Participating in a MOOC is like dining at a banquet

So I was checking the #plenk2010 Twitter stream on Hootsuite the day after our first PLENK2010 Elluminate session (recording available here) and I saw a lot of re-tweets for this blog post – PLENK 2010: Just Like ‘Watching Football’ – by Stefanie Panke. (Stefanie later got a mention by George in The Daily).

Stefanie doing a great job of knowledge curating

Stefanie’s post is a review of the Elluminate session. She writes about coping with the surfeit of information involved in a Massive Online Open Course and reports:

Stephen Downes encouraged participants to be selective in their attention and activities within the class. “Think of it as football. People do not stop watching football just because they cannot watch everything!”

(I quipped I’d be paying selective attention to the hot dogs at the time!)

Then in the post comments George Siemens pointed to a post by Leigh Blackall which in turn led me to George’s slideshow at SlideShare on Curatorial Teaching.

Cafeteria or buffet?

The sixth slide in the show is on the “Cafeteria approach to education”. The picture George used to illustrate this (see above, I hope George doesn’t mind me pinching it) looks less like a cafeteria to me and more like a smorgasbord or buffet.

And that got me thinking: to me, approaching a MOOC as I would approach a smorgasbord or buffet makes a lot of sense (and not just because I’m a foodie! :-))

You say metaphorical, I say analogical

Here are some of the ways I see dining at a banquet/smorgasbord/buffet as being analogous to participating in a MOOC.

  • You are responsible for getting your own meal.
  • You serve yourself when you are ready, rather than being served by someone else when they are ready.
  • There is a wonderful array of choices, with something to satisfy everyone.
  • We can pick and choose according to our own unique tastes and nutritional needs (I’m allergic to the Moodle forum. I just have to look at it and I break out in a cold sweat! :-))
  • There’s way more than I could ever consume (or even taste), yet I can appreciate the diversity of the food without having to eat, or even try, all of it.
  • If I try to take in everything I would just make myself sick. It’s possible to over-consume, whether it’s food or information. We need to be selective, learn to discriminate and not be too greedy!
  • I can get all the necessary nutrients and nourishment I need without eating everything on offer.
  • There are many things I have no interest in, and that’s just fine. It’s horses for courses (although steer clear of restaurants that offer horses for courses).
  • If I try something and I don’t like it, I don’t have to eat it. I can go back and choose something else.
  • We don’t have to test everything ourselves. We can ask others what they recommend. And we can steer clear of the dodgy prawns if people are screwing up their noses and leaving them uneaten on the side of their plates.
  • I can sample a much wider range of foods than I would be able to if I was just ordering a single dish from a menu. I can have a bit of this and a bit of that.
  • I can try new things I might never have tried if I was restricted to meals on a menu.
  • I can make up my own crazy combinations that wouldn’t make sense to others. Brussel sprouts and cheesecake? No worries!
  • I can make choices authorities may not approve of. Your Mum may not have let you pile your plate high with roast beef and nothing else, but if you want to, knock yourself (and your arteries) out!
  • There is a sense that we are participating in a shared social experience (any shared meal would do this, I guess, although I find buffets to be particularly fun).
  • It’s a more efficient system. You can eat as little or as much as you like, yet it still works out as affordable. There is less waste than when everyone is given the same meal size. Those who eat more are balanced out by those who eat less. You only take what you need.

Okay, I’m not so sure about the last one. Does it make sense to talk about efficiencies and waste in the digital realm where information is infinitely reproducible and distributable at virtually no cost?

But there is a sense in which MOOCs seem an efficient use of money and resources, by providing broader access to the learning experience for the same costs (to the institution) as traditional courses. The Wikipedia entry for buffet describes it as “a popular method for feeding a large number of people with minimal staff” and that seems to fit.

Football or food?

The smorgasbord analogy talks about consumption and so for me it’s a better analogy than the football analogy which talks about attention. When I consume something I take it in and digest it. When I’m giving something my attention that seems like a much more passive act to me.

What do you think? Does the analogy work for you? Can you see any other ways we can extend it?

Analogies can be wonderful things!

It’s surprising how powerful analogy can be. When Stephen mentioned the selective attention football analogy I felt a shift within myself. I relaxed and felt more confident about dealing with the information flow from the MOOC, and I saw others in the Elluminate chat have a similar moment. From the number of times it’s been re-tweeted it seems that the analogy struck a chord with many people.

For me the smorgasbord analogy takes that feeling of being able to relax and yet feel more in control even further.

It’s all a good reminder how right-brain activities like analogy, metaphor, imagery and symbolism can be just as effective in learning and cognitive change as rational thought.

Easier said than done

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. I still have a tendency towards gluttony. I have to keep reminding myself to pace myself. Too much of a good thing can still make you sick. I have a tendency to want to take it all in. This of course, is fear: fear that I will miss out on something; fear there will never be enough; fear that I won’t be good enough.

Abundance is good

To me, one of the greatest strengths, and greatest challenges, of a MOOC is the sense of abundance. We are provided with a veritable cornucopia of choices. This is a good thing. I’d rather have too much than not enough. When there is abundance we can choose to be overwhelmed or we can choose to relax and enjoy the plethora of options.

Now eat, drink and be merry!

So let’s tuck into the feast that is the PLENK2010 MOOC banquet and dine to our heart’s content (without pigging out)!

6 responses to “Participating in a MOOC is like dining at a banquet

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Participating in a MOOC is like dining at a banquet | Sean's Emerging… --

  2. “This of course, is fear: fear that I will miss out on something; fear there will never be enough; fear that I won’t be good enough.”

    I can extend your food analogy to fear, Sean. Some have starved themselves to death striving for the false perfection they could never achieve. I think part of the challenge of a MOOC is daring to taste life.

    Really yummy post! Thanks.

    See you soon,

  3. Hi! It is me, Linn from the chatroll 🙂 You compare the MOOC to a swedish tradition, the smorgasbord, I like that! Living in Sweden I have been at many smorgasbord and my experince is that the beginner tend to overeat. Thanks for the invitation to second life:-) I have only visited second life once and I remember something about creating an avatar..? I prefer beeing myself.. Anyway I promise I will give it another try if you join us in Facebook 😉

  4. Hi,
    I love your style and your analogies. You have a researcher’s thinking simultaneously with visualizations. How interesting, I have just selected to follow you as a part of my combination in plenk.
    See you

  5. Reblogged this on Vanessa's Blogueria and commented:
    another good mooc metaphor… moocalicious. Scott Johnson describes post, “captures the benefits and difficulties of MOOC participation. MOOCs seem to be an intermediate discipline in a world where established and closed disciplines must intermingle to make new discoveries. A place to loosen up in good company” and asks, “How about a carnival metaphor? School you buy a batch of tickets for selected rides. MOOC you get a site pass to try everything and find out there are more rides here than you thought.”