The e-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC

I’ve opened up my blog for the first time in nearly 14 months and the moths are bludgeoning madly towards the nearest source of light, so such an extent that they are blocking the very source of light that I need to write this blog. So, why have I turned to my blog after leaving it in post MSc in e-Learning wilderness?

Well, those nice folk at the University of Edinburgh are turning their hand to the latest “education craze” that came out of 2012 (those prescient Mayans saw this coming well over 5000 years ago!) and that is the phenomenon we have come to know as Massive Open Online Course or MOOC for short – this has been highlighted as a “one to watch” technology by the 2012 and 2013 editions of the Horizon Report (Johnson, Adams & Cummins, 2012).

With traditional online courses, these tend to charge tuition, carry credit and limit enrolment to a few dozen to ensure interaction with instructors. The MOOC, on the other hand, is usually free (though there seems to be a very big question mark around that now), credit-less and, well, just massive. Being a relatively new phenomenon, MOOCs have already diverged into two types of course – cMOOCs and xMOOCs.

xMOOCs tends to be instructivist in approach with learning focused upon information transmission, machine-based assessment tools, and peer assessment. Whereas, cMOOCs tends to be connectivist in approach where the learning is focused upon student autonomy and interactivity, network construction, open curricula, and self-assessment.

Screenshot: E-learning and Digital Cultures module in Coursera

The University of Edinburgh have dipped their innovative toe into the online learning waters once more by the “MOOCification” (does this word exist? it should you know) of one of their MSc in e-Learning (as of September 2013, this programme will be renamed as the MSc in Digital Education) modules called “E-learning and Digital Cultures” (EDC), which first came “online” whilst I was studying on the Masters with them. Professor Jeff Haywood, the University of Edinburgh’s Vice Principal of Knowledge Management, Chief Information Office and Librarian, and a Professor of Education & Technology gave a circumspect opinion of this venture between the University and Coursera (the software provider):

I am cautious as to where the ‘MOOC movement’ will go. Some of the wilder speculation about ‘free online degrees’ and the ‘end of HE as we know it’ doesn’t help serious debate. Currently we know little about MOOC learners, about how to design and deliver successfully in a range of subjects, and most importantly at a range of levels (e.g. final year undergrad). Is the experience helpful to learners, and do they get value from their certificates of completion? Much more research is needed… (Haywood, 2012)

The academic teaching staff at Edinburgh who were developing the “e-Learning and Digital Cultures” course with Coursera also echoed Haywood’s sentiment:

We also feel it’s an important opportunity to participate in an emerging pedagogical mode that is significantly under-theorised.  The University of Edinburgh’s partnership with Coursera presents us with an opportunity to research the new and sometimes uncomfortable territory that the MOOC foregrounds, a prospect that will allow us to engage meaningfully, critically, and productively with the shifting landscapes of open education.  MOOCs currently have enough devotees to generate a real swell of enthusiasm in academia.  However if they are to develop and mature longer term, they need to be researched and subjected to serious scholarly and analytic work. (Knox, Bayne, MacLeod, Ross & Sinclair, 2012)

It is with this sentiment in mind that I wanted my first MOOC experience to be with my former tutors, whom I have a lot of respect and trust for. Like them, I wanted to go on a “journey” to see if they were able to establish “whether MOOC teaching might take place in conjunction with established teaching practices” (ibid, 2012). I am also interested to see how the MSc students who are taking the conventional online EDC module will fair as “teaching associates” on the MOOC version.

David Hopkins, a Learning Technologist at the University of Leicester, will also be attending the EDC MOOC (#edcmooc) and offers some sound advice “on how to study, and get the best from, a MOOC” (Hopkins, 2012b) that he has adapted from an article called “25 Tips to Make the Most of a MOOC” (Online College, 2012). These may well come in handy with my own experiences within the MOOC environment. For the record, Hopkins (2012b) tips include:

  • Commitment – make a realistic commitment of time and effort and keep to it. Be prepared to modify this once you start, you’ll either massively over- or under-estimate the amount of time you need.
  • Study Buddy – it works the same as a gym-buddy, you can help each other along with motivation, engagement, or time management.
  • Do what you can – by nature of the ‘massive’ name it is likely to have a large number of participants, therefore a large number of discussions and engagement opportunities. Remember you can’t do it all or read it all so do what you can.
  • Noise – there will be plenty of noise, don’t add to it for the sake of saying something. Wait until you have something to contribute and make it count.
  • Notes – if it helps you get organised, make notes as you go (paper or electronic). There seem to be as many blogs writing about MOOC experiences (a-hem) as there are MOOCs, but it helps show reflection and learning taking place inside the MOOC, but to people who aren’t inside the MOOC.
  • Time out – take time out for your job and/or family, it’s not the end of the world if you miss an hour here or day there.
  • Persist – see above: it’s about what you can do and what you want to do in the time you have. If you can do a little more, try it.
  • Success – keep a record of your achievements and don’t forget to use them on resumes and/or portfolio websites. It may not be a credit-bearing course but it is experience that counts (or why did you do it?).

So, I have joined up and have received the “welcome” e-mail that informs me that ” the E-learning and Digital Cultures Coursera site will open at midnight GMT on Sunday the 27th of January. It’s a five week course, and it will officially end on Sunday the 3rd of March; however we welcome participant discussion and contact to continue beyond this  date“. I have also learnt that the course will be broken up into “two blocks of content” and a final assessment.  Each block will run over two weeks and will look at the themes of “utopias and dystopias” and “being human in a digital age”.  This will be followed by the final week where we will create a “digital artefact” that “depicts or represents any of the themes we have encountered on the course” and it will be submitted for peer assessment.

I will be using this blog to record my thoughts about the MOOC and how I, as a student, have responded to this way of learning. But first, I will need to listen to Jeremy Knox give an overview of the course and what I should be expecting…


Parr, C. (2013). “If you want to make it with Moocs, you must stand out from the crowd”. Times Higher Education, 03.01.2013. Available at: [Accessed 17.01.2013].

Haywood, J. (2012). “No such thing as a free MOOC”. JISC Blog, 20.07.2012. Available at: [Accessed 16.01.2013].

Hopkins, D. (2012a). “eLearning and Digital Cultures MOOC”. Technology Enhanced Learning Blog, 24.07.2012. Available at: [Accessed 16.01.2013].

Hopkins, D. (2012b). “Why I failed a MOOC”. Technology Enhanced Learning Blog, 21.08.2012. Available at: [Accessed 16.01.2013].

Johnson, L., Adams, S. & Cummins, M. (2012). The NMC Horizon Report: 2012 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Available at:  [Accessed 16.01.2013].

Knox, J., Bayne, S., MacLeod, H., Ross, J. & Sinclair, C. (2012). “MOOC pedagogy: the challenges of developing for Coursera”. ALT Online Newsletter, 28, 08.08.2012. Available at: [Accessed 16.01.2013].

Online College. (2012). “25 Tips to Make the Most of a MOOC”. Blog, 21.08.2012. Available at: [Accessed 16.01.2013].