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.