOOC. Especially since I new very little about the subject prior to this MOOC. They have had several different subject matter experts presenting various topics about Open Badges which gives the learners distinct perspectives about the concept. That has been beneficial.

Will I continue?

Hmmmm. That is a good question. The jury is still out on this one. Who knows, I might be part of the 91.5%, the enrollees who don’t complete a MOOC.

I did it! I was part of the 8.4% – Final Thoughts on My First MOOC

Well, I did it! I successfully completed my first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). After six weeks of watching and listening to approximately 11 hours of video lectures, studying, organizing my notes, completing 4 quizzes, 3 written assignments, and a final exam, I passed my Gamification MOOC! I consider that quite an accomplishment for someone who hasn’t taken a college-type course in several years. This is my final blog entry on my first MOOC experience (Click here for part 1 of the article.)

The Stats

I don’t know why, but I find the statistics for MOOCs fascinating (it’s the “massive” part of the course I guess). According to our MOOC’s instructor, Dr. Kevin Werbach, as well as the results from the student survey, there were 66,438 people worldwide who enrolled in the Gamification MOOC. Of the total enrollment, 11 percent stayed in the course until completion with a total of 5,592 students completing the course with a passing grade (70% or better). Yes, I was part of the 8.4 percent who passed. (I’m clapping now!) That percentage seems so low when you first hear it. But think of if, over five and half thousand people successfully completed a course. Wow, that’s a lot more than can fit into most classrooms and still a lot more than take the average distance learning college course. Of the over 66,000 students who enrolled, only about half (52%) actually started the course.  Dr. Werbach guesses that the people who signed up for the free course decided it was too much work or didn’t have the time to complete it.

According to Dr. Werbach, the average age of the students for this MOOC was 33, most were employed full time (55%) and only 22 percent were full-time students. More men (66%) than women took this particular course, plus, over 56 percent said this was their first exposure to Gamification. I also found it surprising that 80 percent of the students already had a four-year degree and 44 percent had advanced degrees.

You can view Dr. Werbach’s video on the final statistics for this MOOC.

What It Was Like

What was so amazing to me was that I didn’t feel like I was in class with thousands and thousands of students.  How this MOOC was set up and delivered made me feel like I was in class with only 30 people. That’s quite a feat to pull off with a MOOC. The video “lectures” could have been majorly boring, but they weren’t. The professor’s charismatic voice and enthusiasm for the topic rang through the entire course, making the videos easy and interesting to watch. At first glance, the videos looked like a basic PowerPoint presentation but there was a small video on each “slide” of Dr. Werbach talking and explaining the course content. Graphics and statistics were shown and Dr. Werbach also used presentation tools to draw circles around important words, draw arrows and underlines for emphasis and draw additional graphics to further explain concepts.

We had four homework multiple-choice quizzes. These got a bit harder and were worth more as the course progressed. The final exam was a culmination of topics from the course and was also multiple choice. The written assignments were more of a challenge. Dr. Werbach gave us three different real-world scenarios and we had to write responses to his questions with the first assignment being a maximum of 300 words and the next two being a maximum of 500 and 1,500 words. Once the deadline for each written assignment had passed, you were assigned up to five assignments from other students that you were expected to peer-grade, using a Rubric. Although a few vocal students wrote protests to how they were peer-graded in the discussion groups, I thought the peer-grading experience was fair enough and very helpful. It allowed each of us to see how other students interpreted the assignments. Plus, there is no better solution to grading written assignments for that many people, especially when the course is free.

The Signature Track

I was enrolled in the regular (free) track for this course. However, there were about 2,000 people enrolled in what was called the “Signature Track.” The regular track offers a “Statement of Accomplishment” at the end of the course if you pass the MOOC. Coursera also offers a Signature Track, for $39.00 (U.S.) that allows learners to earn a “Verified Certificate” that“proves” you did your own work. This allows students to share their verified performance with work/school. The Signature Track requires students to log in using a web cam and a photo ID. It also uses biometrics using a student’s unique typing pattern to prove who they are for every time they log in for the course including taking each quiz, exam, and assignment.

Would I do it again?

Absolutely. This was a valuable experience and it gave me great hope as to what we could do in the world today with MOOCs and for educating the masses. Just think of the potential in taking some of the greatest instructors in the world today and instead of each of them teaching hundreds, opening up the opportunity to tens of thousands, or more, to learn directly from them!

Wow, learning for learning’s sake on a massive scale; what a concept! MOOCs seem to be a giant leap forward in education thanks to ingenuity and technology.

Initial Thoughts on My First MOOC

I wanted to learn more about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), and I thought the best way to learn about them was to sign up and experience one; so I did. Then I had to choose one. I signed up for the Gamification MOOC on Coursera.com which was taught by Professor Kevin Werbach from the Wharton School of Pennsylvania. I wrote the following on April 10, 2013, about one week after my MOOC started.

When I signed up for this MOOC, I really didn’t know what to expect. What little I did know was that MOOCs (pronounced mooks, rhyming with spooks) offer a way to learn content, they’re usually free, most do not count as college credit, and that they’re talked about in almost every training and development discussion group and blog that I’ve read in the last year. MOOCs are relatively new, dating back to 2008, but have become much more widespread and talked about in the last year.

I quickly learned that for my particular MOOC, students are expected to spend four to eight hours a week watching content videos, doing homework, taking quizzes, writing assignments, and completing a final exam. Plus, the course would last six weeks. Geez, that sounds like a lot of work!

One thing I had read about MOOCs is that tens of thousands of people typically sign up for them and in a few cases, over 100,000 people sign up. However, only about 10percent complete a MOOC. Well, that sounded like a challenge to me, so I signed up for one with a goal to complete it. The MOOC topic didn’t matter much to me; I was more interested in the process of taking the MOOC. Why a MOOC on Gamification? Well, because I’m an instructional designer based in a marketing department. What I learn about gamification can not only spill over into my instructional design work; it can also give ideas on how gamification can help companies with their marketing strategies.

Over 62,000 people signed up for the Gamification MOOC  for April 2013. From stats collected via a student survey for our course, participants were from 149 countries with the highest percentage (28%) from the United States and 6 percent each from India, Brazil, and Spain.

Each week, two units of online video content sessions (about five to six videos per unit) are posted to watch. Each video session is from about three to 16 minutes in length with an average being 10 minutes. During the videos, Dr. Werbach not only explains content, but also uses presentation slides, graphics,  and drawing tools to further explain the concepts. In a few of the videos, it pauses to give you a brief assignment to write down in your notes, to participate in a discussion forum, to ask you a quick multiple-choice question, and then the video continues.  Dr. Werbach’s personality and presentation skills made what could have been very tedious videos very interesting.

Video examples

Video examples

More video examples

More video examples
Screen shots used with permission from Dr. Kevin Werbach

Coursera (www.coursera.org) serves as the Learning Management System for this and several other MOOCs. Other learning tools are used in the MOOC such as discussion forums, links to additional resources, a course wiki, and the ability to set up location “meetups” with other students of the course.

The “grading” of the course is based on a number of quizzes, written assignments, and a final exam. I had my first online quiz (multiple choice) last week. It was fairly easy if you took notes, but maybe it was designed to be easier so that participants would stay engaged in the course. We’ll see if it gets harder as the course progresses. This week we have Quiz #2 plus a written assignment that must be submitted at the end of the week. The written assignments are peer-graded. Each written assignment that is submitted is then assigned to five students to read and grade based on a rubric. Then, you get the average of the five grades by your reviewers. If you don’t participate in grading assignments from five other participants, you get a zero for your grade. This course was also given last fall, and they said that the peer grading worked well. It should be interesting to see how this works next week.

Takeaways from week one? Content can be learned via MOOCs, MOOCs take some effort and time commitment from participants, and MOOCs can be an effective way to learn. I’m looking forward to continuing this experience.

See part 2 of this article: Final Thoughts on My First MOOC!