In popular media there has been much written of late about MOOCs: massive, open, online courses. But a good deal of that focuses on what have sometimes been called ?xMOOCs,? while there is another model that receives less press, ?cMOOCs,? or ?connectivist MOOCs? (Rodriguez, 2012). Many cMOOCs are grounded in the theory of ?connectivism,? which holds (among other things):
learning is a process of making and traversing connections--both connecting to information sources and to other people (Downes, 2007; Siemens, 2005)
knowledge is distributed across networks (Siemens, 2006); ?Knowledge is . . . literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience? (Downes, 2007)
learning is a continual process of cyclical change through interactions between persons, networks, organizations, institutions (Siemens, 2005)
diversity within networks is crucial to learning and knowledge-generation (Siemens, 2005; Downes, 2009)
Connectivist MOOCs are not focused on distributing content (Cormier and Siemens, 2010), but rather on facilitating the building of connections and creation of new knowledge amongst participants. Several cMOOCs list four main types of activities: aggregating information, remixing it by connecting it to one?s own learning and networks, repurposing by creating new knowledge and artifacts, and feeding all of this forward by sharing. Stephen Downes (2008, 2009) has also identified four elements that characterize a knowledge-generating network, and presumably these should be found in cMOOC networks: diversity, autonomy, interactivity and openness. Finally, cMOOCs do not (usually) have standard learning objects designed to be valid for all participants; instead, each participant may develop their own goals and learning objectives (McAuley, Stewart, Siemens, & Cormier, 2010). This is in part because the curriculum evolves throughout the course, depending on what is aggregated, created, shared and discussed.
The lack of standard objectives and the evolving nature of cMOOCs make it challenging to evaluate their effectiveness. Each participant could conceivably have different objectives and goals for a cMOOC, and these may not be present at first, but may develop as they engage with the course. Further, some participants may not develop objectives or goals at all, preferring instead to simply participate in the course and see what emerges for them. It is possible to gather empirical evidence on whether participants in a cMOOC engaged in aggregation, remixing, repurposing and feeding forward, in part through learning analytics (e.g., Fournier, Kop, & Sitlia, 2011; Kop, 2012), but measuring the value of the connections made for learning and knowledge-generation is much more complicated. One might gather participants? subjective views on the value of the connections they made (e.g., deWaard et al., 2011) but this value may not be apparent until long after the course has been completed, and may not necessarily be apparent to participants themselves at all.
This presentation will address the difficulties in evaluating the effectiveness of cMOOCs, discuss how research published to date on cMOOCs does not adequately address these difficulties, and invite a discussion with the audience on possible ways of using empirical research to evaluate cMOOCs.