Traditional pedagogic factories usurp cyber-utopian dreams

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offer anyone with Internet access the chance to study at a top university for free (Dias, Diniz & Hadjileontiadis 2014 p.178). The development of MOOCs is rooted in the cyber-libertarian ideals of openness, autonomy, freedom and connectivity (Dias, Diniz & Hadjileontiadis 2014 p.178). Early connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs) tended to have a decentralised, Extremelearningglobalnetwork-based structure focusing on empowering and engaging learners in various activities of knowledge creation and social network learning (Margaryan, Bianco & Littlejohn 2015, p.77). However, when leading universities adopted the idea, MOOCs became hyper-centralised and content-based, emphasising a more traditional learning approach of “knowledge duplication” through instructor-provided content (Margaryan, Bianco & Littlejohn 2015, p.77).

The cMOOCs movement reflects cyber-libertarian John Perry Barlow’s (1996) warning to governments that Moocsthe “global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.” Traditional academia needed to deal with the threat of a new, innovative pedagogic approach ideally suited to the network age. Unfortunately, these principles of sharing, network openness and connectivism were ultimately overthrown for the hierarchical educational model. Not only has Barlow now lost his cyber utopian dream of an innovative, open and independent cyberspace, but students in the network society lament the loss of a more interactive, engaging learning experience.


Reference List:

Barlow, JP 2014, ‘A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’, Electronic Frontier Foundation, accessed 16 August 2015, <>.

Dias, SB, Diniz, JA & Hadjileontiadis, LJ 2014, Towards an Intelligent Learning Management System Under Blended Learning: Trends, Profiles and Modeling Perspectives, Springer International Publishing, Heidelberg.

Margaryan, A, Bianco, M & Littlejohn, A 2015, ‘Instructional quality of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)’, Computers and Education, vol.80, p.77-83.


15 thoughts on “Traditional pedagogic factories usurp cyber-utopian dreams

  1. I think you have tackled the topic this week in an interesting way. I have never thought about this perspective, and to be honest I didn’t know much (I lie, I knew nothing) about MOOCs prior to reading your blog so it was both informative and engaging. Your meme is strong and reiterates what you have explored conceptually. Great post!

    • Hi Melissa. Thank you for your comment. I became familiar with MOOCs through a research project I completed for BCM210. In fact, UOW has recently begun to deliver MOOCs to the public. You can check out the courses they have available here:

      It is interesting because there have been many articles in the past few years questioning whether MOOCs will threaten traditional universities. However, most universities are now partnering with MOOCs providers. The problem with this is that the highly interactive, participatory and decentralised model initially proposed for MOOCs is now disappearing as universities alter the course structure to align with their traditional, highly centralised model of education.

  2. AN interesting perspective on the weeks topic! I’ve never even heard of the MOOCs before reading this blog and it’s provoked me to further look into it as different type of cyber-space. From this, it’s kind of sad that the utopian dream you speak of hasn’t been able to reach it’s potential. The idea of a completely open and connected network where information sharing was encouraged seems like a great idea to me! Seems like a common thread we revert back to traditional methods when things are too good to be true ?
    Lastly, the use of meme was humorous in the post in the representations of a linear study course structure that everyone follows and is forced into.
    Cheers, Sam.

    • Hi Sam. Thank you for your feedback. I agree – the thought of a learning experience that is highly interactive and engaging is quite exciting. I am also really interested in the idea of knowledge production. I think DIGC202 is very much based on this idea, as rather than simply duplicating knowledge, our digital artefacts involve creating something new. I personally find this much more exciting than quizzes and tests!

  3. I found this post really interesting. I didn’t know anything about MOOC’s prior to reading your post and I think it is fascinating. I suppose they kind of fall into the ‘if it’s too good to be true then it probably is’ category. Barlow’s ‘Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’ is a powerful and idealistic document but as you have demonstrated, it is not realistic. This is just another example of the way that the Internet can be used by large organizations to gain more control rather than promote freedom and openness.

    • Hi Jacqueline! Thank you for commenting. I completely agree with your statement about Barlow’s work. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed reading his powerful and enthralling visions of cyberspace, I did find them quite idealistic. Of course, this is from a 21st century perspective. It would be interesting to know what people at the time thought of his work and how close his visions were to reality in 1996.

      In the case of cMOOCs, it seems as though its open and collaborative model promoting knowledge production is being trumped by the traditional hierarchical university course structure. This relates to your comment that large organisations ultimately have the control to dictate how their network will operate.

  4. Hi Giverny

    cMOOCs haven’t disappeared, although you wouldn’t know this from listening to the corporate providers like Coursera. But check out #rhizo15 on Twitter, where you’ll also find @davecormier, @gsiemens and @downes (but especially the former two) are still really active making interesting things happen in very decentered and counter-hierarchical ways.

    Rhizo is based on the principle of rhizomatic learning, that Dave Cormier writes about quite a bit on his blog: See what you think.

    • Hi Kate,

      I am glad to hear that cMOOCs have not disappeared. I think it is important that both cMOOCs and xMOOCs are available to suit different needs and learning styles.

      The idea of rhizomatic learning is very interesting. I enjoyed reading about Dave Cormier’s idea that ‘the community is the curriculum’ and how it is important to develop a system where learning continues even after a course ends.

      I also found it interesting how Dave wrote in one of his blog posts that “we should not be preparing people for factories”. This reminds me of an idea explored in DIGC202 this week about how education, particularly primary and secondary, is still very much organised according to the requirements of industrial labour.

      Thank you for your insight into this topic. It is great reading about these exciting new approaches to teaching and learning.

  5. This is such a good reflection on the lecture topic! It relates back to the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace – idealistic and utopian, and sadly, probably too good to be true. MOOCs seem to be founded on the same principles but ultimately succumb to traditional models. Unfortunate but it’s a good example to compare to something as free and utopian as the internet and how it’s becoming more and more regulated and controlled by governments and corporations.

    • Hi Emma,

      Thank you for your comment. Barlow’s paper was certainly idealistic. At the same time, I also found his ideas to be liberating and exciting, even if they have not been actualised. The problem is that it has turned out to be far easier for governments to control and regulate cyberspace than Barlow imagined in the mid 1990s.

  6. I love the John Perry Barlow quote 🙂

    To butcher Deleuze – things deterritorialized tend to reterritorialize. The trick is to keep ripping it apart and finding smooth space. When we did the first MOOCs from 2008-2010 we were still, mostly, working inside institutions during the process. The fun for me in doing #rhizo14 & #rhizo15 is that it was outside of many of those factories and run in my basement in my spare time. One never escapes the factories entirely… but thanks for the reminder of why i’m doing this stuff in the first place.

    No one knew we were doing the first MOOCs… maybe 300-2500 people participated in them. They are still happening. Only the dominant narrative has changed.

    • Hi Dave,

      Thank you for your comment. I found your blog on rhizomatic learning quite thought provoking. I find it interesting that there seems to exist a predisposition in society to eventually institutionalise innovation and that to achieve the true exponential potential of the Internet is to let the roots of learning run uninhibited.

  7. I agree, Giverny, it is kind of a shame the empowering, engaging MOOCs did not get more traction. However, I still believe we live in an age of accessible education – you have to remember about concepts like free eLearning courses or the Khan academy. Educating oneself has never been so accessible, would you agree?

    • Hi John. Thank you for your comment.

      Yes, technology has certainly provided many educational alternatives and pedagogical challenges at the same time. Secondary school students contemplating tertiary education, however, tend to be presented with the more traditional pathways for their ongoing learning. Perhaps more needs to be done to highlight these alternatives to these students.

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