Category: Week 10

Week 10 – Activity 16: Examining a definition

Timing: 3 hours

Now you have a definition of PLN, the question you need to answer is:

  • ‘Does this offer anything new?’

In terms of innovation, can we say a PLN is truly innovative, or merely a rebadging of existing practice? As with many new terms in educational technology, some people find a PLN usefully captures a new development, while others say it is simply a new term for an old practice.

In considering this, take into account the scale and possibilities offered by new technologies, past networking practice and any of the references you found when constructing your definition.

Now do the following:

  • Create a visual representation of the tools, resources and people in your PLN. Post this on your blog.Scott Leslie has a collection of PLE diagrams (they tend to focus on tools so do not include people and resources), which you may find useful.


I tend to think that PLNs do offer a useful distinction between something old and something relatively new. If one considers my diagram linked below, it is clear that a vast majority of the connections that make up my PLN are technologies that even 15 years ago would not have existed. This expansion of the personal network through social networking tools, and other means of web communication, are expanding the ease and size of our networks, allowing for PLNs to be something to consider as a separate entity to the smaller scale and physical networks that existed before. It is believed that with wearables, virtual reality, MOOCs and other means, the PLN will further become an entity that can be seen as distinct in nature.




Week 10 – Activity 15: Defining a PLN

Timing: 2 hours

As with many new terms, PLN is used in a variety of contexts. The Wikipedia entry defines it as:

‘an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection.’ (Wikipedia, 2012)

  • Use search tools and the discussion in the forum to formulate your own, one-sentence definition of a PLN.


My definition – A PLN is a virtual or physical networked in which the individual incorporates various tools, networks of individuals, and learning materials with the goal of learning.


My personal learning network:



Week 10 – Activity 14: Comparing MOOCs

Timing: 4 hours

  • Compare either DS106 or Rhizomatic Learning with offerings from UdacityFutureLearn or Coursera.(You may not be able to access a course on these sites without signing up – you don’t have to do this but we recommend that you do, in order to gain a sense of the material in a MOOC. Some courses are only available over certain dates, so you may not be able to enrol on the MOOC of your choice.)
  • Write a blog post comparing the courses with regards to:
    • technology
    • pedagogy
    • general approach and philosophy.
  • Remember to read and comment on some of the posts of your fellow students.
MOOC badge icon
Badge: Completing this activity will make you eligible for the MOOC understanding badge, as explained in Week 7. You will need to blog your solution to this activity, and then send an email to, providing a link to your blog post. As explained in Week 7, you will need to register on the Credly system to gain your badge. Acquiring the badge is entirely optional.





  • Rhizomatic Learning: Up to the user. Very much community based and decided from there.
  • Coursera: Software created through the Coursera platform, as well as from the course provider. Students are welcomes to venture beyond the given technologies. Such as students meeting through Twitter as appose to the often cluttered course forums.


  • Rhizomatic Learning: A connectivist approach to learning. The learning occurs in networks, where challenges and solutions are undefined from the start. The idea is for the learning to be fluid and non-restrictive. This is likened to real world situations, where complex and chaotic challenges are what is needed to be overcome, rather than learning occurring in a neat structure manner. Links could be made to constructivism as well.
  • Coursera: offers more traditional distance learning structure and pedagogy. Course tasks are set, and correct/incorrect answers are present. Learners progress in a more standard behaviourist approach, from receiving correct and incorrect machine marking in some cases.

General approach and philosophy:

  • Rhizomatic Learning: Learning should be open and non-structured. The evaluation of learning shouldn’t be based on how much someone can get into their heads, but rather their engagement, networks created, and effort exerted in the course itself.
  • Coursera: Learning is based on standard means, where if you ‘fail’ to complete the course you are counted as having not finish, and subsequently not acquired the targeted information. The debate is that many learners do not wish to receive all the targeted information – some might want only a segment, or look to broaden their learning network – and still end up ‘failing’ based on traditional thinking.


A good video on Rhizomatic learning:




Week 10 – Activity 13: Reading

Timing: 1 hour

Notes on reading. Great reading for quotes and insight. Links in strongly with the video from Weller in the previous activity.

Week 10 – Activity 12: Background to MOOCs

Timing: 4 hours

  • Watch this interview in which George Siemens and Dave Cormier are interviewed by Martin Weller about a range of issues concerning MOOCs.
  • Read Liyanagunawardena et al. (2013), MOOCs: A systematic study of the published literature 2008-2012.
  • Choose one article from this collection of MOOC literature: Katy Jordan’s MOOC literature browser. OU PhD student Jordan has collected together a comprehensive set of MOOC research literature.
  • Before we examine MOOCs in more detail, briefly consider if the MOOC approach could be adopted in your own area of education or training. Post your thoughts in your blog and then read and comment on your peers’ postings.


Video – 

What is participation in MOOCs? Traditionally we consider the success as being the completion of the course. However, if someone is following only certain parts of the course, i.e. the daily emails, or only watching the videos, has he/she failed? Do you even have to finish? What if you only want to learn about a certain topic covered in a MOOC?

There is a completely different social contract. As there is no value for money concept anymore. What level should a MOOC be at?

Burnout as instructors is high in MOOCs. There can be so many messages, tweets, and discussions to response to.

What was the benefit of being Open, as appose to just running an online course? One view is that the results of half-baked ideas into full ideas, and these can ends up being better. Another view is that the economies of scale changes.

The internet has allowed a large change in our pedagogical approach. Before, having an open lecture hall might have hosted the same number of people, but there was no way of proper interaction with the lecturer, or harnessing the real benefits of group work,  or any changes in the delivery of materials.

In the case of MITCW, Siemens believes we might be giving them more credit for innovation than they deserve. This is due to them reproducing the classroom model online. However, overall the new class structures, the financial structure, the reach of the courses, etc., has been amazing. This applies to all large MOOC providers at this stage (Coursera, EDx, etc.).

If we consider business models, the M in MOOC needs to be there (at least in most cases, such as a fraction of students paying for a certificate to finance the module). Therefore, we are not aiming at niche subject areas, and potentially mainstreaming content. One solution and wish is that industries/trade organisations begin running their own MOOCs to fill this gap.

If we consider Coursera, EDx etc., we have what seems like knowledge colonisation. Many students from Africa, Latin America, etc. are taking the courses, sometimes offered by their local universities (e.g. UCT in SA). But these universities are fitting into this Western standard mould and not offering anything new. It would be better possibly if the likes of UCT created their own infrastructure instead. It is possibly too soon to be centralising surely.

Where are MOOCs going in the future? Regarding the delivery of content, they can challenge traditional universities, but a massive course will never replicate the in-lab experience of looking through a microscope with your professor next to you. To really recreate the experience.

The individual parts of what MOOCs deliver, such as forums, instant chat, videos, etc. are here to stay, whether they remain under the umbrella of MOOCs or not doesn’t matter. Furthermore, can we bundle all of these together with traditional higher ed. Will we see MOOCs and higher ed come together to benefit society at large?

We need not only to understand MOOCs, but rather research where higher education is going, and what is the role of higher education in society? Has it changed and where is it going?

Readings – both readings for this week have notes on the PDF. The optional reading – MOOCs: What Motivates the Producers and Participants – is particularly relevant to the video.