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MOOCs, DOCCs and adaptability

The hype around massive open online courses (MOOCs) is not waning nor is it likely to, as they keep mushrooming and provoking discussions between supporters and critics, ever more passionate about their benefits and flaws in the world of education. ACA has already extensively covered on the phenomenon of MOOCs in an attempt to understand it and weigh the pros and cons of such learning constellations (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, February 2013). 

Many of the cons may not affect technologically better off parts of the world, which accounts for the geographic distribution of MOOCs followers. According to a recent study by the University of London, MOOCs mostly attract people from the so-called developed and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries, individuals with the benefit of a well-educated, full-time employed person in their mid-thirties, looking for professional development. This person is, at a ratio of 64:36, more often a man than a woman. 

The cons, however, do come to the fore in light of significantly different opportunities, and learning needs, in the less “digitalised” regions. This is why one of the controversies of MOOCs has been their alleged openness. In principle, MOOCs are (to a certain degree) free and open to anyone in the world – anyone with a computer, internet connection and sufficient digital and (foreign, mainly English) language skills. The openness of MOOCs has been questioned many times and now it seems that MOOCs providers are determined to find ways to justify the trademark and make it less disputable. 

Coursera is keeping up with its MOOC-pioneering role: it is opening learning hubs around the world to provide interested students with physical learning spaces and the necessary digital equipment to follow the courses. The hubs also offer a possibility for peer learning – offline. A wave of such blended learning – a combination of online courses and face to face interaction - is taking off in some parts of Africa, Asia and Central America as higher education institutions there are looking for the best ways to combine MOOCs with the learning needs of local communities. 

Thus local relevance is another feature that MOOCs seem to be gradually acquiring, faced with different needs among countries and regions as much as among universities. What may happen soon is that we start talking about DOCCs instead of MOOCs. The acronym stands for distributed open collaborative course, and the first of its kind was initiated in 2013 by FemTechNEt, a group of universities that ran a course on feminism and technology. The rationale behind DOCCs is to encourage collaborative work and distributed expertise instead of the centralised organisation which currently dominates MOOCs. DOCCs are delivered by a consortium of universities that jointly design course content while organising lectures and adapting the course material according to each particular educational setting. In this way, content is locally relevant and “de-massified”, allowing for student-tailored courses and more interaction among smaller groups of learners. 

Such initiatives are still taken with a grain of salt as the question of social divide and true accessibility lingers on in the MOOC learning space. Nevertheless, MOOCs keep demonstrating a considerable capacity to adapt to a range of learning cultures, which already promises high chances of their survival. A pro or a con?