I’ve been in this really good MOOC for the past 20 years, it’s called “The Internet.”

August 1, 2012 § 12 Comments

I’d like to suggest a great MOOC that has been around for years. It is “massive” (nearly a half million members); it is open–as in free (no charge); it is open–as in anyone can participate (no enrollment requirements/restrictions); it is open–as in shareable/reusable (there is no copyright: all content by all contributors is in the public domain); it is open–as in community driven (topics and direction are self-organized by peers); it is open–as in transparent (all information is available to all); it’s online (www.linuxquestions.org), and it provides over 200 “courses” (tutorials, resources and related discussions) across a variety of areas:
– Applications / GUI / Multimedia
– Hardware
– Networking
– Programming
– Security

Some of the programming tutorials include: Beginning with Java; BSD Sockets programming in C with examples; Building C programs on Linux; Building C++ programs on Linux; Emacs for an IDE, etc.

There is even a process for credentialing where peers rate the activities of others in order to establish users’ reputations. Those who provide helpful insights are rewarded, while those who offer less helpful support get neutral or even negative reputations. This peer to peer assessment model is something many MOOCs are struggling with.

So why isn’t this recognized as a MOOC? The cynic in me says, well because MOOC’s are really marketing tools to promote a university’s “innovation,” garner financial support (e.g. grants, investment funding, etc.) and/or drive online enrollments (i.e. take a MOOC, then enroll in a “real” course). Why does every college or university need a MOOC or other OCW/OER initiative, rather than really take advantage of the openness of shared resources to enhance, contribute and redistribute?

A more gracious response to why these are not MOOC’s would be, because most folks working in online education have less than 10 years or so experience in the sector and thus are simply unfamiliar with such communities of practice as forums like LinuxQuestions.org, and see MOOCs as novel. Arguably one could include listservs, bulletin boards, etc. as all examples of MOOC’s–indeed the Internet as a whole. I’ve been in online and distance education since 1994 and when I ask those enamored with MOOC’s to explain the difference between those and examples like LinuxQuestions.org, the only difference cited is that these forums are not sponsored by a college or university.

According to Wikipedia (Hey, wouldn’t this be a MOOC too?), there are many benefits to adopting MOOCs as a source for knowledge augmentation, among which include:

  • Learning occurs in an informal setting/manner rather than in a classroom setting where a strict curriculum may be present (LinuxQuestions.org ).
  • All work, thoughts and instruction can be shared, critiqued and viewed by all participants (LinuxQuestions.org ).
  • All that is needed to participate is an internet connection (LinuxQuestions.org ).
  • Students are often afforded a wide variety of assignments to choose from (In contrast with contemporary education systems which require all students to submit the same assignment at the same time (LinuxQuestions.org ).
  • MOOCs are free for all who are interested (LinuxQuestions.org ).
  • A MOOC can be established by educators at a low cost, using free tools to aid in constructing a course (LinuxQuestions.org ).
  • Participants do not have to be enrolled in the institution which hosts the MOOC (LinuxQuestions.org ).
  • Language barriers are not an issue due to the availability of website translation (LinuxQuestions.org ).
  • A MOOC’s course flexibility allows for the student to “attend” when he/she has the time availability (LinuxQuestions.org ).
  • MOOC’s allow for the connection across all professional disciplines as well as across corporation/institution boundaries as well (LinuxQuestions.org ).
  • Direct immersion and engagement within the topic at hand (LinuxQuestions.org ).
  • Digital skill development (LinuxQuestions.org ).
  • Networking (LinuxQuestions.org ).

If one truly is interested in learning from peers I would suggest there are many, many opportunities beyond the now popular platforms: Coursera, edX/MITx, Udacity, etc. I suggest searching for a user community of peers already online. Here is one for Artificial Intelligence (think Udacity), and another.

Please do not take this as a rant from an old curmudgeon. I pose these questions as a point of reflection: what specifically are the goals for MOOCs and the institutions that provide them? Is it teaching and learning? Then how do we reconcile other non-traditional approaches around prior learning and experiencial learning? Are there existing examples that could serve to inform practice/education in large formats like MOOCs: assessment through peer to peer evaluations (i.e. reputations), project based learning activities, etc.?


§ 12 Responses to I’ve been in this really good MOOC for the past 20 years, it’s called “The Internet.”

  • Glenyan says:

    Great post Patrick, I’ve often thought along the same lines. I think with MOOCs, many of them have had a difficult time in handling the concept of structure. Perhaps this is because they are a reaction to traditional education that is far too structured for today’s world, thus they’re naturally swinging a bit too far the other way. I think the idea is for MOOCs to allow for a Learner Originated structure, maybe based on content or individual prior learning. I do think that MOOCs really do need to figure out how to impose structure more overtly, because, as you point out, some aren’t much more than saying “ok, let’s go” and turning on a browser.

  • I couldn’t agree more. For me… the MOOC was about trying to do it on purpose at a specific time.

    I, at least, am familiar with how communities of practice have developed on the web and so are the rest of the people who were around for the initial MOOCs.

    As you no doubt also realize… it is very, very difficult to ‘make’ a community on purpose. If you want to talk about a given topic, and bring a bunch of people together to commit time to it, without the 5-10-20 year commitment to developing/nurturing a community, one of the things you can do is start a MOOC.

  • btw. Why would you want it ‘recognized’ as a MOOC? And if you do… just recognize it. The word has been around for 4 years… and is a bit silly, but if you want to recognize it… go ahead.

  • I agree with the sentiment of open, self-directed and continuous learning. I’m not sure we get anywhere by calling it a MOOC. I’ve laid out some arguments for why this really isn’t a MOOC: http://researchity.net/2012/08/14/what-is-and-what-is-not-a-mooc-a-picture-of-family-resemblance-working-undefinition-moocmooc/. At best, it’s OO.

  • […] emphasis of assessment for the cMOOC is significantly different from x MOOC.   If the argument of internet (and part thereof) is the MOOC – online (www.linuxquestions.org), then assessment within a MOOC is  Whilst Dave argues that the […]

  • […] of trying to use the internet to get lots of people talking about a specific thing. As has been mentioned by others lots of great learning happens on the internet already. There are discussion forums, […]

  • SDM says:

    I went to LinuxQuestions.org, looked for tutorials and basically got told I couldn’t see zilch unless I registered. End of.

  • pmasson says:


    You should be able to access the “tutorials” at http://www.linuxquestions.org/linux/answers. I did not try to get into all of sessions, but I could not find any that required an account to access. I looks like the moderators of LinuxQuestions.org identifies common issues and the best threads, replies, solutions to post.

    In referencing this content, I do not endorse it’s quality, rather I simply wanted to highlight (and I think I have) how a community of practice can create and share original content relevant to self-motivated learners. Again, the approach to content creation and distribution, as well as how learners interact on LinuxQuestions, to me is no different than the MOOC’s of current interest (and their supporting organizations).

  • […]  The best learning examples are these self-built learning spaces (my colleague Patrick Masson said this beautifully early on in the current MOOC-mania: “I’ve been in this really good MOOC for […]

  • […] MOOCs are anthropological opportunities, not instructional ones.” And Patrick Masson has observed, “I’ve been in this really good MOOC for the past 20 years, it’s called ‘the […]

  • […] MOOCs are anthropological opportunities, not instructional ones.” And Patrick Masson has observed, “I’ve been in this really good MOOC for the past 20 years, it’s called ‘the […]

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