I’ve been internally debating the use of the term xMOOC to describe the Coursera/Udacity/edX offerings for a while now.  This first came about when I started to study neoliberalism, and realize that there was not a true north definition; it was a term that fit the needs of the author, and usually in a way that cast scorn and dispersions on those umbrellaed via it.  This is not to say that neoliberalism is not an important concept, but that the concept and the term are not necessarily synonymous.

I talked about something similar with MOOCs in a recent post, noting how MOOC can mean anything to anyone, and inasmuch the term loses any meaning (and I note that the term is so bereft of its original meaning that it didn’t have meaning to begin with, thus it is a simulacrum).  There is an opposing force to such an argument, and it is based around the original iteration of the MOOC, the 2008 connectivism version that academics today label a cMOOC.  C.O. Rodriguez, in perhaps the first research article to lump both Siemens-style MOOCs and the Thrun-style MOOCs into a research subject, used the terms cMOOC and xMOOC to differentiate between the two.  Since then, however, use of the term MOOC has overwhelmingly been to describe offerings such as Coursera, edX and Udacity, while the offerings borne from the work of Siemens, Downes, Couros and Cormier (to name a few) are largely forgotten in this term (Audrey Watters has a great takedown of this whitewash of the MOOC history at her site).  People who follow education and, more importantly, distance education do refer to cMOOCs, but the term xMOOC only comes out in academic circles.  And when it comes out, it, like neoliberalism, becomes a pejorative.  It is a neologism designed to hold the grievances of the user more than it is a term to alleviate confusion in the marketplace.  In the global marketplace, the confusing part of the MOOC debate is the cMOOC.

I had been considering a blog post on this subject when I found myself in a Facebook discussion on the very topic.  A colleague noted my use of MOOC was only about xMOOCs, not cMOOCs.  This was my reply:

The cMOOC is an interesting phenomenon, with varying levels of success in its roll-outs (but it, just like its theoretical base connectivism, is not without its faults). But it’s the cMOOC. There is no xMOOC. C.O. Rodriguez used the term to differentiate between the two in a paper back when Sebastian Thrun was still calling his work distributed learning. Since then, the only people using the term xMOOC are academics, and it’s largely a pejorative. There is no xMOOC. It’s the MOOC.

And yes, it stinks that a few TechCrunch and Wired reporters did lazy journalism in searching academic response to Thrun’s experiment, found George Siemens call it a MOOC in a very optimistic blog post, and ran with the term, a term that has little in common with the Coursera/Udacity/edX initiative. But that’s what it is, and now that Pandora’s Box is open the cMOOC is not getting the term back.

And I disagree with you on your last point. I don’t see the MOOC developers as fearful of what a cMOOC can do. The cMOOC, in my opinion, only ended up on their radar when folks like Audrey Watters started pointing out the pedagogical shortcomings in their work. These developers, in my opinion, truly believe in what they are doing, that they can create a brilliant opportunity for learning, at a low cost, for the world to utilize in a global show of democracy that would even get Joan Baez to smile. Problem is (from my perspective), they look at learning from the AI lens, where the brain is a computer made of meat, so the brain must learn like a computer. And we all know that is wrong. But that’s the playing field out there today…the one filled with terms like disruptive innovation, individualized learning, data mining and competency-based learning. Silicon Valley loves it because it’s an algorithm that can make money. Investors love it because education is the final frontier of privatizing public services. Government loves it because every time someone says “public-private partnership” a former congressman gets their wings. And, to xxxxx’s point, this has happened because it’s gone unchecked by the educators, or the educators have quibbled over minutae. The fact that this model of learning got labeled a MOOC only served to confuse academics for several years.