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The MOOC model for digital practice

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Authors: Alexander McAuley, Bonnie Stewart, George Siemens and Dave Cormier
Digital ways of knowing and learning
Created through funding received by the University of Prince Edward
Island through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's
"Knowledge Synthesis Grants on the Digital Economy" .
2010 CC Attribution.
Executive Summary!3
What is a MOOC?!4
MOOCs, the Digital Economy and Participatory Citizenship!5
Research Gaps and Future Directions!6
In the Open – The MOOC model as digital practice!8
What is a MOOC?!10
Who are We?!11
Narrative Introductions:!13
Dave Cormier!13
Bonnie Stewart!16
George Siemens!21
Sandy McAuley!25
The Research Questions:!29
1. How do MOOCS reflect effective practices within the digital economy?!30
Economy in a Digital Age!30
MOOCS and Fast Capital!32
MOOCS as Digital Practice!33
MOOCs and Learner Roles!37
2. The implications of MOOCs for knowledge-making and what it means to know within the digi-
tal economy!38
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
The implications of MOOCs!39
Gaps in knowledge about MOOCs!41
3. What economic opportunities and challenges does the open model of participation bring into
4. In terms of discourses, literacies, and prior knowledge, what digital skills are privileged and
rewarded within the MOOC environment?!46
5. What factors limit participation?!51
6. How can the MOOC model help engage and develop an effective digital citizenry?!54
Bibliography and Citations!57
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
Executive Summary
The MOOC Model for Digital Practice responds to the “Building Digital Skills for Tomorrow”
section of the consultation paper Improving Canada’s Digital Advantage: Strategies for Sustain-
able Prosperity by synthesizing the current state of knowledge about Massive Online Open
Courses (MOOCs). It argues that building and sustaining prosperity through Canada’s current
digital strengths depends on a digital ecosystem that embraces both infrastructure and the col-
laborative social networks enabled by that infrastructure. Prosperity in this context requires a
citizenry with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to turn these factors towards creat-
ing wealth. By exploring the relationship of MOOCs to the digital economy in general and their
potential roles to prepare citizens for participation in that digital economy in particular, it illus-
trates one particularly Canadian model of how these needs may be addressed.
In keeping with the multimodality and the alternatives to “traditional” modes of presentation
enabled by digital technologies and integral to the development of the digital economy, our
knowledge synthesis has supplemented the printed report with four online digital videos. Each
synopsizes one main attribute of the relationship of MOOCs to the digital economy:
The first summarizes what a MOOC is:
The second summarizes what new users may need to consider for success in a MOOC:
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
The third touches on the creation of knowledge in a MOOC:
The fourth provides an example of how MOOCs might be presented as a contributor to a digital
Collectively, the four web-based videos provide an overview of many of the points raised elsewhere in
this report.
What is a MOOC?
An online phenomenon gathering momentum over the past two years or so, a MOOC integrates
the connectivity of social networking, the facilitation of an acknowledged expert in a field of
study, and a collection of freely accessible online resources. Perhaps most importantly, however, a
MOOC builds on the active engagement of several hundred to several thousand “students” who
self-organize their participation according to learning goals, prior knowledge and skills, and
common interests. Although it may share in some of the conventions of an ordinary course, such
as a predefined timeline and weekly topics for consideration, a MOOC generally carries no fees,
no prerequisites other than Internet access and interest, no predefined expectations for participa-
tion, and no formal accreditation.
Word that a MOOC will be offered typically spreads through an online social network. A central
web address may be used to consolidate a registration process, outline the suggested course
schedule, and provide a nexus for support and communication. Apart from this, however, just
about anything goes. Individuals may continue to use the central site to consolidate their partici-
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
pation or they may spin it off into their own blogs and develop and maintain ties through other
technologies such as Twitter. They negotiate and define collaborative topics, working networks,
and goals with others who share common interests and concerns. The results of a MOOC collabo-
ration may extend far beyond the MOOC itself: the network negotiated is just as important as the
topic covered, if not more so. Participation in a MOOC is emergent, fragmented, diffuse, and di-
verse. It can be frustrating. It’s not unlike life.
MOOCs, the Digital Economy and Participatory Citizenship
Whereas the capacity to grow and distribute food defined the agrarian economy, and the capacity
to manufacture and distribute goods defined the industrial economy, the capacity to create and
apply knowledge defines the post-industrial digital economy. In this context, sustainable prosper-
ity depends on a society’s capacity to create and apply knowledge to solve problems. While digi-
tal technologies have exponentially increased the rate at which knowledge is created and distrib-
uted, they have simultaneously reduced the barriers to creating and consuming it. Not simply a
bigger, faster version of industrial capitalism, this post-industrial, “fast capitalism” is replacing
traditional hierarchical structures of command and control with pedagogical relationships of
mentoring, training and the learning organization (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000, p. 11). In answer to
the questions of the knowledge, skills and attitudes individuals need to thrive in this economy,
and how they may be developed, the MOOC model serves as an ecosystem for exploring both.
The MOOC is open and invitational. No one who wishes to participate is excluded; people nego-
tiate the extent and nature of their participation according to their individual needs and wishes,
regardless of whether those needs are defined, for example, by personal interest or workplace
requirements. From a theoretical perspective, this creates a very broad form of “legitimate pe-
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
ripheral participation” (Wenger, 1991) which allows individuals to be drawn into the community
of practice at whatever rate is comfortable. From a pragmatic perspective, this framework pro-
vides access to large numbers of people who might otherwise be excluded for reasons ranging
from time, to geographic location, to formal prerequisites, to financial hardship.
The large scale of the community, from several hundred to several thousand participants, maxi-
mizes the possibility that the “long tail” effect will enable someone with even the most esoteric
interests within the overall focus of the MOOC to find people with whom to share and collabo-
rate. It means also that the specific expertise of the facilitator can reach the maximum possible
number of people interested in accessing that expertise. Finally, the heterogeneity of the student
body, with its wide range of knowledge and skills, means that the facilitator will not have to
commit to the impossible task of responding individually to each student’s needs.
The emergent, self-defined nature of the MOOC capitalizes on the strengths that individuals
bring to it in terms of their experiences, knowledge, skills with a range of collaborative software
environments and perhaps most importantly, with the “soft skills” essential for successful nego-
tiation and collaboration. In all these dimensions, successful participation in a MOOC parallels
and scaffolds successful participation in the larger digital economy.
Research Gaps and Future Directions
Although there seems a significant congruence between the MOOC model as an educational
phenomenon and its potential to scaffold wider participation in a digital economy, the model is
so new that it has been subjected to little research. Moreover, the total number of MOOCs offered
to date can be displayed on the fingers of two hands. That being said, MOOCs continue to be of-
fered—at least three in the six months following the submission of the proposal which funded
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
this knowledge synthesis—and the tools and methods underlying them are continually being
improved. A coherent research agenda would help assess both the overall viability of the model
and the conditions under which it might achieve its potential. Specific pedagogical issues, chal-
lenges and questions include:
the extent to which it can support deep enquiry and the creation of sophisticated knowl-
the breadth versus the depth of participation;
whether and under what conditions successful participation can extend beyond those with
broadband access and sophisticated social networking skills;
identifying the processes and practices that might encourage lurkers, or “legitimate pe-
ripheral participants”, to take on more active and central roles;
the impact or value of even peripheral participation, specifically the extent to which it
might contribute to participation in the digital economy in extra-MOOC practices;
specific strategies to maximize the effective contribution of facilitators in particular and
more advanced participants in general;
the role for accreditation, if any, and how it might be implemented.
The viability of MOOCs from an economic perspective is also a challenge. Without tuition or reg-
istration fees, current and past MOOCs have often been volunteer initiatives which raise interest-
ing questions about the nature of value in a digital economy defined by an abundance of knowl-
edge and participants as opposed to their scarcity. Alternatively, parallels between MOOCs and
commercial ventures such as the Massive Open Online Novel ( or the
“Indigo MBA” ( argue that
there may be potential for revenue generation that do not unduly compromise the free and open
nature of the MOOC model. These potential models are currently being explored through a vari-
ety of partnerships, public and private, but the jury is still out.
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
In the Open – The MOOC model as digital practice
In May 2010, the Government of Canada released the Consultation Paper Improving Canada's
Digital Advantage: Strategies for Sustainable Prosperity. In its Building Digital Skills For Tomor-
row section, the paper states that, “Arguably the backbone of the digital economy is a strong,
globally competitive information and communications technology sector” (p. 5). Our premise is
that the digital economy is no longer the purview of the information and communications tech-
nology (ICT) sector, but rather of web-based collaborations and networks, of which Massive
Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are an example. From that perspective, we present this knowl-
edge synthesis project on the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) model for open education,
organizational collaboration, and general information sharing through networks.
Privileging the information and communications technology (ICT) sector and technologies them-
selves as the backbone of the digital economy reflects a lack of understanding of the personal and
networked nature of social media, the dominant paradigm in digital technologies for the past 5
years. Web 2.0 capacities to connect, share, collaborate, and network have given rise to social me-
dia platforms such as Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, wikis, podcasts, and countless
others. These platforms, which all involve the capacity to build and leverage both financial and
social capital, are a part of the digital economy and of many people's regular lives. The digital
realm is no longer the sole purview of the ICT sector, an important point for Canadian decision-
makers to understand. Most citizens in advanced economies are now impacted by the digital
economy: “Achieving a knowledgeable Internet citizenry is unlikely to be resolved through a
solely technical approach that focuses only on infrastructure without any consideration of the
social processes and institutions in which people’s Internet uses are embedded” (Hargittai, 2010,
Introduction). As UBC’s 2006 SSHRC proposal Development by Design points out, “Research on
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
the uses of ICTs in North American schools has yielded incontrovertible evidence that despite a
massive expenditure on the provision of hardware, software, and connectivity, our capacity for
educational innovation mediated by digital tools has proven resistant to development efforts”
(Bryson, 2006). We believe that considering ICTs as the key to Canada’s digital practices and
economy is an error, given that they have been ineffective – in and of themselves – in achieving
innovative, transformative goals even in supported classrooms. ICTs are a foundation for innova-
tion, but in themselves, fail to significantly advance the capacity of a society to develop a
knowledge-based economy. Successful digital learning innovations such as MOOCs, on the other
hand, reflect the personal, networked, and openly collaborative practices and principles of Web
2.0. Increased understanding of the literacies needed to succeed in a MOOC may indicate possi-
ble directions for Canada toward achieving its goal of increasing digital skills and capacity
among its citizens.
In a digital economy, capital lies in the capacity to leverage, connect, and promote knowledge
(Lesser, 2000). The capacity for production and flow of manufactured goods defined prosperity in
the industrial economy. Similarly, the capacity to create, improve, innovate with, and apply
knowledge will define prosperity in a digital economy (Cormier, 2010). However, while the in-
dustrial age was defined by mega-corporations and mass production, digital tools and connec-
tivity open up a range of new and creative knowledge possibilities for individuals and networks.
This is a significant and critical research gap for Canada.
Canada has a distinct and disproportionate advantage in expertise in the burgeoning field of digi-
tal openness: Canadian researchers and practitioners in open education are respected as leading
international authorities and innovators. The impact of these open practitioners is amplified by
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
their extensive social media networks connecting and engaging thousands of Canadians in digital
skills development in ways that the ICT sector cannot achieve (McAuley, 2010).
Digital skills – and its latest incarnation, 21st century skills – are buzzwords utilized in media,
public and business discourses, and government and educational documents to offer catalytic
and transformative advantage to members of contemporary society. While we are deeply inter-
ested in the affordances of social media and technologies, we challenge the determinism implied
in the view that technologies have some innate capacity to bestow use value. With “In the Open:
The Massive Open Online Course model as digital practice”, the focus is on the specifics of the
skills and literacies reflected by the operations of the digital economy and social media. Essen-
tially, open online courses assist in developing the skills of individuals to participate in a digital
economy by developing skills in collaborating with others online and developing digital artifacts.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) may be useful to the practical and conceptual develop-
ment of the participatory practices and literacies that social media privilege. The MOOC model
might play a critical role in developing Canada's national competitive advantage.
What is a MOOC?
!A MOOC is an online course with the option of free and open registration, a publicly-
shared curriculum, and open-ended outcomes. MOOCs integrate social networking, accessible
online resources, and are facilitated by leading practitioners in the field of study. Most signifi-
cantly, MOOCs build on the engagement of learners who self-organize their participation accord-
ing to learning goals, prior knowledge and skills, and common interests. The term came into be-
ing in 2008, though versions of very large open online courses were in existence before that time
(McAuley, 2010). MOOCs have been offered in conjunction with academic institutions and inde-
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
pendently by facilitators: to date, topics have remained within the E-learning and educational
technologies fields. Some MOOCs have had upwards of 2000 registrants. MOOCs share in some
of the conventions of an ordinary course, such as a predefined timeline and weekly topics for
consideration, but generally have no fees, no prerequisites other than Internet access and interest,
no predefined expectations for participation, and no formal accreditation (there are several in-
stances of MOOCs that are affiliated with a university and provide learners the option of enroll-
ing formally in the course and submitting assignments for marking).
!News that a MOOC will be offered is typically spread through online social networks
and email lists. Registration and course topics are offered through a central course site developed
by facilitators: participants can use the central site to interact and discuss ideas, or may share
their contributions from their own blogs and develop and maintain ties through other technolo-
gies such as Twitter. The course operates on an open and a-hierarchical invitation to participate in
and scaffold activities and discussions: a true “teacher as learner as teacher” model (Siemens,
2006). Participation in a MOOC is emergent, fragmented, diffuse, and diverse. There is no credit
or certificate offered for completion. Facilitators of MOOCs volunteer their time, and comment on
participants' input, but it is expected that the community of participants will be the primary
source of feedback for the majority of work contributed. This is in keeping with the participatory
collaboration and commenting norms within social media.
Who are We?
The “In the Open” project team represents a unique combination of experiential and research ex-
pertise in the areas of online and open learning. The PI and co-applicants were all active in the
2010 Edfutures MOOC (, two as course designers and facilitators (Siemens
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
and Cormier) and two as participants (Stewart and McAuley): the reflections from which this
narrative synthesis were drawn stem in part from that shared experience.
Three members of the team are based at the University of Prince Edward Island. The Principal
Investigator of the project, Dr. Alexander (Sandy) McAuley, has worked since the late 1980s as a
practitioner and researcher exploring the potential of digital networks to support knowledge
creation in education at the K-12 and post-secondary level, particularly in the far north. In 2007-
2008 he worked as PI with team members Dave Cormier and Bonnie Stewart on the innovative
Living Archives project ( The Living Archives’ synthesis of social net-
working technologies and knowledge creation principles (Scardamalia, 2002) prefigures on a
small scale some of the issues raised in this study. Co-Applicant Bonnie Stewart is a member of
UPEI’s inaugural PhD cohort in Educational Studies. Her work explores the mutual constitution
of knowledge and technologies, epistemologies of the digital, and post-cyborg conceptions of
branding and identity performance. A longtime blogger, she is particularly interested in the lived
experience of immersion within social media, and the concepts of self and learner that circulate
within the discourses of the digital and creative economies. Co-Applicant Dave Cormier's work
focuses on the concepts of community as curriculum, the placing of educational technologies in a
post-digital context, and rhizomatic models of knowledge creation. Dave is the co-founder and
current manager of Edtechtalk, a community of educators that has produced more than 1000 live
interactive webcasts since June 2005. He has been actively involved with MOOCs since the inau-
gural Connective (CCK08) course, and coined the term “MOOC” to represent the phenomenon.
Dave has co-facilitated 2 MOOC courses to date: the spring 2010 Edfutures MOOC, and the fall
2010 Personal Learning Environments and Knowledge (PLENK2010) MOOC. Co-Applicant
George Siemens of Athabasca University’s TEKRI partners with UPEI on this project: author of
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
the book Knowing Knowledge, an exploration of the impact of the changed context and charac-
teristics of knowledge in digital society, George is an influential theorist of digital knowledge
with an international reputation. He, with Stephen Downes of the NRC in Moncton, New Bruns-
wick, is at the forefront of developing MOOCs, and has been actively involved in all that have
been offered.
Together, this team represents a collaboration of academic and social media expertise on the digi-
tal. Dave and George are among five educators in the world leading exploration of the possibili-
ties of MOOCs. The four members have over 10 000 combined followers on Twitter, and are all
leaders within their own digital spheres. It is from this perspective of embedded participants in
the highly participatory environment that is digital media that they offer their knowledge regard-
ing digital skills development and the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) model.
Narrative Introductions:
Dave Cormier
I have a vested interest, maybe, in the idea of MOOCs working. There are number of the facets
presented by the concept that directly relate to the research and writing that I have been doing for
the past 5 years. My research interests explore how the negotiation of knowledge among peer
groups can be leveraged as a learning ecology. I am also interested in how open networked learn-
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
ing models can support long term connectivity between peers to provide an extended impact on
how learning can happen for an individual. The MOOC speaks to both of these interests.
I started my journey into open education when I co-founded in June of 2005. Ed-
techtalk was the name of the first live, interactive podcast that I produced with my colleague Jeff
Lebow. It is also the name of the website that hosts the podcasts, and the community of educators
that grew out of those first meetings. The initial vision for live webcasts were to start an ongoing
discussion between educators, to share our knowledge and develop a shared understanding of to
improve our own practice. This idea of creating a space for conversation, for workshops and col-
laboration were critical to the work we planned to do. The result of this has been 1200+ live inter-
active webcasts since that first episode in 2005 and countless connections made.
After those first few months of webcasting, we began to receive inquiries from others who
wanted to host their own webcast on what was quickly becoming a network of live discussions.
Not having the free time to personally train each of the people interested in doing these shows,
we established the 'webcast academy' which we saw as a collabora-
tive, community course that could provide training and support for the new groups of webcast-
ers wishing to join the community. One could say that “the community was the curriculum.”
My introduction to MOOCs came in the summer of 2008 when I was preparing to host a series of
two discussions on Edtechtalk covering this emerging phenomenon called CCK08. It was an open
course on connectivism, a relatively esoteric topic in educational theory, that was being offered to
whomever wished to register for free. At that time there were hundreds of people registered and
in hosting discussions with the course facilitators Stephen Downes and George Siemens we
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
started to ask questions about what it could mean to have thousands of people talking about the
same topic on the open web.
I was fascinated by the enthusiasm that seemed to be generated by the event of the course itself.
The challenge that we had had in trying to build on the success of edtechtalk, was that it was dif-
ficult to replicate. It was also very difficult to scale. Something about the fact that the MOOC was
being offered at a given time, along a certain set of topics, took the ideas that developed out of the
work with edtechtalk and brought them to a different group of people in a more focused way.
This feeling was reinforced by the finding of the openhabitat project, which suggested that
'eventedness' was a key factor in participation in any online educational endeavour. (Cormier,
I co-facilitated one of the live, collaborative sessions for CCK08, and found the ever changing dy-
namics of those sessions both familiar from my time with edtechtalk, and challenging to my in-
stincts as an educator. In any given live session, you might get a combination of people who had
not seen any of the materials for a given week, some who were visiting for the first time and oth-
ers who had been following along with the course quite passionately. There were participants
who had things to say with respect to the material of the course, others had input on the format
and still more on the value of the topic itself. The authenticity of this, the way in which this tran-
scends the artificial contexts of a traditional course, are one of my key interests in openness.
I have since been involved in co-facilitating two more MOOCs, edfutures and #PLENK10. The
live, collaborative process of a MOOC is one that fits in very nicely with my comfort zone in rela-
tion to the web. They are, in a sense, a direct extension of the work that I started with during ed-
techtalk. My other comfortable method of interaction are in the form of weekly reflections on the
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
work that is being done by participants as it reflects my own feelings on the topic and the materi-
als for that week. I am less comfortable with the role of 'maintaining' a discussion amongst par-
ticipants. I tend to feel that any interference in the interaction between students creates a hierar-
chy of discussion that impedes the creation of network clusters. This tension between facilitating
specific discussions and the more indirect process of attempting to support an ecology for learn-
ing, is still unresolved.
The network cluster, in the end, is where my main interest lies in the MOOC. Is there a point at
which learners select another set of learners with whom they can negotiate solutions/knowledge
that will allow them to achieve their goals? Is the resistance that is present for some learners a
question of the habit formed in traditional education or does it reflect a more deep seated differ-
ence? Goals can be as diverse as the learners themselves, but the possibility of supporting the
creation of long term clusters rewards the effort of putting on the event. People meet the people
they need to meet. They find the solutions they were hoping to find. They also, hopefully, find a
sense of community, which may be reason enough to do it by itself.
Bonnie Stewart
In spring 2010, I was a participant in the open online course on Edfutures offered by George Sie-
mens of Athabasca and Dave Cormier of UPEI.
I joined the course because I had recently been accepted into the inaugural Ph.D in Educational
Studies program at the University of Prince Edward Island, and after almost a decade spent in
higher education but larger outside of formal academic studies, I wanted to begin to reshape my
life around formal learning practices once again. Additionally, my area of interest for my doctoral
studies is the epistemology and discourse of social media, so I hoped that the concepts underpin-
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
ning futures work might be useful and interesting for me to explore. Ultimately, as a long-time
user and student of social media, I was curious about the MOOC model itself and what the expe-
rience of participating in one might be like.
I was drawn to the flexibility of the MOOC because, with a full-time job and a number of writing
commitments on my plate, the open-ended commitment of this type of learning appealed to me
far more than a formal course would have at that particular time. The fact that it was free was
likewise appealing, but not nearly as significant to me as the different social contract involved:
the informality of the commitment to the MOOC meant I felt free to participate more on my own
terms than I would have in a traditional course. I saw the opportunity as a step towards re-entry
into formal education but without the same external obligations, and as a chance to enjoy a learn-
ing opportunity entirely focused on intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivations.
Being comfortable with the practices of social media was very helpful for me in terms of making
sense of the course: I've been blogging a long time and therefore it felt natural for me to put
comments and ideas out there – even if only in partially-baked, not-quite-ready-for-prime time
publication form - for others to interact with. I didn’t blog my course responses, however; my
blog has an established audience, and I felt that leaping into an entirely new and highly contex-
tual conversation wouldn't work with my readership and reputation in that space. So, for me, the
course site and discussion boards and other people's blog posts were where I did my working out
of ideas. I posted to the wiki and used different areas of the main course site: it was a much more
diffuse kind of conversation than I'm accustomed to holding on the Internet, because the majority
of the people I engaged with were new contacts for me. Some responded and we gradually built
ties based on collaboration with each others' ideas. For the most part, however, my participation
was minimal: I read, and tried to get a sense of how the structure of the MOOC and the conversa-
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
tion were unfolding. And the freedom to do that in a course environment – to be an engaged ob-
server – was meaningful for me. I learned as much about MOOCs themselves and thought as
much about what it means to learn and to teach as I did about the actual topic of educational fu-
Certainly, the content and structure of the Edfutures MOOC privileged learners who came in ex-
pecting a relatively loosely organized and direct engagement with ideas, in keeping with the
open opportunities for registration and the open attitude towards content and knowledge-
making. I did go in expecting that, and was mostly able to make sense of the experience. What I
hadn't prepared myself for was my response to it: I have been both a teacher and student in other
online learning initiatives, but most followed some set path, and this was my first time truly
learning with others for myself. A part of me kept feeling I was missing something that I ought to
be doing, if not directly for the instructors then in terms of the social contract I'd engaged in with
my fellow students. I worried that being only partly present, while true to my own learning goals
for the course, minimized my effectiveness as a community member within the learning cohort. If
I were to do another MOOC, I'd think I'd be better prepared the second round to manage my ex-
pectations of myself in relation to those social and community aspects of the course. !
The other aspect of the course that challenged me was remaining engaged during periods where
my knowledge was minimal. While I was comfortable contributing my ideas in the diffuse envi-
ronment of the MOOC when I felt I had something to offer the distributed nature of the course
became difficult for me when we ventured into topics which were content-heavy and unfamiliar
to me. I suspect I was not alone: there was a period in the Edfutures MOOC when learner contri-
butions became quite thin, and discussion in Elluminate suggested that many of us were feeling
out of our element in this particular discussion and thus remaining relatively silent. It was, for
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
me, the point of the course at which I largely disengaged: the momentum I'd been building
slipped, and once one pulls back, it is harder to start again. I had been participating from the po-
sition of a person with both something to contribute and something to learn. Once I felt I didn't
have much to offer, I had trouble maintaining my sense of my role.
Extrapolating, I’d venture that one of the implicit limitations on participation in MOOCs may be
that sense of learner identity. People not only need to be comfortable in the prosumer role of crea-
tor and consumer of knowledge content, but they need to be able to maintain an identity from
which they can speak even when their actual knowledge is minimal. Our educational culture
does not prepare people for the experience of acting as a knowledge-builder in this type of in-
quiry situation. In a large enough group, there might be enough variance in learner knowledge
that the overall drop in participation doesn’t occur, but it would be wise for MOOC facilitators to
consider strategies for scaffolding or sustaining participation through content-heavy or less-
personalized topics.
My own role in the Edfutures MOOC was particularly unusual in that Dave, my co-researcher
here and one of the instructors of the course, is my partner. As a result, I had a bird's-eye-view of
the course management and strategy, and also of the experience and intentions of the instruc-
tional team. I also had the privilege of something of an insider position in what was very much a
relational course, wherein I went in knowing the instructors well enough to engage and banter
from the beginning.
However, being a family member of an instructor creates constraints and issues, even in a non-
graded, non-credit course situation: offering the same comment and critique of the course as I
would have had I not been affiliated with Dave was not really possible. It was not communica-
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
tions with him that were the issue, but the fact that in a participatory environment all relations
are part of a social contract. The social contract of being learners together becomes fraught when-
ever there is conflict or silence, and these were the places where my position as “the instructor’s
wife” went against my instincts to mobilize inquiry and resolution.
Towards the late middle of the course, during the 5th and 6th weeks, there was a slump period
where participation was slim except for a few voices of critique. I wanted to engage in the cri-
tique but felt too positioned to have my input taken as anything other than PR, either by other
students or by Dave & George. I did speak frankly with Dave at home about my own perceptions
of where people had dropped off and why: this was a privileged position to to speak from, cer-
tainly, but also a challenging one. In some ways the distance of depersonalized public reflection
and critique creates far less tension than direct criticism. I likewise felt disingenuous taking on
any position of positive reflection in the course site, for fear of being perceived or dismissed by
other students simply as a booster or blind supporter. I was afraid of being perceived as over-
stepping my role, or being aligned in ways that might make others uncomfortable.
Complicating things further, one of the voices of critique was Sandy’s, our Principal Investigator
and also my supervisor for my Ph.D research. It was interesting, from my perspective, for he and
I to have the opportunity to be students together. The shift of roles was neither difficult nor un-
comfortable: we offered each other a known node to interact with on Elluminate and in the
course site, but beyond that, our collaborations were minimal. However, had Dave and I not been
a couple, I would have felt more free to engage with Sandy’s critique of the course using the
course site itself. Instead, what response I gave him was given behind the scenes: negotiating a
voice in the midst of that web of power relations was far harder for me to undertake online,
where I risked being observed, misunderstood, or taken up as currying favour with one or the
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
other. Ultimately, these personal relationships shaped my public performance as a learner in the
MOOC more than I would have anticipated. What this reflects about my own tendencies and
about power relations in general, I am not entirely sure. I do know that while MOOCs are in
some ways more democratic social contracts than traditional teacher-learner classroom roles, they
are still negotiations of power in which people establish the right to speak and be heard based on
relational roles. My role, admittedly, was unusual, and not a situation most MOOC participants
will need to negotiate.
Overall, my sense is that it is the relational and role-based aspects of the MOOC that are perhaps
the greatest departure and adjustment for course participants. Schooling trains us, even in spite
of progressive pedagogies, towards a relational status quo where power and knowledge still in-
here in the role of teacher. The MOOC model represents a different engagement that reflects the
norms of digital interactions and social media culture far more than traditional education. This
reality ends up offering an extraordinary meta-learning opportunity for participants, but is also
somewhat challenging even for people accustomed to and adept in the relational negotiations of
digital culture.
George Siemens
My interest in MOOCs is largely based in my experience in online interactions. In 2000, while at
Red River College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, I started blogging in order to share my experience
with educational technology. At the time, educational technology was largely a peripheral topic
in most higher education institutions. I found it difficult to connect with colleagues within RRC
as my interest in connecting tools of personal control (blogs and later wikis) with participatory
pedagogy did not resonate with many others in the college. Through blogging, however, I was
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
able to connect with like-minded educators who were in a position similar to mine: eager to ex-
plore how technology could alter teaching and learning, but not finding enough colleagues
within their institution to advance the discussion.
I set up a website ( and started publishing a weekly newsletter on education,
technology, and knowledge trends (the newsletter current has about 7 000 subscribers). Over
time, I developed what would now be called a “personal learning network”, including people
like Dave Cormier, Alec Couros, Stephen Downes, Will Richardson, Jane Knight, Josie Fraser, and
others. Participant in my learning network had an intense intellectual curiosity and desire to
share her/his thoughts and ideas. Together with Stephen Downes, I founded a site focused on
open education (, a site that is no longer active). We started to look at how
openness of content and social interactions could change how a society learns. Unfortunately, the
low levels of adoption in web 2.0 and social media in 2002 made it difficult to realize the vision of
scaling the social dimension of learning to a sufficient level to take advantage of network effects.
During this time, in numerous interactions with Dave Cormier, including several appearances on
EdTechTalk, along with other bloggers with higher education affiliation, I started moving greater
portions of my teaching and learning activities online.
A few initial experiments in large-scale online interaction - the Online Connectivism Conference
2007 and the Future of Education Conference 2007 (both at University of Manitoba) - provided
me with a better understanding of how and why people participate in online learning activities.
In particular, I became aware of the need for learning activities to include both synchronous and
asynchronous components, as learners from around the world were participating in the confer-
ences. In spring of 2008, I approached Stephen Downes to see if he was interested in co-
facilitating a course on connectivism. Both Stephen and I had written extensively about the dis-
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
tributed nature of knowledge and the growing prominence of networked learning. We felt that a
course that embodied connectivism would be the best way to communicate connectivism as a
learning and knowledge theory. We approached Dave Cormier to assist in running the course and
contributing to the weekly live sessions and debates. Dave, Stephen, and I initiated a few online
sessions in August, 2008 to discuss the successes and failures of other open learning initiatives.
Based on this discussion, we settled on the pedagogical model that continues to define MOOCs:
High levels of learner control over modes and places of interaction
Weekly synchronous sessions with facilitators and guest speakers
The Daily email newsletter as a regular contact point for course participants. The Daily
includes a summary of Moodle forums, course participant blogs, Twitter discussions re-
lated to the course, etc.
Using RSS-harvesting (gRSShopper) to track blogs of course participants
Emphasis on learner autonomy in selecting learning resources and level of participation
in activities
Emphasis on social systems as effective means for learners to self-organize and wayfind-
ing through complex subject areas
The criticality of “creation” - i.e. learners create and share their understanding of the
course !topics through blogs, concept maps, videos, images, and podcasts. Creating a digi-
tal artifact helps learners to re-centre the course discussion to a more personal basis.
The success of our first course - CCK08 - was not anticipated. We found quickly that the course
took a life of its own as participants created Second Life meeting areas, Google groups to discuss
certain topic areas, study groups for people in similar locations, Facebook groups, and so on. Ad-
ditionally, the course syllabus was translated into at least five different languages as participants
from dozens of countries around the world joined. Our decision to open the course unleashed a
level of creativity unlike anything I had encountered in my previous teaching. I had to let go of
many of my assumptions about what I needed to do as an educator and what I expected of
course participants. Numerous technical details needed to be addressed as well: it’s very easy to
fragment content and conversations, the key challenge was, and continues to be, finding a way to
connect the fragmented pieces in such a way as to provide learners with a sense of knowledge
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
coherence. While we experimented with different technical approaches (such as using Downes’
gRSShopper to aggregate blogs, encourage participants to track the course tag on Google Alerts,
use of the Daily newsletter to provide a reasonably consistent summary of course activity), the
social interactions of learners in the course provided the most sensemaking approach for most
participants. The formation of sub-networks for discussion and collaboration helped to cluster
the conversation around themes and topics relevant to individual participants. Several research
papers, written by participants who first met in CCK08, have been produced over the last several
Since CCK08, I have been involved with various other open courses. In the process, I’m begin-
ning to see a few consistent patterns that emerge as the courses progress. The patterns of partici-
pation (generally high early in the course, with the development of sub-networks, and gradual
tapering of activity) present a research agenda that may provide critical insight into how teaching
and learning should be conducted online, regardless of number of participants. The tools and
methods to run a MOOC are still in their infancy, but are improving with each course we run.
Similarly, we are refining our pedagogical approach and getting a better sense of when instruc-
tors should be most active. We’re also starting to understand the power and control relationship
in a MOOC - participants are quite vocal when they perceive that instructors are violating the
spirit of open courses. As instructors we have to be aware of these expectations - an open course
relies on the effort and participation of many.
Many, many questions remain about the learner experience, how the technical components of
MOOCs can be made to be more accessible to other educators, how different disciplines react to
MOOCs, and so on. However, at this stage, it has become quite clear to me that understanding
how social interactions in networks scale is critical to understanding the future of education.
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
Gutenberg permitted content to scale. Today’s web permits social interactions to scale. I can think
of very few areas of research that will have a more dramatic impact on education in the next dec-
Sandy McAuley
I should say at the outset that I’m coming to this project as a bit of a relic, possibly even a fossil.
In terms of Prensky’s (2009) overused distinction, I’m situated firmly as a digital immigrant.
Perhaps a peculiar sort of digital immigrant, though. Although I was born in the 1950s, long be-
fore the digital revolution, I’ve been active with teaching and learning on digital networks since
the late 1980s. I was an early member of the Apple Global Education (AGE) Network in 1989. In
1991 a colleague and I launched Takujaksat, an easy-to-use FirstClass® electronic BBS with a
graphical interface that linked all schools in the Baffin region of the eastern arctic. Takujaksat was
later gatewayed to the Internet, thus bringing the first Internet connections to eastern arctic
schools. I was also an active member (and president for a while) of NT*Net, a CANARIE-funded
non-profit organization that brought Internet access to Yellowknife and then, in 1996, to Iqaluit.
Along the way I have supported, promoted, and worked with a fair number of educational net-
working projects.
Probably the most significant event in this process of digital immigration was an article I read in
MacWorld in 1990 which described the CSILE (Computer Supported Intentional Learning Envi-
ronment) project at OISE/UT in Toronto. Running on a LAN, CSILE was a multimedia discourse
environment which supported collaborative investigations by means of student-created hyper-
linked notes. Even restricted to a LAN, it seemed to me a powerful means to develop the online
collaborative skills that learners would find essential to make use of the computer-based learning
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
networks presaged by the AGE. I also appreciated its open nature, specifically its emphasis on
learner-generated questions and absence of prescriptive, algorithmic approaches to problem-
solving and learning. Between 1992 and 2000, with the involvement of many teachers and several
schools in the arctic, the Baffin Divisional Board of Education, the Government of the Northwest
Territories, Apple Canada, and the Institute of Knowledge Innovation and Technology at OISE/
UT, I helped coordinate a number of projects which saw CSILE used to support collaborative
learning. A number of these experiences became the basis of my EdD dissertation, completed in
Between 1992 and the present, CSILE evolved into MacCSILE, then Knowledge Forum. It became
one of the keystone technologies of the Telelearning National Centres of Excellence and grew to
embrace many emerging Internet standards. At a deeper conceptual and epistemological level,
however, its evolution reflected a growing emphasis on supporting collaborative knowledge crea-
tion as opposed to individual, intentional learning. Although programs such as CMAP allow for
the collaborative creation of concept maps, CSILE/Knowledge Forum remains one of a few digi-
tal environments, if not the only one, that supports collaborative knowledge construction by
means of movable, user-created digital objects in a two-dimensional space: text has meaning; im-
ages, graphics and multimedia have meaning; and that meaning can be augmented by spatial
relationships. Work continues to explore the roles of animation and three-dimensional space as
means to understand the processes by which knowledge is created in an online environment, and
how they can be supported and improved.
My involvement with CSILE/Knowledge Forum and the knowledge building paradigm under-
neath it may have blinded me to the explosion of Web 2.0. For example, when I first heard of
wikis in 2001, I was unimpressed—they seemed little different from a group note in Knowledge
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
Forum. Similarly, blogs seemed little more than public versions of a Knowledge Forum notes. The
triviality of many blogs, the fact that many were started, but few sustained recalled to me the low
“signal-to-noise” ratio that plagued many knowledge building discussions, especially the less
successful ones. Further, as a relatively long-term K-12 educator I was skeptical of the hyperbolic
language about how blogs, wikis, and podcasts were going to revolutionize education. Better
tools had preceded these with little impact—how were these different? I was irritated that very
few of the evangelists of these new technologies seemed to have much awareness, let alone un-
derstanding, about the work on online educational learning that had preceded them.
My bias against Web 2.0 technologies overlooked two major points. First, starting from about the
time we first provided local dialup Internet access in 1996 and fuelled by the accessibility and
utility of web browsers with graphical interfaces, the Internet became a socio-technical phenome-
non of unprecedented scope. It didn’t matter that many, if not most blogs were trivial, unread, or
dead, the scope was such that there were still massive numbers—far more than schools using
Knowledge Forum, for example—that were useful and interesting. Second, technologies such as
RSS made finding those blogs and keeping track of their updates at least somewhat manageable.
It became possible to conceive of the open Internet as a viable alternative to the password-
protected walled garden of Knowledge Forum. Despite this possibility, the social and pedagogical
structures that could transform the massive open potential of the Internet to viable learning expe-
riences on a similarly massive scale were lacking.
My involvement in the EdFutures MOOC was therefore multidimensional. As a teacher and
teacher educator I am aware that instruction requires both content and pedagogical knowledge.
As a developer and instructor of online courses, I understand that the online environment both
extends and constrains effective face-to-face pedagogies. As an educational researcher who has
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
been working with a focus on the potential of networked environments to support individuals’
and groups’ critical and creative capacities to construct knowledge in a world in which those ca-
pacities are essential components of well-being, I am interested both in how education needs to
change and the forces that facilitate or impair the change process. I came to the MOOC on Educa-
tional Futures as an educator interested in the processes through which deeper understandings of
the future of education could be built and as a hopeful skeptic about the MOOC as an emergent
way to structure this.
!This project is a narrative inquiry into the practices of the digital economy, and the con-
cepts of learning and knowledge represented by these practices. It is also an exploration of the
ways MOOCs reflect these digital practices, of the economic and educational potential of MOOCs
for Canadians, and of the literacies and skills both taught and required within MOOC environ-
!Our synthesis, then, is a shared reflection on the project's research questions. Each of us
wrote extensive responses to the questions, based both on personal research and on our experi-
ences with MOOCs and with digital media in general. These responses were then explored and
discussed among the group, with common themes pulled out and points added where team
members felt salient ideas were missing. Our narratives emphasized our understandings of digi-
tal embeddedness, digital literacies, and the operations of the digital economy in broad strokes.
These are for the most part less personal stories than syntheses of observations based on research
and long-term work within digital culture. Throughout much of the synthesis, our commonalities
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
were strong enough that we chose to collapse our voices into one: a single synthesized story of
MOOCs and their relevance to the digital economy.
!However, because we each spoke in part from the basis of experience, there were ele-
ments of the project where synthesis into a single voice was neither possible nor desirable. In
those places, we have chosen to emphasize the individual, contextual knowledge of our narra-
tives, as stories that supply the basis for interpretation (Bruner, 1991). In articulating common
practices without generalizing or theming individual stories into a monolithic account of digital
self-hood, we hope that a broad picture of the experience of digital immersion and MOOCs spe-
cifically will emerge.
!During our research, we also used our individual responses to the questions to inform
the development of four short video scripts on MOOCs, to be distributed online. The process of
combing through our many pages of ideas and distilling them down to a few key points was
powerful, and informed the structure and shape of the synthesis itself.
The Research Questions:
Question Strand 1. How do MOOCs reflect effective practices within the digital economy? What
are their implications for knowledge-making and what it means to know today? What economic
opportunities and challenges does the open model of participation bring into focus?
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
Question Strand 2. In terms of discourses, literacies, and prior knowledge, what digital skills are
privileged and rewarded within the MOOC environment? What factors limit participation? How
can the MOOC model help engage and develop an effective digital citizenry?
1. How do MOOCS reflect effective practices within the digital economy?
Economy in a Digital Age
!Wikipedia defines a digital economy as “an economy that is based on electronic goods
and services produced by an electronic business and traded through electronic commerce”
(“Digital Economy,” 2010). While Wikipedia is still frequently challenged in contemporary culture
as a source of reliable information, it is interesting to note that its definition closely parallels the
emphasis on marketplace, goods and services, and transactions that Improving Canada's Digital
Advantage: Strategies for Sustainable Prosperity, the Government of Canada's Consultation Pa-
per on a Digital Economy Strategy for Canada evidences on its landing page
( It is our premise, however, that
the digital economy is more than just the traditional goods and service economy translated to a
virtual environment. We urge Canadian policymakers to consider a broader, more dynamic and
open-ended framework which integrates and capitalizes on the digital innovation, practices, and
skills emerging from the explosive growth of social media. Just as “economy” and “ecology”
share the same etymological root in the wider context (Jacobs, 2000), so should discussion of the
digital economy consider seriously its relationship to the wider digital ecology.
!In this broader view, all human social interactions occur within some sort of economy, the
rules governing exchange. All economic activity is at its core a knowledge activity (Sakaiya,
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
1991). Economic systems seek to provide valuation of an entity (physical or otherwise) and then
to provide a mechanism for ongoing value negotiation and exchange (traditionally a marketplace,
more recently the stock market). Historically, eras have different entities underlying the valuation
process: gold, wheat, coal, and oil are all historical examples. In each instance, however, knowl-
edge is the central entity in the process even when its presence is obscured by a focus on com-
modities or physical objects.
!Past systems have raised the bar for participation in knowledge-making arenas in order
to preserve both the integrity of the knowledge itself and the privilege of those already inculcated
into the system: guilds in medieval Europe are an illustration of this form of control. At their
peak, guilds were powerful and positive protectionist systems for those on the inside, but very
limiting in terms of access to those on the outside, thus restricting social mobility for individuals
as well as controlling knowledge. In more recent times, information systems – news, media, and
academia, in their different ways – have operated as guild-like barriers to newcomers by leverag-
ing high capital costs for participation in the knowledge-making industries.
!A key difference between the digital economy and the traditional in terms of knowledge-
use and knowledge-production is the barrier-reducing impact of the Internet. Access to the means
of production is relatively open and individualized, though realities of technology ownership,
broadband Internet access, literacy (digital and otherwise), and capacity to speak in the lan-
guages and discourses that carry capital all place limits on who has voice online. Nonetheless, for
a significant portion of the human population, the Internet offers at least some means to bypass
the boundaries, including costs, of traditional gatekeeping systems of knowledge-making and
knowledge dissemination. In effect, digital technologies make the capacities for duplication and
dissemination available to an individual rather than an institution or system.
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
!The digital economy has also long been touted as a knowledge economy, or more recently
as a creative economy (Howkins, 2001, Florida, 2002). Whatever its label, our current societal eco-
nomic structure breaks entrepreneurship out of its business origins (Brown, 2010), emphasizing
ahierarchical and distributed peer-to-peer production, and continual innovation. The digital
economy is participatory, and it is participation that MOOCs enable on a grand scale.
MOOCS and Fast Capital
!MOOCs would not have made sense in a traditional industrial economy, even had the
technologies to facilitate them existed. MOOCs reflect essential features of the “fast capitalism” of
post-industrial workplaces and society in which “traditional structures of command and control
are being replaced by relationships of pedagogy: mentoring, training, and the learning organiza-
tion” (Cope and Kalantzis, 2000). Digital and creative economies operate on change and destabi-
lization, which forces participants within those economies to become, in effect, lifelong learners.
This creates both opportunities and stresses for individuals, and a distinct chasm between the
literacies emphasized in public discourse about our increasingly retro-industrial school system
and the participatory practices of digital knowing and being. Simple binary narratives about one
model being forward-looking and the other backward, however, do not do justice to either.
MOOCs exist in a contested cultural space in which business interests infiltrate the web as much
as the standardized-skills lobby, and the participatory and even democratic features of social me-
dia behaviours within fast capitalism are nonetheless tied to the movement of capital, both social
and financial. Even though MOOCs are free and open and grounded in the tradition of the open-
source movement, they serve an economic purpose. As the cultural opposition between the Prot-
estant work ethic and the bohemian artistic ethic is conflated (de la Fuente, 2010) in figures like
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
the pop-culture geek hero (Florida, 2002), MOOCs offer opportunities for development of rele-
vant digital economy literacies in a fast capital mentored-learning environment.
MOOCS as Digital Practice
In a sense, MOOCs embody rather than reflect practices within the digital economy. MOOCs re-
duce barriers to information access and to the dialogue that permits individuals and society to
grow knowledge. Much of the technical innovation in the last several centuries has permitted
humanity to extend itself physically and conceptually, via the use of telescopes, trains, cars, and
airplanes. The Internet, especially in recent developments of connective and collaborative appli-
cations, is a cognitive extension for humanity. Put another way, the Internet offers a model where
the production and reproduction of knowledge is separated from physical objects. For example,
even though the knowledge embodied in the creation of a second tractor is no more than that re-
quired to create the first, the material requirements are double: it’s not the knowledge that is the
barrier, but the physical resources. Restrictions to duplication rest primarily in the physical em-
bodiment of knowledge. On the other hand, digital information is nearly frictionless as costs for
labour and material are reduced to virtually nothing. Our cultural concept of intellectual property
comes from a world in which information and authorship were seen as creating new things, in an
environment where copies involved labour and investment (Spender, 1995; Shirky, 2010). The
overt sharing of course materials, ideas, and knowledge-building processes is growing in popu-
larity, as evidenced by MIT's OpenCourseWare initiative. Its Return on Investment (ROI) is to
bind learners to the MIT brand rather than charge them for educational experience. In a reputa-
tional economy built on post-scarcity, value lies in the synthesis, presentation and application of
ideas rather than their possession.
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
But MOOCs also embody the digital economy in terms of their reputational, relational, and net-
worked operations, which are the same as those of social media itself. The digital economy is in
part a reputational economy, one in which social capital shares precedence with actual monetary
value. Reputational capital is a fragile asset that centres around the concept of belonging, which
takes time to build but can be easily damaged (Hall, 1993, p. 608). Reputation and belonging de-
termine the scale of attention or clout an entity can command; this scale is represented by audi-
ence, number of followers, and amplification of one's contributions. Traditional credentials can be
part of the way a person establishes authority within social media, but authority is primarily per-
formative, and so established credentials generally will not garner the same attention, capital, or
amplification as outside the digital economy unless they are combined with overt demonstration
of knowledge or skill, and also with connection to others.
The relational – or network – aspects of the digital economy rest on these points of connection
between people. The digital economy relies not just upon the formal infrastructure and services
identified in the government's Consultation Paper, but on open, global networks of people whose
connections carry capital exchange potential, whether of direct goods and services, information,
simple friendship, or knowledge-building opportunities. It is a common practice in the digital
economy for different groups and companies to band together to find collaborative ways to
achieve goals, as evidenced by the early success of open source movements, and more recently by
more commercial endeavours such as blog conglomerates. The potential increase of reach for the
products or services of a given company are expanded exponentially with the inclusion of an ef-
fective working network.
Networks are the structures through which knowledge is created, shared, and improved during a
MOOC, particularly by participants. Learners are encouraged to represent their learning and
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
their questions through whatever multiplicity of platforms suits their preference, to share their
work not just with the facilitators but with each other, and to connect to each other around issues
and topics of shared interest. In these ways, MOOCs model and build capacity for collaborative
networks of unprecedented size that transcend time and space. Additionally, the network ties
created between people during a MOOC – because they are based on intrinsic interests and on
longterm personal platforms rather than confined solely to course topics or to a course content
management system – have the potential to continue as sustainable and relevant personal and
professional connections beyond the boundaries of the course itself. Through the MOOC experi-
ence, both Dave and George, who have been involved with MOOCs from the beginning, have
built significant professional and in some cases personal connections with a wide range of people.
The experience of negotiating knowledge in a network, among a large group of people with po-
tentially divergent or even contradictory results, is one of the digital literacies that a MOOC
makes available to learners. The flexibility required in collaboration is itself valuable within the
digital economy, as the digital emphasis on innovation and participation makes lifelong learning
an implicit societal expectation (Lundvall, Rasmussen, & Lorenz, 2010). Being able to perform
identity and build reputation online, and develop relationships and networks among distributed
peers is a key requirement for success in the digital economy.
MOOCs are open and fluid, each key factors in epistemological digital practices. In this they dif-
fer from traditional practices and pedagogies transferred to an online environment. They are also
iterative and nimble systems. The digital is not circumscribed by space constraints, or by resource
availability so long as broadband internet is in place: the CCK08 MOOC had over 2000 people
register to participate. In a MOOC, there is no reason to close class registration at 30 or 300 or
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
whatever number a given classroom space will hold. The constraining factors of traditional aca-
demic learning models are not always evident in online environments.
However, this potential for open registration in terms of space creates challenges for instructors
and students alike in terms of expectations: conventions of role and interactions in a “classroom”
context are deeply ingrained, and when the shatters the scale of classroom relationships, the con-
cept of what it means to be a class need to be re-evaluated and possibly reconstructed by partici-
pants within the MOOC.
This holds true for the openness of criteria for participation: the credentialism which tends to
limit participation or set prerequisites around it is difficult to sustain in a MOOC because there is
no centralized organizational structure and no agreed-upon system or set of credentials accepted.
In the digital, people are often able to gain recognition for achievements through reputational
media that might not meet the external standards of governing bodies in similar fields: amplifica-
tion operates to create recognition. MOOCs have not – to this point – offered an external creden-
tial upon completion: because the digital is a reputational economy, the experience of participa-
tion allows a learner to build value and credibility within the network through performance.
However, again, the concept of what it means to take a course is challenged by the lack of extrin-
sic assessment or “piece of paper.” While MOOCs remain experimental offerings populated by
digital enthusiasts, this has been accepted by participants, though models of credential have been
proposed. As MOOCs begin to command the interest of policy-makers and business, it is ex-
pected that this conversation will have to be revisited.
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
MOOCs and Learner Roles
Because MOOCs are open to anyone who is interested, whether they have the academic or expe-
riential background to contextualize the material explored, the filtering of participants happens
after the course starts, rather than before. Both Dave and George have noted that this seems to
lead to higher drop/attrition rates than would generally be seen: the fact that the courses are free
is likely also a contributing factor, as people are not required to make a extensive financial com-
mitment before embarking. Fini (2009) surveyed CCK08 participants, and of 83 responses found
that only 15 had completed all course requirements. At the same time, MOOC facilitators report
that many non-completing learners from early MOOCs continue to register, and participate in,
new offerings. It is assumed within the MOOC environment that completion of all course as-
signments is neither necessary nor the goal of every student.
MOOCs also flatten hierarchy by allowing and forcing personal connection across the boundaries
between teachers and learners in traditional academic and professional circles. The devolution
from instructors to learners of a significant proportion of responsibility for learning goals and the
processes through which goals are achieved is a basic premise of a MOOC: the courses emphasize
shared responsibility for direction. This democratization only goes so far, however: both anecdo-
tal evidence and Fini's (2009) study suggest that some learners find the experience of a MOOC
confusing, in relation to expectations of a course model environment. Both Sandy and Bonnie,
who registered as learners in the Edfutures 2010 MOOC, were at times challenged by the role.
Bonnie found particularly that her frustration increased in inverse relation to her comfort and
confidence with the topics being discussed: the less she knew, the more she struggled to inde-
pendently organize her learning and a place from which to contribute.
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
2. The implications of MOOCs for knowledge-making and what it means to
know within the digital economy
The implications of MOOCs for knowledge-making and what it means to know within the digital
economy beg two central questions. First, how does the digital economy change knowing and
knowledge-making and, second, to what extent are MOOCs better suited to preparing a digital
citizenry for these changes than the more conventional educational alternatives?
Knowing and knowledge-making in the digital economy
It may help to frame the impact of the digital economy on knowing and knowledge-making
within the traditional binary of “knowing that” and “knowing how”. Making knowledge requires
deep understanding both of the field(s) within which knowledge is to be created and applied
(knowledge that) and the critical and creative processes through which knowledge is created
(knowing how). Digital technologies have affected the former largely in terms of the exponen-
tially higher speed with which knowledge is created and the resulting volume. The situation is
further complicated by the delay between the creation of knowledge and its dissemination
through reliable channels such as peer-reviewed journals. In this context it becomes extremely
difficult, if not virtually impossible, for an individual to maintain currency with the state of the
art in a particular field.
Although Web 3.0 technologies are expected to help individuals sort through the volume of new
knowledge, they depend on the availability of knowledge in a format that they can process.
MOOCs, on the other hand, tap into social networks of personal knowledge. Even if no individ-
ual can maintain currency with the entirety of a field of knowledge, a sufficiently large group of
people can do so collectively. “Knowing that” in this context includes a process of “knowing
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
how” to create and maintain a network of people that can be tapped when needed to contribute
to address a knowledge deficiency or contribute to a knowledge advance. In a world permeated
by digital technologies knowing revolves around being aware of one’s potential contribution and
being able to integrate and synthesize that contribution into new contexts, translating for others
wherever they may be. In other words, knowing consists of the skills necessary to work creativity
and critically to assess, reshape, synthesize and otherwise manipulate existing knowledge into
new ideas, processes, and applications. Equally important, however, are the skills necessary to
identify or create the networks within which specific knowledge or ideas have relevance and can
be applied. As opposed to a state of being or, as stated earlier, a possession, knowledge and
knowing consist of reflexive, give-and-take processes negotiated within and across multiple con-
The implications of MOOCs
MOOCs instantiate knowledge-making and what it means to know in a digital world by extend-
ing participation in the socio-cultural processes through which knowledge is created to a broad
range of people, according to their various needs, desires, and past experiences. MOOCs attract
participants through their interest in a topic and their relationships with its facilitators. In many
respects a MOOC parallels a traditional network of scientists and researchers with the exceptions
that its membership is much more open, potentially much larger, and it is much more flexible in
its potential to take up and respond to issues, questions, and problems on an ad-hoc basis.
At the same time, the fact that MOOCs are offered within a paced and time-dependent course
model limits this flexibility. The course structure represents a blending of open network models
and traditional closed course models. The MOOC’s massive scale maximizes participants’ possi-
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
bilities of finding others with complementary knowledge, skills, interests and learning goals. The
flexibility, speed, and tools of digital networks enable this to take place with relative freedom
from constraints of space and time. Finally, because individuals determine the extent and form of
their own participation, they define and own the measure of their “success” in the process. To a
large extent, then, a MOOC is a reflection of a society in which citizens are active agents in the
processes through which knowledge is created and disseminated.
A MOOC is a significant departure from the cliché “ivory towers” of traditional brick and mortar
universities, the “walled gardens” of conventional learning management systems, and even the
widely publicized “open courseware” of MIT. Each of these reifies the artifacts of knowledge
work (a course, a lecture, a syllabus) within the particular technology that defines it. MOOCs, on
the other hand, share the processes of knowledge work, not just the products. Facilitators model
and display sensemaking and wayfinding in their disciplines. They respond to critics and chal-
lenges from participants in the course. Instead of sharing only their knowledge as is done in a
typical university course, they share their sensemaking habits and their thinking processes with
participants. A MOOC juxtaposes epistemology with ontology: “the medium is the message,” as
McLuhan would say.
With respect to a digital economy in which knowledge is the capital that defines prosperity, a
MOOC invites open participation in the processes through which that knowledge is created. That
includes an invitation to the skills through which networks are created to apply the knowledge
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
Gaps in knowledge about MOOCs
Although there seems a significant congruence between the MOOC model as an educational
phenomenon and its potential to scaffold wider participation in a digital economy, the model is
so new that little can be said with certainty about its ultimate efficacy. After all, the total number
of MOOCs offered to date can be displayed on the fingers of two hands. That being said, MOOCs
continued to be offered—at least three in the six months following the submission of the proposal
which funded this knowledge synthesis as well as several planned by educators in the United
States and Europe for delivery in early 2011—and a coherent research agenda would help assess
the overall viability of the model and the conditions through which it might achieve its potential.
Specific issues, challenges and questions include:
the capacity to support deep enquiry and the creation of sophisticated knowledge
the breadth versus the depth of participation
whether and under what conditions successful participation can extend beyond those with
broadband access and sophisticated social networking skills
identifying the processes and practices through which the strength of the “gravitational
pull” that might encourage lurkers, or “legitimate peripheral particpants”, to take on
more active and central roles
the impact or value of even peripheral participation, specifically the extent to which it
might contribute to participation in the digital economy in extra-MOOC practices
specific strategies to maximize the effective contribution of facilitators in particular and
more advanced participants in general
! ! !
3. What economic opportunities and challenges does the open model of par-
ticipation bring into focus?
!The open model of participation has economic potential, but just as it breaks with tradi-
tional notions of how knowledge is made, so it does the same with capital.
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
!The shift from knowledge scarcity to knowledge abundance has changed the nature of
business in fast capital societies. Bohemian and bourgeois ethics merge in contemporary culture
(de la Fuente, 2010). Social media amplify reputation, and therefore personal branding is the
means by which a great deal of creative work gains attention and audience. At the same time, the
traditional enclaves of business are forced to grapple with their client base in whole new ways, as
Old Spice did successfully with their viral social media campaign in summer 2010. The notion of
the creative economy reflects a post-industrial emphasis on services, connections between people,
and the merging of creation with consumption (Florida, 2002, Araya & Peters, 2010). Open, par-
ticipatory learning networks and communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991, Siemens, 2006,
Shirky, 2008) reflect the emphasis the creative economy places both on innovation and lifelong
learning (Lundvall, Rasmussen, & Lorenz, 2010). When change is continual and expected, people
engage in learning opportunities in order to increase their personal capital and remain market-
able. When the economy runs on new ideas, an effective society will mobilize its capacity to cre-
ate and negotiate knowledge. MOOCs are one means by which these personal and societal goals
can both be achieved.
!Obviously, our economy still has many traditional elements, just as our cultural educa-
tional systems still look far more like classrooms than MOOCs. Nonetheless, the complexities of
participatory capital are a present reality, and not just in ICT fields but across creative and busi-
ness sectors. The distributed networks and open platforms of social media facilitate people’s en-
gagement in fields of common interest, and the operations of reputational capital serve to draw
corporate sponsors towards the platforms where people engage. Concepts such as ‘produsage’
(Bruns, 2007) encapsulate the ways in which participants in digital culture are both creators and
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
consumers of content, just as, in MOOCs, learners are in a sense both creators and consumers of
knowledge. The digital is a participatory society, and above all, MOOCs model participation.
! The open model of participation challenges traditional notions of the ways in which
value is created in the education system. Today, whatever can be easily duplicated cannot serve
as the foundation for economic value. Instead of producing entities with known and approved
knowledge, the digital economic model harnesses the capacity of its citizens to connect, innovate,
and reconfigure the known into new knowledge. Collaboration and creativity are requirements of
this new digital age (Robinson, 2001). Yet people’s lives are busy and the academic cycle of pub-
lishing and knowledge-creation extraordinarily slow and self-contained. Flexible learning initia-
tives tailored to people's participation and agency – even without accreditation – have an ex-
traordinary amount of potential for education.
!In terms of economics, however, a key implementation challenge for taking advantage of
the potential of the MOOC model is the accreditation issue. A system or systems that would al-
low for MOOCs, offered by different providers, to be accumulated and certified as some sort of
credential will need to be explored. Whether MOOCs can be recognized in the ways traditional
learning is recognized and rewarded is an issue that raises significant pedagogical questions.
What would it mean to accredit a MOOC? Is there a way to do so without destroying the flexibil-
ity of the model to accommodate different levels of legitimate participation?
!The opportunities for MOOCs in the digital economy centre around the potential for in-
novation and creativity created in knowledge negotiation. Draft research or ideas can become
part of a larger knowledge discussion being negotiated online. The opportunity to innovate, cre-
ate and bring new ideas to the table allows for greater cross-pollination but less duplication. This
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
type of iterative, shared process, however, does make it more difficult to trace the lines between
participation, work, and definable return on investment. An example of such an environment in
the physical world would be Silicon Valley. The knowledge growth of this region is fuelled by the
integration of diverse elements: scientists/researchers, entrepreneurs, and funders. Separately,
these elements provide only a fraction of the power they provide as an integrated system. Con-
nectedness amplifies knowledge and knowledge’s potential. In education, content can easily be
produced: it’s important but has limited economic value. Lectures also have limited value, as
they’re easy to record and to duplicate. Teaching – as done in most universities – can be dupli-
cated. Learning, on the other hand, can’t be duplicated.
Learning is personal, and has to occur one learner at a time. The support needed for learners to
learn is a critical value point. In theory, Canada will be building on the right foundation if we
shift our financial investment in education from creating content and turn it to fostering, guiding,
and interacting within the learning process. But information changes so quickly that we need a
way to stay on top of it. How can a lecture recorded last year be used again this year? Wouldn’t
we have to continually deliver new lectures to reflect knowledge growth?
Yes, if we consolidated learning in MOOC model offerings, we would need to continually redo
lectures. But there would be no need to do those in isolation from existing academic offerings.
How many introductory psychology courses does a field need? Educators can collaborate and
share around the content needs of their discipline. Learning, however, requires a human, social
element: MOOCs provide both peer-based support and interaction with subject area experts. It is
in this consolidation of the many aspects of learning for a collaborative, participatory economy
that MOOCs offer the broadest potential. The conditions under which MOOCs may be extend-
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
able to a broader range of interests and sustainable within a wage economy, however, remain to
be seen.
As a digital phenomenon, a MOOC provides the means for connecting, interacting, and sharing
across diverse cultures, attitudes, and skill sets in short order and with low cost. A MOOC differs
from more established models of online education in its scale and openness, both of which are
challenging to harness according to industrial era economics. However, in terms of reputation
and credibility-building within fields, the potential of the MOOC for this type of creative econ-
omy growth is significant. Because it’s free and open, it makes higher education more widely
available, potentially facilitating the development of a range of human potential formerly ex-
cluded by geography, time, and/or access to conventional models of learning. And because it
encourages ongoing networking and collaboration across local, regional, and national bounda-
ries, it increases participation in the lifelong learning and collaborative practices so important for
truly digital citizens. What it offers, essentially, is a locus of interest around which people can
cluster and connect.
New business models increasingly focus on scaffolding connections emerging from the creative
economy. The Indigo MBA, offered online by the bookselling giant, is a “self-directed course of
reading for people interested in building their knowledge of business concepts and interacting
with like-minded peers,” . Indigo sells
the books and provides a site for interaction: beyond that, the course is up to participants.
The subscription-based Massively Open Online Novel, The Mongoliad, ,
also clusters and connects people around a common interest, generating revenue by charging a
small fee that grants paying subscriber broader and deeper access to the online collaboration.
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
The Massively Open Online Novel brings to the fore some of the challenges surrounding eco-
nomic opportunity in the open. Traditional notions of intellectual property do not work in a par-
ticipatory, collaborative environment. Who owns an idea developed or improved collaboratively?
Who owns the revenue deriving from it?
These are significant questions for all who work in knowledge creation and creative endeavours
these days.
4. In terms of discourses, literacies, and prior knowledge, what digital skills
are privileged and rewarded within the MOOC environment?
The MOOC environment is open and distributed, iterative and participatory.
MOOCs are heavily steeped in the discourse of openness. In a distributed environment a learner
has to be able to put his or her ideas forward in a way that others can see and engage with, even
if those ideas are not yet fully thought out or polished. Participation is a locus of knowledge
building, and learners help learners by openly stating both their ideas and their challenges.
A MOOC requires production of resources from participants as the facilitators operate from a
stance of participative pedagogy. Facilitators need participants who create resources and share
their opinions. Each act of creation is a potential node for connection. MOOCs are a participatory
environment where people are expected to own their positions and challenges openly, a process-
rather than product -based model for learning. The ability to work with current digital tools to
connect fragmented, diffuse, and distributed knowledge nodes, both human and artifactual, is
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
perhaps the most important literacy that the MOOC environment rewards. Developing one's per-
sonal knowledge and presenting it through a coherent reflection or contribution, whether by
means of blog posts, concept maps, video or another tool, is a high-level digital literacy. If a par-
ticipant wants to contribute at the level where his or her knowledge negotiation and role become
central to others' experience of the course, then this capacity for interacting and making meaning
with both people and artifacts (ie. other people's contributions, both from in and outside the
course, and the technologies themselves) is key. In a MOOC, anyone can ostensibly take a leader-
ship role. But in practice, leadership is performed through engaging with people, ideas, and tools
in ways that others take up as relevant.
Whether looking to lead or not, participants in a MOOC are implicitly expected to be able to ne-
gotiate an environment in which direct instruction is rare and responsibility for the course is dis-
tributed. In the same vein, they need to be adaptable in terms of what they expect to cover. A
MOOC is likely to have a more flexible syllabus than a traditional course, and most MOOCs have
evolved iteratively throughout the weeks that they've been offered. Because the MOOCs offered
to date have had leading-edge topics based in digital learning concepts, and these concepts are
continually evolving, this iterative nature is an important aspect of the course model. Dealing
with a constantly changing environment can put a great deal of strain on a participant, but this
constant shift is one of the hallmarks of digital environments. A traditional course provides many
points of scaffolding that allow for an otherwise safe place for a participant to experiment. In a
MOOC, these scaffolds are stripped away, leaving a participant to deal with more confusion and
uncertainty. Having some introductory understanding of the topic at hand can therefore be criti-
cal to the success of a given participant. Informal polling of MOOC participants suggest that
learners get more out courses when they a) enter with basic digital literacies, and b) are learning
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
within what Vygotsky (1978) would call their zone of proximal development, rather than delving
into an entirely new discourse or field. Having some pre-existing familiarity with the topic offers
points of orientation and meaning-making within the course, and affords a learner currency in
the transactional, networked interactions of a MOOC.
The capacity to contribute to and create a productive collaborative network is an important liter-
acy for navigating MOOCs and the digital economy in general. In our digital culture, emphasis
on network and reputation is both stronger – and differently constituted – than has traditionally
been the case in school settings. Students who come to a MOOC course without the discourse of
the reputational economy, or who come without the literacies to develop and sustain a network,
may take far less out of a MOOC experience. The ability to present oneself effectively online is a
part of building successful networks. As in any social environment, etiquette is a part of present-
ing oneself in a way that is both acceptable and coherent to others. Behaviours unacceptable in a
professional meeting tend not to be acceptable in online negotiated knowledge environments ei-
ther: this extends to a lack of reward for the student passivity that traditional transmission-based
courses tend to support. MOOC participants may be confused by responses to behaviours that
would be welcomed or rewarded in other course settings, and may fail to capitalize on reputa-
tional opportunities or actually damage their reputations by behaving as traditional students
Information literacy is also privileged and rewarded in social media and specifically in MOOCs.
Being able to distinguish what one needs from what is available, to judge the value of sources,
and to blend and re-frame multiple information sources into some form of communicable knowl-
edge is necessary. Familiarity with online resources in the field of discussion, such as journals,
databases, videos or lectures, would be a great time-saver and asset. Creative skills are arguably
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
the most critical in digital environments, since innovation is rewarded and participation needs to
be performed visibly. Facilitators and learners need something to point to. When a participant in
a MOOC creates an insightful blog post, a video, a concept map, or other resource/artifact it is
more likely to get attention than a simple synopsis.
The simple skills of blogging/micro blogging, commenting and engaging in other forms of inter-
active discourse are key to the initial development of voice online. These are underwritten by the
ability to quickly scan and filter through potentially vast amounts of other people’s work in order
to be able to find the work that can most challenge/complement one's own work. A distributed
network identity that marks a participant as a product of the network he or she participates in
tends to emerge as a course progresses: as in most group situations, people come to perform and
be recognized for their performance of roles within the MOOC community. Technical skills that
form a foundation for creativity and participation include: writing, blogging, and comprehending
the etiquette of linking as a sourcing technique; downloading and installing software (like Audac-
ity, Jing); creating podcasts, which have their own sets of skills including recording, editing, up-
loading files; creating and sharing video; creating and sharing mindmaps/concept maps; and
posting discussions into forums like Moodle. Tracking conversations in learning management
systems such as Moodle, Google Reader, or Google Alerts, and capturing important resources
using software that utilizes social functionality such Delicious, Zotero, Diigo, Evernote are also
assets. Previous experience engaging with others through Twitter, Facebook, Posterous, Skype,
Elluminate, Second Life, Flickr or other social media platforms has been shown, in informal polls
of MOOC participants, to raise the reported value and satisfaction an individual takes from a
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
The MOOC environment is self-guided, a necessity in a course that may have thousands of par-
ticipants. This requires that a participant is willing to engage, and has some confidence and com-
fort with the discourses of an autodidact and a self-starter. The ability to self-evaluate one’s net-
work and ensure diversity of ideologies is critical when information is fragmented and is at risk
of being sorted by single perspectives/ideologies. Culturally, social competencies and capacity or
experience in extending beyond one's own cultural context are invaluable, more so than in tradi-
tional courses. This is in part because connecting with others and putting ideas out for discussion
advantages participants comfortable with these behaviours. It is also because the asynchronous
nature of the course means that learners can participate internationally. The Edfutures course in
spring 2010 included participants from India, Italy, and Latin America, as well as many of the
English-speaking countries from around the world. The mix of contexts was arguably an advan-
tage, in terms of learning about futures scenarios in different countries, but some centralized scaf-
folding from the instructors in terms of connecting and sharing across difference might have been
helpful, as there were definite geographical pockets formed within the learner population. Dis-
cussion with students from within the North American cultural mainstream from which the
course was offered suggested they simply felt ignorant of different contexts and therefore did not
engage. There are times when a distributed model of “share as you will” leaves significant poten-
tial connections unexplored, particularly across difference.
Likewise, the literacies involved with being a self-starter are heavily embedded in traditional
concepts of gender and class. Consistently taking open, declarative positions, cross-examining
and critiquing the work of others, and challenging authority and received wisdom are all critical
to full participation in a MOOC, yet are discourses heavily identified with privilege. This can be a
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
particular issue when a MOOC is popular across many different cultures that work on very dif-
ferent ideas of respect for power, authority and knowledge.!
5. What factors limit participation?
Current educational paradigms that emphasize a return to outcomes and standardization impact
the broader discourse of learning within which MOOCs exist. MOOCs, obviously, are the antithe-
sis of grouped, normed educational initiatives that try to ensure all participants leaving a course
possess the same standardized, measurable knowledge. At the conceptual level, people who are
most comfortable in a formal environment will likely find the MOOC challenging and may self-
limit their own participation, no matter their intent going in. Or they may struggle to get beyond
a critical position in relation to the course, simply because of the structural lack of fit.
The issue of lack of accreditation or external rubber stamp may also limit participation, both in
terms of people perceiving the course as less worthy or demanding of time commitment, and
people sticking with the course but not participating visibly, on the basis of their own individual
investment. It may be challenging for people to prioritize MOOC work without an external form
of accreditation or validation tied to the experience.
It goes without saying that lack of familiarity with the digital skills privileged and rewarded
within the MOOC will limit participation. So will a lack of access to the basic tools necessary to
participate, specifically a computer and broadband access. Lack of experience with both the
software/platforms and the content may be limiting, because MOOCs – like most digital com-
munities and networks – operate on the assumption that people have contributions to make and
know how to make them in an appropriate manner. MOOCs are voluntary and participatory, but
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
people new to the experience and the network may not find the level of scaffolding and support
they require in order to orient themselves to that type of engagement, because support structures
are not formalized.
MOOCs are global events, not regional ones in the way that university courses tend to be. Learn-
ing is a social trust-based process, and limitations of language and shared context may circum-
scribe people's capacity to engage with others to the full potential of the course model. George
notes that the tone of discussions – sometimes intentionally negative and at other times simply
based on misunderstandings – produced friction in the synchronous and asynchronous interac-
tions of the CCK08 and CCK09 MOOCs. Strong views and opinions can create flare ups that par-
ticipants may find intimidating. Differences in cultural norms and language barriers also contrib-
ute to misunderstandings. Patience, tolerance, suspension of judgment, and openness to other
cultures and ideas are required to form social connections and negotiating misunderstandings.
Technology ownership and bandwidth present additional barriers – especially for participants
from developing countries. Streaming video requires reasonable quality of bandwidth, and a rea-
sonably new computer with good quality video/graphics card. Second Life sessions can create
difficulty for many participants. When Dave and George taught an open course on Emerging
Technologies to a group of educators from Africa, bandwidth was so poor that live audio sessions
in Elluminate weren’t possible. North American participants in rural and remote communities
may face bandwidth challenges similar to their African peers, but even when they do not, chal-
lenges still arise with respect to such things as the possession and use of microphones, web cams,
and headsets.
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
Time zones can also be concerns in MOOCs, especially if regular live sessions are planned. In
CCK08, the facilitators ran live sessions at varying times to accommodate needs of international
participants, but even then, were unable to meet the availability of all participants. Although all
live sessions were recorded and the recordings made available shortly after the sessions, partici-
pants stated that the recordings still produced a feeling of isolation from others in the course. The
Edfutures and PLENK 2010 MOOCs, by contrast, chose a set time for interaction, as this seemed
to be easier for the majority to commit to in terms of making time and space for participation. It
does, however, mean that some participants are effectively prevented from participating in the
live discussion aspects of the course.
Even those for whom technological and time zone challenges do not exist may still experience
challenges and hurdles to participation. The volume of information that flows through a MOOC
can be very disorienting. George notes that this is intentional, and by design: “Deciding who to
follow, which course concepts are important, and how to form sub-networks and sub-systems to
assist in sensemaking are required to respond to information abundance.” Learners often find it
difficult to let go of the urge to master all the content and read all the comments and blog posts.
However, in digital environments where there are no practical limits on scope or multiplicity, this
sorting and sensemaking process is key. The process of coping and wayfinding is, in effect, the
ontology of the digital environment. Learning to engage selectively and intentionally in the in-
formation overload of the digital world is as much a lesson – and key digital literacy – in the
MOOC learning process as is mastering any specific content.
Last, the capacity of MOOC facilitators to attract and engage participants in this unfamiliar and
independent environment is a genuine factor in shaping learners' participation. The reputational
economy, with its emphasis on performance of knowledge, lends itself to the treatment of leaders
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
and innovators within fields as minor celebrities. People who are known for a particularly body
of expertise will have the reputation and clout to draw a draw a critical mass of participants to a
MOOC on that given topic. In the field of educational technologies where MOOCs have their ori-
gins, many of these leaders also have skills and backgrounds as educators. They have had the
capacity to continue to engage participants once courses have begun, and the reflexivity to con-
tinue to improve their own facilitation practices in this new environment. However, the maxim
that leaders do not always make the best teachers may be a challenge for MOOCs once the model
begins to spread to fields without roots in education. The temptation to over instruct, robbing
participants of independence and wayfinding, or to fail to scaffold at all, are challenges that
MOOC facilitators must confront regularly in their social contract with participants. A partner-
ship of facilitators, some with the reputation to draw a crowd and lead ground-breaking explora-
tion, and some with the scaffolding and engagement skills needed to communicate effectively
with learners, might be a workable combination.
! ! !
6. How can the MOOC model help engage and develop an effective digital
A MOOC is a collective creation of its participants, and its whole is greater than the sum of its
parts. It is, in many ways, a microcosm of a nation. And just as MOOCs work only when people
engage and connect from the basis of their own lives, interests, and understandings of their
worlds, so an effective digital citizenry for Canada works only when people do the same. An ef-
fective digital citizenry means globally-connected Canadians with the skills and literacies to en-
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
gage in creating and sharing ideas in the form of digital content. It means building Canadian rela-
tionships and reputation on the world platforms of social media. It means getting beyond con-
cepts of ICTs and embracing the digital as a participatory medium that shapes everyday lives.
MOOCs help build these skills and literacies by encouraging participants to contribute to knowl-
edge building and negotiation at the leading edge of developing fields, and to do so in an open,
distributed participatory environment. The networking and knowledge negotiation that occur in
a MOOC foreground and reinforce the reputational and relational skills so necessary within the
digital and the creative economies.
An effective MOOC attracts participants to an online event in which they play major roles in de-
fining what and how they learn. The massive size of the participating group maximizes the pos-
sibility for participants to find peers who share complementary interests and skills, and with
whom they can collaborate to achieve mutually defined goals. The MOOC is a largely democratic
milieu in which individual participation is scaffolded by the social network. Self-defined goals
and social support promote engagement.
MOOCs eschew rigid and formal entry requirements, support multiple modes of induction and
engagement, and put the processes of participation on open display. In so doing, they create a
broad “gravitational sphere” which can draw prospective participants into increasingly rich and
sophisticated levels of contribution.
MOOCs are a first generation testing ground for knowledge growth in a distributed, global, digi-
tal world. They use digital tools to serve the learning needs of both individuals and groups on an
iterative basis, and also contribute to the advancement and distribution of knowledge across a
variety of fields. MOOCs reduce barriers to learning and increase the autonomy of learners as
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
they create, engage, and share in global interactions. The growth of digital content and social
networks means that effective digital citizens need to have the technical and conceptual skills to
express their ideas and engage with others. As such, MOOCs, or similar open transparent learn-
ing experiences that foster the development of citizens confidence engage and create collabora-
tively, are important for Canada's future as a leader in the digital economy. !
A. McAuley, B. Stewart, G. Siemens & D. Cormier!The MOOC Model for Digital Practice
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... A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is an online course with the option of free, open registration and unlimited participation (McAuley et al., 2010). Anyone with internet access can enroll in a MOOC class to learn a new topic and grow their professional profile (Pheatt, 2017). ...
... Given their rapid expansion, educators and researchers are still skeptical of the effectiveness of MOOCs for the following reasons: 1. Low completion rate (3%-10%): MOOCs have a high dropout rate because learners have various learning goals, prior knowledge, skills and interests (McAuley et al., 2010); thus, not everyone aims to finish the course or earn a certificate (Pheatt, 2017). 2. Lack of personalized feedback: current MOOC platforms utilize text-based discussion forums which are available for everyone. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been a popular venue for people to learn new knowledge, craft a new skill, or expand their professional profile (Pheatt, 2017; Hew & Cheung, 2014). To date, very few studies have considered credential-based MOOCs. This exploratory study of eight MOOCs representing 31 course runs investigated learner behavior within both open-enrollment and credential-based tracks to identify and correlate any learning patterns or trends. Findings suggest that the verified-track learners (n=5,117) have higher participation and passing rates than the audit-track learners (n=544,868). Based on a survival analysis, about 50% of the verified track persisted for 11 to 12 weeks. Using a multiple regression approach, persistence, gender and enrollment time period were the strongest predictors of the total grade. Finally, the study provides insights into student performance and identifies opportunities to better support learners through future research and course design in MOOCs.
... Over the last two decades, online education has seen the emergence and adoption of MOOCs. MOOCs are web-based learning environments, designed to provide free and accessible high-quality education to the masses (Dillahunt et al., 2014;Mcauley et al., 2010). Since they were first introduced in 2008, the popularity of MOOCs has been growing rapidly among learners and researchers worldwide (Meek et al., 2017;Zhu et al., 2020). ...
Full-text available
Higher education instructors constantly rely on educational data to assess and evaluate the behavior of their students and to make informed decisions such as which content to focus on and how to best engage the students with it. Massive open online course (MOOC) platforms may assist in the data-driven instructional process, as they enable access to a wide range of educational data that is gathered automatically and continuously. Successful implementation of a data-driven instruction initiative depends highly on the support and acceptance of the instructors. Yet, our understanding of instructors’ perspectives regarding the process of data-driven instruction, especially with reference to MOOC teaching, is still limited. Hence, this study was set to characterize MOOC instructors’ interest in educational data and their perceived barriers to data use for decision-making. Taking a qualitative approach, data were collected via semi-structured interviews with higher education MOOC instructors from four public universities in Israel. Findings indicated that the instructors showed great interest mostly in data about social interactions between learners and about problems with the MOOC educational resources. The main reported barriers for using educational data for decision-making were lack of customized data, real-time access, data literacy, and institutional support. The results highlight the need to provide MOOC instructors with professional development opportunities for the proper use of educational data for skilled decision-making.
... Diversas universidades han creado entornos virtuales de aprendizaje llamados cursos en línea masivos y abiertos (MOOC, por sus siglas en inglés) para ofrecer a sus estudiantes, y en general a cualquier persona, espacios de estudio e interacción con otros participantes, para el desarrollo de temas diversos. El primer MOOC fue un curso abierto en un tema de teoría educativa, se desarrolló en la Universidad de Prince Edward Island y se ofreció de forma gratuita en 2008, este curso rápidamente generó una demanda que se tradujo en cientos de personas registradas y en el interés de conocer lo que significaría que miles de personas hablaran sobre el mismo tema en la web abierta (McAuley et al., 2010). ...
Full-text available
Resumen: Se analiza la forma en que los participantes de un Curso en Línea Masivo y Abierto (MOOC) llevan a cabo los procesos de resolución de problemas, cuando utilizan GeoGebra e interaccionan en foros de discusión. El pro-ceso se llevó a cabo de acuerdo con la construcción de representaciones dinámicas de los problemas; la exploración de diferentes propiedades y relaciones entre los elementos que conforman la representación; y, el uso de estrategias como el arrastre de objetos, la cuantificación de sus atributos y la identificación del lugar geométrico. Se utilizó el método de la etnografía virtual para analizar la comunicación asincrónica entre los participantes en los foros. El proceso de resolución de problemas inició una conversación, es decir, una red de interacciones que condujo al uso de nuevas estrategias de solución y a la construcción de nuevo conocimiento, en donde, los participantes pudieron avanzar a su propio ritmo y romper con limitaciones espaciales y temporales. Además, las interacciones en los foros se llevaron a cabo entre personas con actividades profesionales o con grado académico diferente. Fecha de recepción: 21 de septiembre de 2020. Fecha de aceptación: 11 de febrero de 2022.
... However, MOOCs have received polarizing reviews since their inception a decade ago. Some believe that MOOCs can reduce global inequality in education through cost-effectively widening access to higher education for the masses, especially for the underrepresented populations (Patru & Balaji, 2016;Mulder & Jansen, 2015), whereas others have criticized it on accessibility barriers (computers, internet, and digital literacy, etc.), high demand of self-regulation abilities, and loss of social interactions (McAuley et al., 2010), which lead to high attrition rates (Liu et al., 2015;Kim, 2016;Khalil & Ebner, 2014). Additionally, with the ever-increasing expectation of employability skills (21st-century skills), micro-credentials are quickly expanding from MOOCs platforms to higher education institutions (Pelletier et al., 2021). ...
... Kitlesel Açık Çevrimiçi Dersler (KAÇD), geniş kitlelere ağlar üzerinden erişilebilir ücretsiz eğitimler olarak tanımlanmaktadır. KAÇD yapısına, öğrenci ve öğretmen ücretsiz olarak dahil olur, içerik oluşturup, etkileşime geçebilir; etkileşim sonucu, analizler ile öğrenme ihtiyacına göre kazanımları yansıtır (McAuley, Stewart, Siemens & Cormier, 2010). ...
Full-text available
Günümüzde giderek yaygınlaşmakta olan Kitlesel Açık Çevrimiçi Dersler'in (KAÇD) uygulamaları, öğrenci ihtiyaçları çerçevesinde gelişmekte ve bu içerikler zamanla farklı eğitsel yaklaşımlara ihtiyaç duymaktadır. Uygulamalı eğitimlerin temel aldığı sosyal yapılandırmacı kuramın odağındaki sosyal örüntü, uzaktan eğitimde yüz yüze eğitime göre farklılıklar göstermektedir. Özellikle öğrencinin öğretmen ile etkileşiminin önemli olduğu sosyal yapılandırmacı uygulamalı eğitimlerin, öğretmen etkileşimini azaltan KAÇD formatına taşınmasıyla öğrenci etkileşim biçimlerinin araştırılması ihtiyacı doğmuştur. Bu araştırma, günümüzde giderek yaygınlaşan ve uygulamalı bir eğitim olan Tasarım Odaklı Düşünme (TOD) eğitimleri örneğinde verilen KAÇD’lerde, öğrencilerin öğretmen ve öğrencilerle etkileşim biçimlerini keşfetmeyi amaçlamıştır. Bu çerçevede 2020 yılı Ekim ayında verilen 15 adet TOD KAÇD’leri analiz edilmiş ve öğrenci-öğrenci etkileşimlerinin mesajlaşma, forum ve teslim üzerinden olmak üzere üç çeşit etkileşim biçiminde gerçekleştiği çıkarımına varılmıştır ve değerlendirme yöntemleri de ara sınav ve ödev olmak üzere iki başlıkta listelenmiştir. İncelenen derslerin tamamında forum aracı mevcuttur ve tüm ders sürecinde aktif bir şekilde kullanılmıştır. Derslerde öğrenciler arası mesajlaşma ve teslim etkileşim aracı ders kurgusunda fazla tercih edilmemiştir fakat uygulamalı eğitimin temelindeki yansımalar için bu araçların potansiyeli vurgulanmıştır. Değerlendirme yöntemi olarak bakıldığında ise incelenen derslerin çoğunda ödev teslimi kullanılmıştır. Bu bağlamda etkileşim biçimlerinin eğitim kurgusunu ve eğitim materyallerini nasıl etkiledikleri ve derslerin verildiği çevrimiçi platformların öğrenim deneyimi ile ilişkisi tartışılmıştır. Uzaktan eğitim alanında öğrenci etkileşiminin önemi giderek artmakta ve öğrenim deneyimini büyük ölçüde etkilediği vurgulanmıştır. Bu çalışma ile TOD odağında KAÇD öğrenim deneyimlerindeki etkileşim araştırılmış ve gelecek çalışmalar için potansiyel konular saptanmıştır.
... Students still have lectures to follow, course materials to read and they need to go through various assessments to get the certificate. However, T&L is entirely done through the online manner (McAuley, Stewart, Siemens, Cormier, & Commons, 2010;Pappano, 2012). With the use of LMS, students can access the system anytime and anywhere suited to them. ...
Full-text available
Interactive mobile application is developed to make the process of teaching and learning of Arabic language to be more interesting, effective and fun. This mobile application is created based on Hanafin & Peck (1988) Instruction Design Model which involves three phases namely analysis, design and development & implementation. The advantage of this application is seen through the teaching and learning (T&L) approach that is more flexible. The content is presented by applying the interactive multimedia element that encompasses the teaching of selected topics, the reinforcement of skill acquisitions through language activities such as singing, acting, drilling and language games. The finding of this application through a qualitative study shows that all Arabic language teachers agree with the overall aspect of this multimedia application prototype, with the overall mean value of 4.47 from the scale of 5. This interactive mobile application is an innovation to the Arabic language T&L process that uses the latest multimedia technology. This development is significant in which it can be a model to the ministry, department, agency or anyone that is involved in the Arabic language T&L especially in Malaysia.
... MOOCs in the African HE context are still seen as secondary resources. MOOCs seem to be used mainly to complement traditional education or as part of a university programme and as a self-learning element (McAuley et al., 2010;Alonso, 2018;Czerniewicz, 2017). ...
Full-text available
Emerging educational technologies and technological pedagogical innovations such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) have flooded Africa's higher education (HE) sector with many promises. This paper aims to investigate the perceptions among African HE institutions regarding the potentiality of MOOCs as a tool to increase access to quality HE. A systematic review of papers in peer-reviewed journals published between 2013 and 2020 was conducted in academic databases and 15 papers were selected. Key findings reveal that MOOCs continue to make progress in the African HE sectors. Results also show that MOOCs are mostly used as a self-learning element supporting formal qualifications within African universities’ frameworks. This practice allows only a limited number with resources to access higher education. Remarkably, most of the studies report a lack of awareness of MOOCs in African higher education institutions (HEIs). The results are contextual and the challenges and opportunities within the contexts of African and other developing countries' HE are varied; however, I would argue that MOOCs have gained global interest and thus sharing the perceptions and approaches that underpin MOOCs as a viable tool for increasing access to HE is an important part of moving this agenda forward in the sector.
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Aktuelle Forschungsdiskurse zum Lernen in informellen und non-formalen Lernkontexten verdeutlichen einen Mangel berufsspezifischer Forschungsaktivitäten, die eine zielgruppengerechte und lernortübergreifende Gestaltung betrieblicher Gelegenheitsstrukturen ermöglichen. Gerade für Beschäftigte der Pflegeberufe gewinnen orts- und zeitflexible Lernaktivitäten aufgrund technischer, medizinischer, pandemischer und gesetzlicher Änderungen an Bedeutung, da regelmäßige Veränderungen und Neuerungen einen kontinuierlichen Wissenserwerb bedingen. Unklar bleibt,welche Charakteristika Lernaktivitäten in informellen und non-formalen betrieblichen Lernkontexten aufweisen, welche Einflussfaktoren die Wahrnehmung von Lernsituationen beeinflussen und inwiefern tätigkeitsbezogene Unterschiede in den Lernaktivitäten erkennbar sind. Bisherige Querschnittsanalysen gehen mit der Gefahr der Untererfassung von Lernaktivitäten am Arbeitsplatz einher und weisen infolge differenzierter Erhebungskonzepte eine geringe Vergleichbarkeit auf. Die längsschnittlichen Befunde der vorliegenden Studie ermöglichen eine detaillierte Beschreibung der Charakteristika und Einflussfaktoren der Lernsituationen in informellen und non-formalen betrieblichen Lernkontexten von Beschäftigten der Pflegeberufe. Grundlage des multimethodischen Untersuchungsdesigns bildet ein prozessorientiertes Lernverständnis, das verschiedene theoretische Erklärungsansätze miteinander vereint. In einem ersten Analyseschritt dienen 27 episodische Interviews dazu, arbeitsbezogene Lernsituationen der Beschäftigten der Gesundheitsberufe zu rekonstruieren. Die Ergebnisse der explorativen Vorstudie bilden die Grundlage für die Konzeption der Erhebungsinstrumente der Lerntagebuchstudie. In der 14-tägigen Längsschnittstudie werden differenzierte Lernsituationen von 40 Beschäftigten dermPflegeberufe erfasst. Die Befunde zeigen, dass Lernsituationen vornehmlich während dialogisch-interaktiver Tätigkeiten entstehen, wobei der Lernzuwachs eher unbewusst erfolgt. Insgesamt verweisen die Befunde auf die Dominanz fremdselektiver Prozesse. Demnach berichten Beschäftigte eher von Lernsituationen, wenn sie regelmäßig in den Austausch mit Kolleginnen und Kollegen treten, Zugang zu einem Desktop-Computer erhalten und digitale Endgeräte nutzen. Die Leitungsperson nimmt hierbei eine Schlüsselposition ein, da sie durch die Weitergabe der Arbeitsaufgaben auf die Lernförderlichkeit der Tätigkeiten der Beschäftigten wirkt. Aus den Ergebnissen der Studie werden Implikationen für die Forschung und Handlungsempfehlungen für die zukünftige lernförderliche Gestaltung der Arbeitsplätze der Pflegeberufe abgeleitet.
Although narrative inquiry has a long intellectual history both in and out of education, it is increasingly used in studies of educational experience. One theory in educational research holds that humans are storytelling organisms who, individually and socially, lead storied lives. Thus, the study of narrative is the study of the ways humans experience the world. This general concept is refined into the view that education and educational research is the construction and reconstruction of personal and social stories; learners, teachers, and researchers are storytellers and characters in their own and other's stories. In this paper we briefly survey forms of narrative inquiry in educational studies and outline certain criteria, methods, and writing forms, which we describe in terms of beginning the story, living the story, and selecting stories to construct and reconstruct narrative plots. Certain risks, dangers, and abuses possible in narrative studies are discussed. We conclude by describing a two-part research agenda for curriculum and teacher studies flowing from stories of experience and narrative inquiry.
In this 'new media age' the screen has replaced the book as the dominant medium of communication. This dramatic change has made image, rather than writing, the centre of communication. In this groundbreaking book, Gunther Kress considers the effects of a revolution that has radically altered the relationship between writing and the book. Taking into account social, economic, communication and technological factors, Kress explores how these changes will affect the future of literacy. Kress considers the likely larger-level social and cultural effects of that future, arguing that the effects of the move to the screen as the dominant medium of communication will produce far-reaching shifts in terms of power - and not just in the sphere of communication. The democratic potentials and effects of the new information and communication technologies will, Kress contends, have the widest imaginable consequences. Literacy in the New Media Age is suitable for anyone fascinated by literacy and its wider political and cultural implications. It will be of particular interest to those studying education, communication studies, media studies or linguistics.