A MOOC without Openness is a learning experience half lived

Chapter Five

It is important to highlight at this early stage of the chapter, that O for open and O for online occur as separate entities within the MOOC acronym. They are by definition two separate elements which, albeit are connected and sometimes mutually supportive, are neither synonymous nor mutually implicit – i.e. an online resource is not by definition an open or accessible resource. However, this false assumption pervades research and institutions alike when considering online resources and OERs.

Unfortunately, it is too often assumed that if an inaccessible resource, such as a lecture handout, is uploaded to a VLE, upon upload it is transformed into a fully accessible provision. Likewise, that providing a high-speedinternet connection is available, resources are accessible and useful (Johnstone, 2005). This neglects a huge aspect of openness – ‘open’ does not have a unitary interpretation.

Open access to resources to facilitate free movement to trangress between materials is key to a posthuman learning experience – without the ability to move seamlessly between, the process becomes stilted and emergence through a rich exposure is restricted.

Dave Cormier’s blog post “What do you mean open?” highlights the diversity of interpretation of what ‘open’ means in the context of education and the history of its nuanced definition. One of the most established interpretations of ‘open’, recognised in the blog, lies at the heart of the Open University and according to Dominic Newbould follows thus:

  • Open = accessible, ‘supported open learning’, interactive, dialogue. Accessibility was key.
  • Open = equal opportunity, unrestricted by barriers or impediments to education and educational resources.
  • Open = transparency, sharing educational aims and objectives with students, disclosing marking schemes and offering exam and tutorial advice.
  • Open = open entry, most important, no requirement for entrance qualifications. All that was needed were ambition and the will/motivation to learn.

The MOOC dimension adds further subtleties to these interpretations of ‘open’, as highlighted in the previous chapter (What is a MOOC?):

  • Equal opportunity = no upper limit or capacity on those who can participate in a given MOOC, which includes simultaneous access to resources, and free (or minimal cost) to participate.

As of May 2013, Coursera boasts membership of over 3.52 million “Courserians” with access to over 370 courses delivered by “world-leading professors” from the top Universities to provide everyone with “access to a world-class education that has so far been available to a select few” (Coursera, About page). As Knox (2013) observes, this interpretation of ‘open’ constitutes “an amplification in the number of participants coming into contact with their educational offerings. While these initiatives emphasise interactive features rather than static content, the dominant message is of the quantity rather than the quality of access” (pp. 22)

Quantity over quality of access re-emphasises the consumer-product capitalist view of education and imposed hierarchies of aspiration, i.e. that everyone wants and needs access to HE professors in order to feel self-achievement. The issue with this view is that unless carefully designed to be inclusive, a MOOC created by HE academics in light of their experience of HE curricula may in turn create a course that removes no further barrier to access, merely side-steps the type of barrier imposed.

A side-step of physical access from on-campus entry requirements to online accessibility refers back to the earlier point that online is not implicitly accessible.

Although a 566.4% increase in world internet access has been seen between 2000-2012, only 34% of the world’s population (2.4 billion) has access to an internet connection (World Internet User Statistics, ref. 2012) with the percentage of which being broadband connections currently unclear due to national variation. The current focus of typical xMOOCs on video content highly depends on access to broadband connections, again further widening the access gap.

Furthermore, they require flexibility of access to a computer which has broadband internet access – a luxury not all can afford and not all countries/districts can support (although some are trying, e.g. One Laptop, One Child for MOOCs)

However, in defense of xMOOCs, these are resources which have largely not been available to anyone outwith face-to-face academic institutions before, so availability online is at least one step towards greater transparency and access, with positive developments undertaken to decrease physical access to technology.

This being said, online does not come without its own limitations. Contrary to the observation of Rodriguez (2013) – “Being digital makes them not circumscribed by space constraints or by resource availability” — simultaneous access to resources by Massive numbers of MOOC users incurs huge load implications for supporting servers, which if not correctly implemented, will impinge upon (if not remove entirely) access to MOOC resources. The facilitator of resource liberation can equally be its limitation.

Reigeluth (2004) noted three required characteristics of a system for educational transformation: openness, self-reference, and freedom to make decisions over change – adding that knowledge must be made widely available. Openness, in its core interpretation drawn from the Open University ethos, lies at the centre of both MOOCs and posthumanism – in order to engage in a truly transformation educational experience, resources must be transparent and accessible to all those involved, equally – any barrier imposed which jeopardise this fluidity equally jeopardises the experience as a whole.

Research has shown that motivation is related to whether or not students have opportunities to be autonomous and to make important academic choices. Having choices allows children to feel that they have control or ownership over their own learning.

McCombs – Developing Responsible and Autonomous Learners: A Key to Motivating Students (2013)


Dave Cormier – Dave’s Educational Blog post “What do you mean… open?”. http://davecormier.com/edblog/2013/04/12/what-do-you-mean-open/

Knox, J. (2013). The limitations of access alone: Moving towards open processes in education technology. Open Praxis, vol. 5 issue 1, January–March 2013, pp. 21–29

Johnstone, S. (2005) Open Educational Resources Serve the World. Educause Quarterly, vol. 28 (3) pp. 15–18. Retrieved from

McCombs (2013.) Developing Responsible and Autonomous Learners: A Key to Motivating Students. American Psychological Association. Online resource for teachers: http://www.apa.org/education/k12/learners.aspx?item=1

Reigeluth, C. M. (2004). Chaos theory and the sciences of complexity: Foundations for transforming education. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA. Available online: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

Rodriguez, O. (2013) The concept of openness behind c and x-MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Open Praxis, vol. 5 (1) pp. 67–73. Available online: http://www.openpraxis.org/index.php/OpenPraxis/article/view/42/pdf



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