Digital learning

(This post originally appeared on my other blog, Don’t Believe the Hyphen)

Image: Mathplourde on Flickr -
Image: Mathplourde on Flickr

As part of my ongoing journey of discovery as an always-learning commsbod, I’ve started a MOOC. If you don’t know what a MOOC is (and I don’t expect you should), it’s not a gangland cuss but a course. A Massive Open Online Course, no less.

It’s massive because it’s taken by thousands of people across the world.

It’s open because it’s free and anyone can join it, regardless of their qualifications, experience or means. You just need to be able to get online.

The MOOC I’m doing is Digital Marketing from the University of Southampton.

It’s is my third MOOC, all via the rather ace Future Learn platform. I’d encourage you to dive in. The courses are many and varied. You can take something close to your line of professional or personal interest or something wildly left of your particular field.

The first two MOOCs (on branding and psychology) I didn’t really get started with, so don’t really count. This one, though, I’m sticking with. I’ve completed the first week and am into the second.

You do need to give them a little time – though not much. Three hours a week is suggested, though you could do more, could do less. I’m probably at the ‘less’ end of that scale but for a dip-in, dip-out learning experience, it’s pretty interesting, thought-provoking and even inspiring.

My early impressions of the MOOC experience are mixed. These courses could only exist in the digital world and in some ways are a microcosm of it, with a global reach and short attention spans but potentially big appetites. The learning ‘content’ is largely video-based. If you want to delve further, you can post comments and engage in discussions. The interactive, social element is key and makes up a proportion of the ‘work’ required, as well as the watching and (fairly light) reading.

This is also where it can fall short and feel a tad shallow. The discussions I’ve evesdropped on and occasionally commented in lack a sense of meaningful conversation. Unless I’ve missed something by not being in the right place at the right time, they feel like a sequence of standalone statements, only occasionally connecting.

This can partly be explained by the sheer size of the ‘class’, spread across every continent of the globe. (When you sign up they plot your location on this map). Thousands of people trying to talk at once makes an intimate and involved exchange of ideas difficult. And what most of the comments seem to offer, at least early on, is clichés and platitudes. To be honest, I need to persevere with it.

But, at the end of the day, a MOOC is essentially a taster. I’ve not investigated their origin much but the cynic in me assumes they are partly a big marketing exercise in themselves – and academic institutions seem to be investing a lot in them, judging by the quality of the presentation and the time lent to them by the course tutors. Of course, they are seeking to attract students, worldwide, to their fully fledged courses. But they also feel generous, like the best of the web. Giving something for free that is genuine, fulfilling and real.

One of the other avenues I’ve been exploring in my journey is in pursuit of the definition of content marketing. I am sure just it has already been observed elsewhere that MOOCs are just another, albeit clever and sophisticated, bit of content marketing – drawing you in for the hidden, but nevertheless lurking, sale.

But is that such a bad thing? I certainly feel I’m getting something out of it. Maybe in my next post I’ll talk a bit about what I’ve learned.

I’ve you want to earwig on the conversation around the Digital Marketing MOOC, look up #FLdigital.


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