Are MOOCs post-human spaces?

Chapter Six

MOOCs are gatherings.

They are gatherings of resources – content generated in advance for learner engagement and user-generated content in response to weekly themes and discussions.

They are gatherings of people – en masse, meta-physical co-location of thematically linked conversations around the world, held together through the shared experience of course enrolment rather than progression through identical activities.

They are collections of inherent diversity – by their very massive, open, online nature, a MOOC attracts a diverse user base, with a wealth of differing experiences, purposes and expectations, all which shape course development. As a result, no two MOOC user experiences will be the same – each experience is unique.

Our experiences shape us and shape our future experiences – a continuum of influence from internal and external factors, human and non-human interaction. Angus et al (2001) summarise man as a ‘cybernetic organism, a cyborg node in a network’ – our connections within the network blurring boundaries between internal and external bodily networks to the result of a “material-semiotic self” (pp. 197). This notion that we are the product of an organic gathering of both human and non-human matter is central to Haraway (1991, 2003) who postulates the human as “already congeries of things that are not us”, resulting in development of the non self-identical (2003; 53).

MOOCs are both contributors of non-human matter and parallel products of gatherings themselves – interweaving with human and other non-human matter to create a greater, felted understanding of themes.

We are all chimeras, theorised and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism.

Haraway – Cyborg Manifesto (1991)

As a result of the organic nature of both course and user development, seldom can there be seen a definitive end to the process. A human being, much like a MOOC, “is not a “finished product” but a being that is – or can become – engaged in processes of
further future development” (Dahlin, 2012; 55) – for MOOCs, this development may take the shape of revision of materials for future iterations, as well as through residual learning deposits carried intangibly by those who participated into their future experiences. An immeasurable reach and continual development beyond the overt end-point of course content.

MOOCs are constructs for education and knowledge dissemination. If all human knowledge is socially constructed (Hicks, 2013) then education, and thus by extension MOOCs, are refocused as human-centric with underpinning ideologies. Such ideologies are the product of the values and beliefs of its proponents – ideological constructs which will differ based on their collective experiences – causing groups holding them to see their view of the world as ‘the way things really are’ rather than a taken-for-granted way of making sense of the world (Meighan & Harber, 2007: 212).

This suggests that although the lens through which the world is viewed may differ between groups, resulting in varying interpretation of the matter, the entities in view themselves are not affected by lens; albeit the human is still the centre of focus.

Edwards (2010, 2012) proposes an alternative view of education as an act of “responsible experimentation as a gathering of the human and non-human to establish matters of concern” (2010; 13) which changes the purpose of the process from ‘humanised’ to ‘posthumanised’ – a repositioning of the focus for the posthuman condition. Edwards postulates that instead the entanglement/gathering of human and non-human matter should be the focus, with greater emphasis placed on the thing which is gathered (rather than the thing which is gathering and representing, i.e. the human) as an enactment of the gathering as a whole.

As a human, it is natural to view the world through man-made ideological lenses, resulting in hetero-references of understanding (Wolf, 2008) which render us at the mercy of our self-created constructs, whilst often failing to appreciate that we, equal to all other entities, are so interwoven into the fabric of both human and non-human matter as a result of being the product of such entaglement, that without the non-human we would cease to exist.

… [it] points to life-long learning as a condition of the entanglement of the human and non-human, as without the non-human, humans would neither exist nor be able to act as part of world existence.

Edwards – Lifelong Learning: a Posthuman Condition? (2012; 152)

In this respect, it could be seen that all entities within our environment are vital to our existence as a whole – building a repository of human and non-human experiences, which shape who and what we are and what we will be. MOOCs are just one contributing element of a far bigger holistic learning experience.


Angus, T., Cook, I., Evans, J. et al (2001). A Manifesto for Cyborg Pedagogy? International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, vol 10 (2) pp. 195-201.

Dahlin, B. (2012). Our posthuman futures and education: Homo Zappiens, Cyborgs, and the New Adam. Futures, vol. 44, pp. 55-63.

Edwards (2010). The end of lifelong learning: A post-human condition? Studies in the Education of Adults, vol. 42 (1), pp. 5-17.

Edwards R (2012) Lifelong Learning: a Posthuman Condition?. In: Aspin DN, Chapman J, Evans K, Bagnall R (ed.). Second International Handbook of Lifelong Learning: Part 1. Springer International Handbooks of Education, 26, Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, pp. 151-162.

Haraway, D. (1991). A cyborg manifesto: Science, technology and socialist feminism in the late twentieth century. In D. Haraway (ed.) Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (pp. 149-81). New York, Routledge.

Haraway, D. (2003) ‘Interview with Donna Haraway’, in D. Ihde and E. Selinger (eds) Chasing Technoscience: Matrix for Materiality, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Hicks, D. (2013). “Teaching for a better world” – personal website.

Meighan, R. and Harber, C. (2007). A Sociology of Educating. Bloomsbury Academic.

Wolfe, C. (2008). Posthumanities. Retrieved November 24, 2008, from



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