September 20, 2018

Some critical reflections on MOOCs

© Gordon Lockhart: a ‘remix’ ( ) based on an original drawing by José Bogado

Quinn, C. (2012) MOOC reflections, Learnlets, February 29

Clark Quinn has some interesting comments about MOOCs in this post. He compares the Siemens/Downes Change 2011 MOOC with the Stanford AI MOOC, and discusses the differences in approach. He and I both participated in the Change 11 MOOC, but neither of us in the Stanford AI one.

The main point I would take away from Clark Quinn’s comparison is that a MOOC is a very wide framework which can be designed or implemented in a wide variety of ways. The only common threads are that they are open/free, online, and have very large numbers of learners, as their name accurately suggests. The rest is up for grabs.

Clark Quinn though makes the excellent point that as with all online teaching, there should be some way to integrate both cognitive and social learning theory within the design of MOOCs.

The issue is to what extent are instructors or course designers responsible for facilitating learning, other than providing content. My problem with both connectivism and the Stanford AI MOOCs is that they basically throw the learners to the wolves (in this case Clark and I were some of the wolves). Only the fittest or the most determined survive – or at least reach the end of the MOOC. Although every learner has to take responsibility for their own learning, surely we should be doing what we can to make that learning (and hence the use of their time) as effective as possible through good design based on empirical evidence of how best students learn.

Again, as Clark Quinn himself points out, this is not to criticize MOOCs as such. Both the Siemens/Downes and the Stanford AI initiatives are really important developments, and as with all important innovations, they provide a prototype on which later improvements can be made.

But also most successful innovation builds on the work of those who have gone before, so the question is:

To what extent do MOOCs really change the nature of the game, and to what extent are they more an extension and development of what has gone before – and hence should aim to incorporate previous best practices? Or will that destroy them?

I leave these question to readers to think about, and if you are kind enough to share your thoughts on this, it will be much appreciated, as always.

Stephen Downes response can be seen here.


Book review: Clark Quinn’s ‘The Mobile Academy’

© Anthony's Blog, 2009-2011

Quinn, C. (2012) The Mobile Academy: mLearning for Higher Education San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley, 120 pp

The author points out that 90% of the world’s population now has access to mobile networks, yet less than a quarter of post-secondary educational institutions in North America have mobile learning or administrative activities. As the author states: ‘Mobile has matured and stabilized to the point where it now makes sense to understand, plan and start developing mobile solutions….What we have on tap is the opportunity to revisit the fundamentals of the learning experience and use technology to come closer to the ideals we would like to achieve.‘ The book sets out in a straightforward, non-technical way a set of strategies for mobile learning so as ‘to optimize the learner experience‘.

From the preface:

Who the book is for

This book is for the higher education instructor and folks that support them as instructional designers or in administrative services.


The book provides the background information necessary to successfully design mobile learning solutions


1. The Mobile Revolution: no, this is not directly about the Arab Spring, but a brief introduction, focusing particularly on why higher education needs to pay attention to mobile learning.

2. Foundations: mobile: a brief introduction to the underlying technology behind mobile devices.

3. Foundations: learning: another brief but well-founded introduction to the principles/theories of learning relevant to mobile learning

4. Administration to go: an introduction to learner support focused on issues that are not directly associated with teaching and learning: What needs do students have for information and transactions on campus? Can they be provided any time and anywhere via mobile communications?

5. Content is king: this chapter focuses on using mobiles for delivering or accessing content in its various forms; it includes a useful summary of the status of various LMSs in supporting mobile at the time of writing.

6. Practice: interactivity and assessment deals with learner activities, practice/applications of learning and various forms of assessment available through or facilitated by mobile devices

7. Going social examines the various ways mobile devices can support social learning

8 Going beyond discusses the ‘cutting edge’ of mobile applications, including augmented reality, alternate reality and adaptive delivery

9. Getting going: organizational issues focuses on the organizational context needed to support mobile learning, such as design, development, implementation and policies, and the chapter ends with a brief conclusion to the book


I really liked this book. It’s probably no co-incidence that a book on mobile learning is short and simple (critical design features for mobile applications). However, it is not trivial. It is based on sound pedagogical principles. It focuses not only on what’s involved in the general transfer of digital learning from desktops or laptops to digital devices, but also focuses on the special ‘affordances’ of mobile learning. In particular, Quinn organizes the book around his four ‘C’s of mobile learning: content; capture; compute; and communicate.

This book is squarely aimed at faculty and instructors. It is not intended for IT specialists and probably won’t satisfy the more experienced users of mobile learning. But it is an excellent introduction to mobile learning for instructors in the 75% of institutions that do not have a mobile strategy yet, and for those instructors in the other institutions who are still hesitating about committing to mobile applications.

However, reading the book on its own is unlikely to be enough for many instructors. They will need to work with IT and media support staff and instructional designers if they are to avoid overwork and poor quality applications. A lot of the value from mobile learning requires fairly sophisticated media production, for instance, that is likely to beyond the scope of most instructors, working alone. Above all, institutions need to be committed to supporting mobile learning as a key strategy and to put in place the organization and support needed to make it a success. But this book will be a great start for many instructors, and I hope also that this will be read by senior managers in the 75% of institutions without a mobile strategy.


The image at the head of this post is from an excellent case study of mobile learning at St Edmund’s Catholic School, Wolverhampton, UK, in Anthony’s Blog in, February 25, 2011

See also: Sharples, M., Corlett, D., & Westmancott, O.  (2002)  The design and implementation of a mobile learning resource. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing Vol. 6, No. 3 pp. 220-234.

The ID CaseBook: case Studies in Instructional

Ertmer, P. and Quinn, J. (2003) The ID CaseBook: case Studies in Instructional
Columbus, OH: Merrill Prentice Hall