The MOOC stories we are told, and the ones that remain untold

I’ve been fascinated by the rhetoric surrounding MOOCs, and the storylines and narratives that are shared by providers of these initiatives.

One of the main storylines around MOOCs focuses on amazing individuals that overcome insurmountable struggles to succeed (e.g., individuals in conflict-ridden Afghanistan and Syria). I believe that we can all agree that these stories are inspiring. As I’ve argued in the past, these individuals are extraordinary. They will succeed despite shortcomings in pedagogy, platform, design, etc. These individuals can serve as role models, and they should be celebrated.

At the same time, one has to wonder about the numerous individuals that have struggled and abandoned MOOCs, individuals whose life circumstances, motivations, and needs negatively impact their learning. These stories, the stories of the individuals who are struggling, are rarely shared. They are, in fact, hidden. They become figures and statistics (e.g., “90% dropped out” or “82% completed the first two assignments), and as such their stories remain untold.



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  1. And I am so very interested in telling these stories. I suspect that it’s not the pedagogy that is so different, but rather the use and need, and these factors vary widely from group to group and country to country. There are so many “whys” left unanswered that I don’t think responsible and effective adoption can ever fully happen until we uncover these stories.

  2. Lance Kinney

    I was just reading a short piece in Scientific American by Peter Norvig ( where he touts his 2011 MOOC – “…100,000 engaged with the course, and 23,000 finished.” While impressed that 100,000 people would be involved in a learning event / space, I was actually most shocked by the fact that 77,000 people didn’t stay engaged. It didn’t seem like an overwhelming endorsement of the MOOC concept to me. We need to find out the who / why / what of the 75+% who don’t fully engage. George makes an excellent point to try to hear their stories.

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