MOOCs and the potential for learning socially

MOOCs could fit with social networking in higher education.

MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is an acronym as impossible to avoid as are the questions regarding the meaning of the individual words.

Is “massive” an opportunity for scalability of learning or obscuration of the individual? Is “online” the same as other online courses or a significant new piece of technology? Is “open” free access or a yet to be monetized delivery system?

If MOOCs are to differ from traditional online classes with their massive openness, a re-thinking of course design is required to handle the demands of huge numbers of students but also as an opportunity to bolster the open and accessible aspect of a new online learning paradigm.

This new paradigm is one in which learners can and will make à la carte choices of courses and programs, course topics, course providers, and classmates. With more open access to course content from a wide variety of providers, learners will naturally and quite easily include and extend their learning activities to existing social networks.

Social learning becomes learning socially.

Social learning is a well leveraged technique for online and face-face courses. Developing social connections through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media creates a sense of community in online classes. In a traditional social learning setting, the social net is made up of the students and teachers in the class.

A distinct difference between social learning and learning socially is the element of choice in the make-up of one’s social learning net. In a learning socially designed course, students learn and interact with course material right along with and purposefully including their existing social circles.

This concept is rather different than social learning but hints at a more psychological idea whereby less learned students glean higher order skills though the social interaction and scaffolding from more advanced students such as in the social learning theory of Lev Vygotsky.

The open aspect of a MOOC supports learning socially with a number of potential benefits. Increased course completion and enhanced learning may both be positive outcomes of the support which comes from an existing social net.

Could learning within one’s social net improve learning? Perhaps, learning will not only improve for the officially registered student but also for friends and family. To consider this, think of the valuable research on learning from memory expert Ebbinghouse which supports the value of repetition and engagement with content in learning.

In a learning socially designed course, content is repeated and engaged with on a number of levels. One such level is that the course taker repeats and expands upon course information to others in conversation (over a meal perhaps). Or learning materials are presented at a variety of developmental levels to be shared with the social net.

For example, the adult course taker is asked to review content relevant pictures online (such as images of J. S. Bach in a music course) with their infant, or toddler and familiarize the child with the course content.

In other areas of the course, the members of the immediate social net of the learner are invited to attend synchronous events such as web-conferences. In fact, in the case of older or more advanced social net members, they may decide to complete the course as if they were an “official” student. These kinds of increments of learning course materials can be designed for each level of learner and may be developed by the course instructor(s) and/or the students.

Learning socially concepts are currently being applied to the design of an online human development course at the College of Coastal Georgia and interjected into the learning experience to include the learner’s friends, children, siblings, spouses, workmates, and other standing relationships.

That is, the course is an opportunity for one to learn, all at once, in a thoughtfully designed fashion which integrates family, friends, or other important people. As these ideas are developed within this single course, we call for others to create course design and delivery best practices which facilitate the interaction of a learner’s significant others with course content.

In this newly designed course, learners of all levels receive digital Learning Pins as rewards for completing portions of the online course. Learning pins are similar to the newly forming concept of badges and mirror the standing academic pinning tradition.

Learning pins are awarded to any participant of the course who completes assignments and demonstrates skill attainment. For example, a learner receives a learning pin for learning about and developing parenting skills, or a learner’s child may earn a learning pin for learning about the major developmental theorists.

These learning pins serve as mementos of their time learning together and as the system develops may result in more formalized credits.

Imagine all online learners with an opportunity to increase the repetition of their learning along with all the people in their lives. Imagine growing up in a learning culture where adults transmit their learning to children and other relationships.

Imagine children on a playground, who partook in a parent’s learning socially designed human development course, discussing the meaning of dreams. Imagine a course which is designed to work in concert with our desire to learn with those around us.

With learning socially course design, we move closer to a culture of educated citizens wanting to engage with learning and who have a shared learning base to communicate with each other all the while preparing students for the increased rigor of the learning that lies ahead. Learning socially course design reflects that learning is natural and social.