I am intrigued and inspired by Steve Greenlaw’s observations (in two parts) on motivation in the OpenLearning17 cMOOC and on motivation and MOOCs more generally. For OpenLearning17 specifically, I have an additional theory. Like Steve’s observations, mine are based on my own experience. I don’t have the data in hand, so I’m relying on Steve’s interpretation of it and simply adding to his insightful comments.

I am particularly intrigued with the notion that some participants who did not continue through the whole course may have gotten as much as they wanted from it. MOOCs are not the same as credit-bearing courses. No one is paying to be in the MOOC and no one will receive a degree based on their completion. MOOCs do require a different kind of motivation, a more intrinsic one. We have to want to complete it to do so and in order for that to happen, the MOOC needs to have priority over other things. Steve addresses this issue in Part 2 of his reflections.

The reality is that for many, the MOOC cannot be the priority. Life gets in the way. Work gets in the way.  OpenLearning17 was an opportunity for professional development, primarily for those of us working in higher education. As Steve suggests, maybe the motivation isn’t there because we’re not held accountable for our own development in the same we are for other parts of our professional lives. Professional development is about self-development and therefore focuses on the self, not on others. Here’s my theory, it seems to me that self-development often ends up towards the end of our list of priorities because we put the needs of others first. We do this even when we know that our improvement will positively impact others (e.g. teacher development improves teaching, thereby improving the learning experience for students). Most of the participants in OpenLearning17 were educators, or involved in higher education in some way. We are “givers” as a breed and therefore, we tend to put the needs of others before our own. We start out with good intentions about improving ourselves, expanding our knowledge, and then the needs of others creep into the space we had carved out to focus on our own development. I know that for myself, during the weeks I couldn’t participate at all, it was the needs of others that took priority: the needs of my team, my institution, my family. I just didn’t have time for me, which meant I didn’t have time for the MOOC.

There are comments that suggest that participants who had to drop out due to competing priorities would try again. To help give participants and organizers a sense of completion, we could try offering a different approach to the content. If 14 weeks is not sustainable for focusing on one’s own development, perhaps a shorter time frame might be more manageable. Perhaps the same course content could be reorganized into smaller parts that could be offered sequentially with each part requiring a smaller commitment of time. The parts could be offered back to back for those who want a more immersive experience, but each part would need to be able to stand on its own so that those participants who can only commit to that part can begin without prior knowledge needed.

The course content is still available, so of course past and new participants can access the information, but we know that the synchronous (Twitter chats and Google Hangouts) and time-bound asynchronous pieces (Hypothes.is annotations) had significant value for participants. The activity of the course is what brings connection and community to it and the course (or perhaps some other event?) must be active in order for that element to occur.

I hope that in the next iteration we can intentionally design the experience for participants who have a limited amount of time to devote to the cMOOC and I look forward to helping figure out a way to do that. For those of you hoping to participate in future iterations, what would you like to see?

 

Image courtesy of Addison Berry “Changed Priorities Ahead” via Flickr.

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