Moocifying High School Learning Environments


MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses and have been called the Innovative Disruption and Top Tech Trend of the year. (Watters, 2012) The primary reason behind the “disruption” is the break in the traditional hierarchal system of Higher Educational Institutions.  Instead of offering elite education to a selected few, education is being offered to the masses.  By offering “open” online courses by professors from around the world, any learner can learn from and with the “elite”.  The MOOC model is student focused, in that it offers a cost effective solution to education.  However, MOOCs have been offered in Higher Education.  This paper will focus on the best practices of MOOCs and the opportunity to take these best practices into a K12 learning environment.
MOOC Barriers

Hill (2012) wrote about Four Barriers That MOOCs Must Overcome To Build a Sustainable Model.  These include: revenue models; credentialing badges or accreditation; course completion rate; and, student authentication.  In K12, if MOOC like options were integrated into learning environments they would be economically viable because they are a part of a course and students would be awarded credit. The high school student completion rate could be examined for statistical change and the authentication issues will still need to be examined.

MOOCs: equality of learning and opportunities for all
Educational MOOC advocates suggest that the MOOC debate is not about the money or instructional design, it is about the importance of the equality of learning for all.

“That’s because the fight over MOOCs is really about the story we tell ourselves about higher education: what it is, who it’s for, how it’s delivered, who delivers it….MOOCs simply ignore a lot of those questions. The possibility MOOCs hold out isn’t replacement; anything that could replace the traditional college experience would have to work like one, and the institutions best at working like a college are already colleges. The possibility MOOCs hold out is that the educational parts of education can be unbundled. MOOCs expand the audience for education to people ill-served or completely shut out from the current system…” (Shirky, 2012)

Types of MOOCs

The focus away from the “teacher” or professor as the expert in every part of a student’s learning is perhaps the biggest disruption to Higher Education.  Once the “MOOC” success was proven by Stanford’s AI Course in 2011, there has been a strong desire to try and define MOOCs.  Although they have been defined into three groups, “Network Based, Task -Based and Content Based” (Stevens, 2012) and “Connectivist, Entrepreneurial/Organizational and Special Interest” (Venable, 2012) the most common differentiation is; cMOOCs and xMOOCs.  cMOOCs are connectivist MOOCs based on the connectivist theory created by George Siemens and Steven Downes as opposed to xMOOCs which include all the other MOOC providers including Udacity, Coursera, EdX, Udemy).  As Siemens suggests, “Cousera, EdX – formal (traditional) course structure and flow, whereas in DS106, EC1831/CCK – Content as starting point, learners expected to create/extend” (2012) Connectivism is founded on the principles of social networked learning and encourage students to be autonomous learners by finding the learning for themselves through human and digital networks known as “nodes” of learning.  (Siemens, 2010).  cMOOCs have minimal content and are designed to initiate students to create their own content and ideas based on the course topics. As such, cMOOCs promote Bloom’s Higher Level of Taxonomy (2001 version) based on teacher learning objectives.


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xMOOCs promote creativity, analyzing and evaluation and alternatively cMOOCs offer remembering and understanding.  Both types of MOOCs offer application of knowledge. The debate seems to stem over the choice of learning objectives and the focus on teacher directed content and videos, versus student created content and autonomous learning.  This debate can also be compared to arguments in K12 learning environments over standardized tests and testing based on content as opposed to encouraging creative, innovative thinkers.
Research on MOOCs

Most recently, there has been a focus on researching MOOCs. MOOCs are being defined as “Direct-To-Student” education by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. (Eaton, 2012)  When considering accreditation and quality control, Eaton suggests that the “Traditional” Higher Education lens is not the one that should be used. She considers facilitator considerations, rethinking the expectations of teaching and learning, alternative approaches to teaching and alternative evaluation of learning.  In the summary, she states that, “MOOCs offer an unusual direct-to-student opportunity for expansion of learning, apart from the traditional structure of programs and degrees.  Whether ultimately apart from or connected to the environment of currently accepted teaching and learning, judgment about quality will be essential.”  The changes to terms of accreditation give some validity to MOOCs.  Like Eaton, bloggers like Graham Atwell (2012) agree with the unique attributes to online learning that MOOCs offer all learners. MOOC characteristics were documented by DeWaard et al in the journal article, “Using mLearning and MOOCs to Understand Chaos, Emergence, and Complexity in Education” (2011) The journal article suggests that MOOCs are “self-organizing, connected and open” which led to emerging phenomena like, “ internal diversity, internal redundancy, neighbour interactions and decentralized control”. Overall, the research and qualitative MOOC feedback is suggesting that MOOCs offer alternatives to learning, assessment, instructional design and student focused approach to learning. These are all characteristics that can be implemented in K12 learning environments as well.

K12 Innovative Disruption

The K12 educational environment is also open to disruptive innovation and there are best practices that could be used in cMOOC opportunities.  For example, Ken Robinson advocates for creativity in schools, Mimi Ito and danah boyd suggest looking to the social media learning already transparent among teens today, Will Richardson questions assessment strategies specifically standardized tests, Sheryl Nussbaum Beach promotes connected educators and Tony Wagner supports looking to outside networks and industry to support innovative learning opportunities.  Like xMOOCs, these K12 educational change leaders promote rethinking the instructional design and criticize the system for promoting mediocre over innovation.  Specifically, these educational disruptors offer alternatives for creativity in schools, peeragogy digital literacy, networking, connected learning, competency based assessment, bridging industry into education and promoting the knowledge economy.

Open Learning

To understand how to integrate best practices of MOOCs in K12, it needs to be clear that MOOCs are one form of open learning from within the open movement.  The open movement is based on the open source success and Linux creation. Programmers proved that creativity and innovation was a result of collaborating, remixing and building on ideas and codes already created, international often in synchronous projects.  This idea that more meaningful and more useful learning could be created “together” is the foundation of the open learning movement.  Open learning is focused on four guiding principles Redistribute, Remix, Revise, Reuse. (David Wiley, 2009) These principles encourage the use of open educational resources (OER) and reinforce the open content movement.  Alternatively, Don Tapscott (2012) highlights collaboration, transparency, sharing and empowerment as the principles for the open world.  The Wiley and Tapscott integrate a foundation for open opportunities and alternative learning potential.

Open Learning has been apparent in the rise of the Khan Academy and its videos based on educational content.  However, the Khan Academy has been criticized for not considering the pedagogy or “teaching” in its mandate and the same can be said of many MOOCs (especially xMOOCs).  The “free” content that can be altered copied and changed is called OER. Open Educational Resources (OER) can offer deeper and more meaningful learning opportunities because they encourage change and editing., However, it is the open pedagogy that can offer the way to MOOCify K12 learning environments.

As stated above, MOOCs are one aspect of the open learning movement.  In my opinion, there are three branches of open learning – open leadership, OER (open educational resources) and open pedagogy. This is a chart that describes the characteristics of open learning and the three open branches based on research on open learning.

Within open pedagogy, there are four different open learning options in current practice:

Option 1: “xMOOClike” option which is based on the work of Siemens, Downes and Cormier.  Offer massive open online course focused on connectivism, networking and interaction and collaboration among networks which would be synchronous and cohort based.

 Option 2: Closed “course” for credit through an institution with open content and open connections and networks which is based on work of Alec Couros (EC&I 831: Social Media & Open Education.) and the  Kaleidoscope Project which  is synchronous and in a cohort.

 Option 3: Open content in an open platform for autonomous learners which is based on the work of Alan Levine (#DS106) and would be asynchronous and autonomous.

Option 4:  Open content in a closed online course which is based on the work of David Christian and similar to Flat Classrooms which can be asynchronous or synchronous and is cohort based.

Framework of Teaching and Learning in a cMOOC

There are a variety of suggestions on how to integrate MOOC like and open learning ideas into learning institutions.  Beginner learners in MOOCs and open learning need scaffolding and some kind of platform to start from.  As David Cormier commented (based on Verhagen, 2006), “Connectivism is a Theory of Knowledge and not a Theory of Instruction”. He was alluding to the fact that “connectivism” is a construct to see learning not an instructional design model. However,   Cormier has also suggested strategies for learners to succeed in MOOCs, “ 1) Orient  2) Declare 3) Network 4) Cluster 5) Focus”. (Creelman, 2012).  According to Siemens (2012), these are the instructional principles to MOOCs:

  1. Aggregation. The whole point of a connectivist MOOC is to provide a starting point for a massive amount of content to be produced in different places online, which is later aggregated as a newsletter or a web page accessible to participants on a regular basis. This is in contrast to traditional courses, where the content is prepared ahead of time.
  2. The second principle is remixing, that is, associating materials created within the course with each other and with materials elsewhere.
  3. Re-purposing of aggregated and remixed materials to suit the goals of each participant.
  4. Feeding forward, sharing of re-purposed ideas and content with other participants and the rest of the world.

Moocifying K12 Learning Environments

In order to “moocify” learning environments in K12, there must be a desire to develop relationships among learners, develop a learning community and encourage the empowerment of autonomous learners. Garrison et al (2000) suggest that there are elements of to create a learning community.  Open learning opportunities are a way to integrate technologies into face to face and online learning environments – a way to promote the idea that “learning is learning” regardless of “where” and “how” it is done.


Garrison et al (2000)

Connected Learning and Digital Humanism:

Beginner learners in MOOCs and open learning need scaffolding and some kind of platform to start from in order to learn how to build relationships and learning communities.  For example, Lucier, Branigan-Pope and Tolisano (2012) suggest the Seven Degrees of Connectedness:

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In the introduction to any open online course, learners are introduced to the “stages” in order to ensure that they aware of the relationships being formed in online learning.  Connectivist learning is about “finding” the nodes of learning and the nodes are found through media which include digital and human interactions.  The stages foster the idea that to connect and learn, we use tools to connect with other humans and interact with digital content created by humans.  The importance of human interaction and engagement create authentic learning experiences.  Digital humanists suggest:

 The computer has value only as it enhances that which makes us human.  Most likely this is our ability to learn, or rather to learn how to learn ­ the knack to order, manage and reconfigure that which we know.  Our humanity lies in our ability to transmit from one another, allowing others to gain access to successful formulations and articulations that further our notion of being. (Traub and Lipkin, 2001)

Future Considerations:

By integrating the foundations of connectivism, defining the different types of MOOCs , analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs, investigating MOOCs as one aspect of Open Learning and considering open learning research in K12 and adding in personal experience as a MOOC learner and facilitator, I have taken the experiences and research and combined some alternatives for MOOC integration for High School students.  From personal experience as a MOOC learner and facilitator, I have noticed strengths and weaknesses in a variety of areas.  Based on my experiences, these are the characteristics to create a basic framework for any open online course in K12:

Characteristics for Open Learning in K12

    • Stages of Learning
    • Scaffolding
    • Open Access
    • Collaboration
    • Open Platforms
    • Social Media Integration
    • Transparent Communication
    • Credit to Sources
    • Feedback Loop
    • Facilitators are Approachable
    • Focus on learning for all
    • (Interdisciplinary, Intergenerational, International)

Another essential aspect of integrating MOOCs into K12 learning environments is identifying the learners and their abilities.  Up to this point, MOOCs have been offered to adults.  The research has proven that the best practices of MOOCs and open learning in general can offer personalized learning to autonomous learners.  The K12 audience is a different group of learners because they are developing digital/social media skills, digital identity, digital citizenship and learning how to become connected learners while learning in a different medium and different “way”.  While some adults may have to develop all of these skills as well, most adults have some experience in one or some of the competencies although the MOOC experience and open learning is new.

While Higher Education struggles with sustainability and economic factors influencing MOOCs, open learning and MOOC like opportunities should be integrated into K12 learning environments from the very beginning.  Like literacy and numeracy, open learning is an essential part of every child’s education.  As such, economic factors are not a consideration when educators facilitate and learn with their students.

Continuum of Open Learning:

I suggest that educators consider a continuum of open learning to integrate MOOCs and open learning from kindergarten to grade 12 based on stages.  (Just like the levels of learning based on Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Degrees of Connectednes.)  The continuum would be split into three areas, Stage 1: Kindergarten to grade 6 (For example using, Stage 2:  Grades 6-8 (For example creating class blogs and wikis) and Stage 3:  Grades 9-12 (open LMS options like canvas invastructure).  In Phase 1, students experience MOOC like courses and open learning in “walled gardens” where they can make mistakes and it is guided directly by teachers.  Phase 2 offers a transition from a “walled garden” into more open autonomous experiences and Phase 3 could be authentic open learning.  As the students master skills and demonstrate competencies, they are given more and more freedom and will have the opportunity to experience authentic open learning.  Part of the continuum is demonstrating an awareness of their learning through self-assessment and peer assessment.

Finally, a method to measure the “openness” and level of learning based on Bloom’s taxonomy for example, could be, “The Open Classroom Model”.  Every activity, opportunity and experience could be based on three stages: Connect – Collaborate – Create.  To ensure that students reach the highest level of learning, they go through the stages of learning and demonstrate their learning as they go.  For example, when the activity is to create a group blog, the students are expected to “connect” with each other, “collaborate” on their ideas and directions and “create” a group blog using a variety of tools.  By going through the three stages, the students have demonstrated “connectivist” learning principles and successfully identified how a “learning theory” can be put into practice in K2.

This paper examined the definition of MOOCs, the types of MOOCS, the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs and well as current research from a Higher Education perspective.  Consequently, comparative innovative disruptions in the K12 environment were also examined.  Open Learning, and the many opportunities within the open learning were also described where MOOCs can be used as an example of open pedagogy.  Up to this point, only open educational resources and open leadership have been apparent in specific areas of K12 learning.  After defining, exploring research and searching for current examples, there is an opportunity for open pedagogical implementation in k12 learning environments.   To, “moocify” k12, the connectivist opportunities need to come out in stages and be student centered with a humanistic focus.  Based on this information, I have suggested a, Continuum of Open Learning and an instructional design model, called the Open Classroom Model, for future consideration.  The next steps are demonstrating how K12 learning environments can be “MOOCified” by connecting, collaborating and creating.


Davidson, C., (2012) What can Moocs Teach Us About Learning. Hastac. Retrieved from

Creelman, A., (2012)  Inspiring Encounters.  The Corridor of Uncertainty. Retrieved from

deWaard, I.,Abajian, S., Gallagher, M.S.,  Hogue, R., Keskin, N., Koutropoulos, A., Osvaldo C. Rodriguez, O.C. (2011).Dialogue and connectivism: A new approach to understanding and promoting dialogue-rich networked learning | Ravenscroft | The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved 2012-11-28 from

Eaton, J. (2012).  MOOCs and Accreditation : Focus on the Quality of “Direct-to-Students”.  Education Council for Higher Education Accreditation
Volume 9, Number 1, November 7, 2012

Garrison, D., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. The Internet and Higher Education 2(2-3): 87-105.

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Lucier, R., (2012). Seven Degrees of Connectedness….The Infographic.  The Clever Sheep…Leading in New Directions. Retrieved from

Siemens, George. (2012) What is the theory that underpins our moocs?  Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), 3-10.

Siemens, G. (2012). History of MOOCs (Ppt presentation) Retrieved from

The IUPUI Center for Teaching and Learning. (2006) Bloom’s Taxonomy “Revised” Key Words, Model Questions, & Instructional Strategies. Retrieved from’s_Taxonomy_Cognitive_Domain.pdf
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Moocifying HS Learning Environments by Verena Roberts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


6 thoughts on “Moocifying High School Learning Environments

  1. Pingback: OTR Links 12/08/2012 « doug – off the record

  2. JM @ ClassLink

    These information sure would help clear some questions particularly about application and effectivity of educational tools in the learning environment. It’s really important for educators to grasp the right understanding to further support the education system and help build brighter future for our children.

  3. Gord Holden

    Many thanks for such a concise definition of MOOCs and their lineage. I’m also grateful to see your acknowledgement and recommendations regarding a need for a continuum when it comes to these digital environments. What I will (of course) draw attention to is the elephant in the room. While educators continue to make use Blackboard and such, their students spend a good deal of their recreational time using platforms which allow for much greater sophistication when it comes to communitcation, experiential levels of learning, and the degree to which they become immersed into both the subject matter and their community of learners. I hope that your next article Verena will discuss both the need for the IMOOC and its implementation. : ) Cheers, Gord Holden

  4. admin Post author

    Totally agree – I am working on Version 2 already which will include a wider variety of options for Open Learning in k12. I am looking forward to the iMOOC creation and implementation… Developing constructivist authentic learning environments is the future!
    Thanks for your reply 🙂
    Verena 🙂

  5. Wendy

    I am very interested in the continuum of learning you suggest to introduce MOOC’s to the high school environment. I have used all three suggestions (Edmodo, blogs, and Canvas) in my classroom, and I certainly can see how each of these would meet your objectives of moving from teacher led model to a constructivist model. I am wondering if student security and privacy laws might have to be revised before this idea can be implemented?

  6. admin Post author

    In BC, parents have to give their permission for their children to use the Internet and web 2.0 tools use (obviously) and all cloud content has to be housed in a server in BC. The second part doesn’t make sense to me. I know it is based on the patriot act, and the fact that Canadians want to keep their digital content under their own laws – but I’m wondering how that is possible in a time of open learning? Once my content is out in the open – it’s open to the world? Sp I am showing my ignorance and confusion over point #2 for BC privacy laws and legislation. We do not have the same requirement in Alberta. I was recently on a panel about risk assesssment for open learning in k12, and the answer was yes, you could be charged as a teacher if something went wrong – anywhere in Canada.

    However, it’s true, in BC (and Nava Scotia) you have rules that no one else has – and that’s not fair.

    The question is, is it worth the risk? That fear is preventing many educators from the next steps in opening their classrooms to the world and I wonder if it is realistic? Teachers cannot be responsible for everything that their students put up on the Internet. I think the only way to encourage open learning is to also encourage an open community of learning philosophy, which means including parents and other stakeholders in the learning process.

    But – you are right! Until the cloud based digital storage legislation in BC changes – the learning community is stuck at a stalemate, legally speaking.
    Very unfair.
    Verena 🙂

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