Symbiotic MOOCs #edcmooc

It is interesting to speculate about how MOOCs might evolve, and about what they could become, or transform into.  Thinking about “evolution” predisposes me towards biological metaphors.  Is the massive going to swallow up the small, for example?  In the biology of reproduction we can see two extremes in strategy; one which goes for high quantity of offspring, and depends on the survival of a few (like an oak tree), and one which goes for high levels of parental investment in a few offspring maximising the potential of survival for the few (like a penguin).  So it is likely that there will always be room for both the big and the bijou.

But I have been thinking abut another biological metaphor, stimulated by seeing that there appear to be a number of smaller, pre-existing groups of participants working together within the body of the MOOC as a whole.  In some cases these have been groups of colleagues who have covenanted together to participate in the MOOC, and then to communicate, and to discuss their experiences of the MOOC in this smaller, collegial context.  In other cases there appear to have been groups defined by membership of existing formal course cohorts, who are participating in the MOOC as an element of the work for those courses.  Might this be early evidence of one potential evolutionary trajectory that MOOCs could take, as weakly interacting assemblages of other learning entities?  The metaphor that I want to explore then, is endosymbiosis.   This idea can be traced to the early 1900s, but came to prominence in the work of Lynn Margulis in the 1960s.  In brief, the modern membrane-bounded cell is thought to have come about by the fusion of two ancient cell types – what we would now think of as bacteria and archaea.

The larger swallowed the smaller but, rather than the smaller poisoning the larger, or the larger digesting and assimilating the smaller, a reciprocally beneficial relationship came about, and persisted.  So now, we all have cells with little power generators called mitochondria (if we are animals) and with these mitochondria and also tiny solar collectors called chloroplasts (if we are plants).  What about a massive aggregation of learners brought together – at least in part – through collections of smaller learner groups?  The smaller groups will be the source of the motivation and energy, and the larger whole will provide structure and resource.

I’ll have to think this one through further.  But at the moment, I don’t know whether I am coming or going.  Thanks Andy.  That’s what I call a digital artefact!

Hamish Macleod
@hamacleod (Honest)


9 thoughts on “Symbiotic MOOCs #edcmooc

  1. Analogy from physics, MOOCs as WIMPS (weakly interacting massive particles)!

    Well, your metaphor from biology is a nice one, it might be thought to a) ascribe an intentionality to ancient biota, or b)pre-suppose that ‘the larger’ *wants* a ‘simbosis’ with the smaller.

    In the wider realm of digital communications, this is simply not the case, although it may be so in the narrower realm you are looking at.

    My point is this; anyone using the internet intelligently is engaged in education, no matter if they also love lolcats and watch porn.

    Unfortunately, the ‘larger’ online platforms, from say Coursera on up to Google and Farcebuck are malicious in their intent and treatment of their users content. The very real danger, and that which some of us have been fighting, is that those larger ‘structures’ will spy and capitalize upon their users. Further, that powerful (rich) lobbies will force legislation enabling censorship and severe penalties upon our ability to speak freely. The ‘WIMPs’ will then be subsumed under the larger propagandist ‘culture’.

    This is one ‘possible world’ (J.B.S. Haldane); there are infinite others, but the probabilities are looking good for this dystopian one at the moment.

    Another ‘trending’ possibility is that corporate ‘structures’ such as Farcebuck will become defunct, possibly within 10 years. Digital social networks are not really akin to organic evolution in any but superficial reckoning. They are a product of the mind.

    What is “Online Education “? What kind of distinction can be drawn between online activities ? What is education ?? What is poison ??? And who’s poisoning who ????

    • Yes, no argument for “intelligent design” or intentionality implied. 🙂 Just a way of speaking in “shorthand”. And no large “platform” necessarily involved here. This would be entirely a systems-based metaphor. The system could be instantiated in any “material”. Indeed, a metaphor of self-organisation would almost imply that no external, conscious control would work. But then we need to take account of our proposed entry in the Anthropocene; the geological epoch which is marked by the major effect on the planet is human activity.

  2. Cool blog ! Can’t seem to slightly comment on it, as I would wish.

    A seeming ‘netizen’ tbs.

    (the markdown did unexpected things to my textese, and didn’t do other things I expected. I’m somewhat familiar with another version, evidently. )

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