Photo by isaachsieh (CC-licensed)

Martin Weller asks, “What’s your MOOC metaphor?

I like the Dim sum (or Greek mezedes) metaphor to describe course exploration. Dim sum is described by Wikipedia as “a style of Cantonese food prepared as small bite-sized or individual portions of food traditionally served in small steamer baskets or on small plates. Dim sum is also well known for the unique way it is served in some restaurants, wherein fully cooked and ready-to-serve dim sum dishes are carted around the restaurant for customers to choose their orders while seated at their tables.” Food metaphors aren’t new to education. For example, Hartley wrote about the McDonaldization of education as early as 1995 – two years after Ritzer published The McDonaldization of Society.

Back to Dim sum/mezedes. In considering MOOC completion rates (better term, anyone?), individuals who sign up for MOOCs may not necessarily intent to complete the course. Rather, they might be curious about the course, professor, or institution, exploring/investigating the topic and their desire to dedicate further time to it. This exploration is similar to a meal where one tries out small portions of various dishes. One could try the vegetable dumplings, and quickly move to the next dish if the dumplings aren’t tasty or are satisfying the need/desire.

This metaphor isn’t without problems. Dim sums/mezedes are inherently social events, while in MOOCs the experience comes to an abrupt end once an individual decides to end his/her exploration. Further, this metaphor breaks down when considering individuals who complete courses because in such a meal monopolizing a dish would be bad form.

What I do hope breaks down in this metaphor is the notion of standardized, one-size-fits-all, “ready-to-serve” courses.