Are micro-MOOCs the future of OERu?

Last fall, OERu launched in partnership with dozens of institutions worldwide, and the promise of an open higher education accessible to all. But how will it actually work?


One way is to offer portions of existing for-credit courses at member institutions as a micro-Open Online Course, or mOOC. Last year a university in New Zealand opened up part of a post-graduate course for educators, ‘EDEM630: Change with digital technologies in education” as an offering from OERu. The mOOC was called “SP4Ed” (Scenario Planning for Educators) and was co-led by Wayne Mackintosh, founding director of OERu and Niki Davis, University of Canterbury Professor of e-Learning.

“The mOOC project provides a practical example of how to integrate the local learning management system with a course on the open web,” said Wayne Mackintosh. “The SP4Ed mOOC has demonstrated a win-win strategy for universities to provide an authentic international community learning experience while widening access to learning opportunities, through an agenda of social inclusion. As universities are challenged with rising costs, the mOOC model combined with OER could contribute to more sustainable education futures.”

All MOOCs are not alike

Although SP4Ed was a “MOOC-like” course, it was what is known in open education circles as a cMOOC. The first MOOCs emerged with a community or connectivist philosophy, hence the “c” in “cMOOC” – they are based on building a community of learners with open access and truly open (link to 4Rs article) educational resources.

More recently commercial providers like Coursera and Udacity have emerged; they incorporate a more programmed learning approach based on video, quizzes and assessment activities leading to “certificates of achievement. These certificates do not necessarily carry university credit and one of those may be labeled an “xMOOC” – they are largely based on all-rights-reserved materials and mostly have little or no communication with the learning community including the course leaders. Even though they are free, they are not open.

Blending a mOOC with a traditional course

“The [SP4Ed] mOOC was designed to use a number of cMOOC- like features, for example the distribution of learning materials blended with interactions across the Internet,” said Niki Davis. “It was also carefully designed to blend within the university’s Moodle learning management system so that my Canterbury students could continue to use the same course interface and have the additional support that our students expect and deserve from their course teachers and librarians, etc.”

SP4Ed was a short but intensive online course, running for 9 days last summer, and it was the first OERu prototype mOOC of its kind. For that reason, Wayne and Niki also prepared a research paper, using qualitative and quantitative data, on the success of the mOOC. Among their findings:

  • Total # registered for the SP4ED course: 121 learners from 32+ countries (not all registrants give their country of origin).
  • The international nature of the mOOC provided a unique opportunity for students registered at the University of Canterbury to interact with an international community of learners.
  • Most MOOC-like courses suffer from a high attrition rate (most drop out). However, indications are in this course even those who did not actively engage in discussions still followed along as “silent observers.”
  • The mOOC participants expressed a strong desire to receive a badge or learning credit of some kind: a “micro-credential” for completing a “micro-MOOC.” Although the students registered with University of Canterbury did receive credit for the entire course, of which SP4Ed was a portion, the mOOC learners did not.

Notable Quotes:

“We suggest that the calibre of contributions from students enrolled and paying to study generates a critical mass of engagement “motivating” many more participants to continue interacting with the course materials.” – Niki Davis and Wayne Mackintosh

“The inclusion of a wide international audience added value to the learning experience for the students enrolled with University of Canterbury, who would not have engaged with participants from over 30 different countries in an online course that is closed to learners that are not enrolled.” – Niki Davis and Wayne Mackintosh

“Perhaps most importantly of all for the University of Canterbury and our students was that the mOOC showed that we are open to sharing our resources and learning in a way that benefits the global community, which is the goal of OERu.” – Niki Davis

“More Please. Most stimulating learning in my entire Masters course papers. Couldn’t maintain this pace for too long though. The comparison between this course and others at the same level within the university is huge, both in requirements, what it offers, the presentation, the rigor of thinking required. This is on a different planet- I am better off for having participated- but it does make me view some other courses with a different lens now.” – SP4Ed participant

Further reading:

This is an adaptation of the article: A mOOC Prepared to Make a Difference (PDF), by Professor Niki Davis and Wayne Mackintosh, University of Canterbury e-Learning Lab and OERu, under a Commons Attribution 3.0 license. Portions of the original article were excerpted to form the basis of this one.

Image credit: “Crossroads” by Dominic Alves is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.