Ingredients for designing successful social MOOCs – perspectives from EMMA and ECO

Back in January, I participated in a study day entitled ‘Scalable learning in Europe : MOOCs, sMOOCs and communities of practice’, organised by EMMA’s sister project ECO (e-Learning, Communication, Open Data) and which took place at Universit√© Sorbonne nouvelle in Paris.

And now, as we are finalising the production of our first EMMA MOOCs at the University of Burgundy, it seems to me an appropriate moment to look back at what we discussed, in particular the ingredients for successful social MOOCs, which is the topic I was invited to speak on.

At this point I need to point out that I was wearing several caps that day. As regards EMMA, I am in charge of the department which produces our MOOCs – we have two project managers and a team of audiovisual production staff and learning technologists who support the academic teams throughout the process. And for ECO, I am myself the co-author of a MOOC on social media for teaching and learning, based on the Masters course I have been co-teaching for Sorbonne nouvelle for several years.

So this was the ideal opportunity to take a closer look at the approaches being implemented in the two projects, with respect to the social learning aspects of MOOCs. While there was general agreement on the ‘WHY’ (increased retention, deeper learning, support for the emergence of a community of learners), the ‘HOW’ and ‘WITH WHAT’ gave rise to more debate. And this is a point relevant for not just EMMA and ECO, but for all the MOOC providers and platforms out there. At the stage we are at today, many of these platforms are better designed for what we call xMOOCs, or MOOCs where the entry point is the ‘content’. But when the pedagogical approach demands an entry point more centred around activities, and collaborative activities at that, it can be difficult at times to reconcile with a platform structured around content. Other issues include the social media functions integrated into the platform itself and the interactions with existing external social media. And over and above the technical issues, how do we go beyond ‘sharing’ and ‘commenting’ to true co-construction of knowledge within a community of learners in a massive environment?

These are some of the things we are going to be exploring with our forthcoming University of Burgundy MOOCs – the Open Wine University where we have some exciting and original learning activities lined up (and not all of them digital!) and the Digital Culture and Writing MOOC, which, as its name suggests, will naturally include a range of social media activities.

Deborah Arnold

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