What MOOCs can learn from Free/Libre/Open Source Software

MOOCs are the hype these days. Everybody talks about them, many universities (among them, the most notorious ones) are pushing to have their own initiatives and courses and they have even made it to the most prestitgious newspapers.

However, MOOCs are still in their very early phases. They are a recent movement with not more than a couple of years and certainly we still are in a situation where we need to discover and test how to diploy them in the best possible way.

MOOCs share with the FLOSS (which is an acronym that unifies free software, open source and libre software) movement many characteristics: they pretend to be open, they are mainly Internet-mediated and they are on-line. It is true that MOOCs are courses where the main goal should be to learn and that free software projects have as main goal to build a (software) product. But if anyone who has had any software programming experience knows that building a product is to a major part a learning experience as well: the programming language and technicalities have to be learned, interacting with the infrastructure has to be mastered, and finally there is always many interactions with the rest of the team which fosters knowledge exchange. And, not to forget, free software projects have been around for quite long, with many of them being a success (probably there is much free software running so that you can read this blog post).

That is why this blog entry argues that MOOCs should inspire themselves in FLOSS. In this regard, there are many characteristics that you can find in FLOSS development that are still to be improved in MOOCs.

 

For instance, while FLOSS is an ample and massive movement (there are over one million registered developers only in SourceForge), it has made learnign personalization and specialization possible. This means that you can learn about almost any software domain that is currently of importance (specialization), and at the same time that by selecting a project to which to contribute, you will get personal attention from the experienced developers there, which in fact are acting as mentors. This is currently hardly to find in MOOCs, where the learning is still too guided, and where mentors are still a figure that is not present. MOOCs have a peer-to-peer learning method, as FLOSS does, but lack the role of a mentor. Actually, the current structure of the MOOCs avoids having experienced learners, due to the nature of courses.

We discuss this and other issues in our paper "Free/Open Source Software Projects as early MOOCs - A comparison of two ways of acquiring knowledge and skills over the Internet", to be presented at the 2014 EDUCON in Istanbul, Turkey. So, if you want to see more about MOOCs and FLOSS, do not hesitate to look in the proceedings or ask the author of this blog post for a copy.

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