Battle of the MOOCs: Xmen vs Cmen

MOOCs have been developing on diverging paths since they first started in 2008 and are now broadly classified as cMOOC, denoting participatory and connectivist teaching-learning through the social construction of knowledge, and xMOOC, more akin to instructivist and acquisitional teaching-learning through the transmission of knowledge (Liyanagunawardena, et al, 2013).  At one extreme now are the more traditional  institution-based courses offered by Coursera, and at the other is the experimentation of Rhizo 14 (Mackness & Bell, 2015).


Rhizo exploits two main technologies: a basic free WordPress blog is used to record informal video using a computer webcam and microphone, and Twitter is used for social interaction. A Facebook group existed as a forum but this was closed. Other social tools such as Google+, P2PU and blogs are encouraged as part of networked learning.

In complete contrast, Coursera has one dedicated high quality website that hosts the content such as videos and quizzes, as well as providing forums for interaction. Their smartphone app offers mobile elearning.


Rhizo 14 provides weekly statements or questions for discussion and the topic of each is chosen based on the current discussions, thus course objectives and advance cognition are impossible since the content develops dynamically. Knowledge is created through social interaction with no expert or facilitator and there are no assessments. Learners are thus expected to be autonomous in developing and exploiting a personal learning network as the central pedagogy.

Coursera’s approach has been to replicate the pedagogy of the traditional classroom online with somewhat interactive video lectures (pauses to answer comprehension questions), weekly quizzes and forums for discussion. While some argue this is ineffective and boring, and leads to dropout rates of 85% (Stacy, 2013), the scale is far larger and thus far more students complete courses this way than with Rhizo 14 (Mackness and Bell, 2015, Liyanagunawardena, et al, 2013).

General Approach and Philosophy

Rhizo appears to be an experiment in harnessing Web 2.o technologies to create connectivist learning but is not without issues such as personality clashes and a sense of isolation. However, for some, it is very successful because it was innovative and open and encouraged the democratic and autonomous learner.

Coursera is evidently a sophisticated and professional effort to provide traditional education to the masses but with the aim of doing so with greater flexibility and no fees.

From my own perspective, Coursera is an excellent opportunity to broaden my knowledge and understanding into other disciplines, whereas Rhizo is a means to develop a community of practice and a personal learning network.


Liyanagunawardena, T.R., Adams, A.A. and Williams, S. (2013) ‘MOOCs: a systematic study of the published literature 2008–2012’, The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 202–27 [online]. Available at index.php/ irrodl/ article/ view/ 1455/ 2531 (last accessed 8 October 2015).

Mackness, J. and Bell, F. (2015) ‘Rhizo14: a rhizomatic learning cMOOC in sunlight and in shade’, Open Praxis, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 25–38. Also available online at ~openprax/ index.php/ OpenPraxis/ article/ viewFile/ 173/ 140 (last accessed 8 October 2015).
Stacey, P. (2013) ‘The pedagogy of MOOCs’, Musings on the edtech frontier, 11 May [online]. Available at 2013/ 05/ 11/ the-pedagogy-of-moocs/(last accessed 8 October 2015).




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