Home » MOOCs (massive open on-line courses) » #H817 Open Education » cMOOCs or xMOOCs? Both please

cMOOCs or xMOOCs? Both please


image courtesy of Wesley Fryer

I am now on week 4 of my Open Education course and the theme is MOOCs (Massive, Open, Online Course). This is rather handy as I am currently doing 5, so I hope I have something to say!

This week we have been asked to;

Compare either DS106 or the Change MOOC with offerings from Udacity or Coursera

Write a blog post comparing the courses with regards to:
– Technology
– Pedagogy
– General approach and philosophy.

I have decided to look at DS106 and Coursera. Apart from this one from the Open University, all my MOOCs have been offerings from Coursera, so I have some experience from a student perspective.

The biggest difference between the two is that one is a cMOOC and one is a xMOOC. DS106 is a cMOOC. This is basically a MOOC that is based on connections (connectivism) and is less structured, or at least more dynamic in that the participants seem to drive the course. I suppose you could call them a virtual learning community. Coursera is a xMOOC

Have a look a look at the two sites and the different philosophies are immediately apparent. You get a different vibe from each site. DS106 feels like you have just walked into a party where there are nibbles and drinks all over the place and groups of people chatting in every corner of the house. The music is eclectic and dancing varied. Even walking in as a stranger you will soon find someone to talk to. Coursera is like visiting your favourite restaurant. If you are celebrating a special event it can be exciting. The rest of the time it’s familiar and, hopefully, makes you feel welcome. You know what to expect, food, wine, staff, etc and, as a regular customer, you will have an established routine.

Basically Coursera is a traditional “classroom”. You can see from the photo of the HCI course I am doing that there are lectures, assignments, deadlines, syllabus and quizzes.

It is everything you remember from school, college or university, just online. In fact in Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility Bates is quoted as saying that the teaching methods

‘are based on very old and out-dated behaviourist pedagogy, relying primarily on information transmission, computer-marked assignments and peer assessments

If you visit the DS106 site you will see the difference straight away. There are assignments but the difference is that lots are suggested by participants themselves. It feels more relaxed, as you can see from this excerp from their About page

Digital Storytelling (also affectionately known as ds106) is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington… but you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need

It goes on to say

First of all, in ds106, there are multiple levels of participation- but most importantly, it is designed so you can pick and choose the when and where. We expect NO APOLOGIES for not being able to participate when other parts of life intrude. There is no concept in ds106 of “dropping out” c.f. Groom, Jim (2010-present), “ds106 is #4life”.

The other big difference, highlighted in the above quote, is that there is “no concept of dropping out”. You can dip in and out as you like. You can of course leave a Coursera course anytime you like. There are no fees to pay so you won’t lose anything except perhaps any time you may have invested. If you leave you have to click on the “unenroll” button which makes it feel formal and of course you won’t receive your final grade for any of the quizzes or assignments you may have already done. You don’t join Coursera with a view to leave, although the “drop out” rate is high, but with DS106 it almost feels like you should pop in and out. Some people argue that students aren’t dropping out but engaging with MOOCs the way you should. Dipping in and our, using and sharing resources. The problem (depending on your point of view that is) is that Coursera is structured whereas DS106 isn’t.

There are some similarities, no formal accreditation for example and the need for basic IT equipment (computer and Internet connection) and a certain level of IT and social media literacy. However, technology, it is claimed, is another area where there are differences in c & xMOOCs. xMOOCs use technology but are less focussed on connecting in the same way cMOOCs do. In the quick start guide on their website they specifically ask you to do a number of things including, create a gravatar and social media accounts, create and/or register a blog and explore digital tools. You are generally not required to do this in Coursera but it may depend on the course. For example it would have been impossible to complete the E-learning and Digital Cultures course offered by Courera without social media, blogs etc. However, it is possible to get through most of the courses with access to a PC and the Internet and nothing else. I have taken Coursera courses where I haven’t connected with a single fellow student.

There are differences in MOOCs. However, a lot does also depend on the participants. I have been on Coursera courses where it has all the flavour of a cMOOC and others where it is definitely an old fashioned xMOOC. The subject matter is the driver of this. One of my courses The Ancient Greeks, lends itself to tradition. Whereas, Human-Computer Interaction is more about connectivism. Both are Coursera courses but both are very different.

Although there are differences in DS106 and Coursera generally we have to be careful not to tar all of Coursera’s courses with one brush. I see the same differences in the Secondary School I work at, some classes will be more dynamic, IT based, exciting and allow for more interaction compared to others. Think maths v PE. It also depends on the the teaching style, overall school philosophy and resources. Ultimately, some classes are just “cooler” but teachers and students can make of them what they will.

Just as there are different MOOCs there are different types of learners. We need to embrace the variety of MOOCs as it ensures that there is one out there for everyone.



  1. leazengage says:

    Interesting… I am taking my first Coursera class (Know Thyself) and am just learning about MOOC! Thanks for clarifying. 🙂

  2. Cristina says:

    Thank you Nat for clarifying all to me. I’m quite behind in this course so it is very good to get some extra help! :))

  3. David Brettell says:

    I’m slowly working through the OU course also and had just begun reading the “Daniel (2012), Making sense of MOOCs: musings in a maze of myth, paradox and possibility” paper when I came across the reference to xMOOCs and cMOOCs. Not having any idea what the difference was I Googled. I read the first link, which helped, and then the second listed link was yours. So, thank you for this post. I don’t know where you find the time to work on five MOOCs concurrently, I’m falling behind just keeping up, or not, with this one. Do you have a general preference for xMOOC types compared to cMOOC types?

    • Nat Nelson says:

      That’s a difficult one! I think my preference is xMOOC with a hint of cMOOC! 5 are difficult and I couldn’t do it long term. How are you finding the course and what is your preference, cMOOC v xMOOC?

      • I’m enjoying learning about the subject.I don’t have much time for reading and commenting on other’s blogs (like here – this is about the 3rd of 4th comment I have made during this course so far). This networking part is supposed to be very important, but I wouldn’t have the time to look at all the material otherwise. I quite enjoy going off topic a little and following up on links and topics given in the papers we read. I enjoy the discovery side of things. Some time back I started a CS101 xMOOC although didn’t find the time to finish it, but I was definitively impressed with the automatic grading of my answers and the detailed explanations. I haven’t made up my mind yet on a preference for x or c MOOCs. Both have their good points. Back to the article for me and then to blog my comparison. Cheers.

      • Nat Nelson says:

        To e is definitely an issue! Enjoy.

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