Utilizing MOOCs to Solve Grand Challenges or Wicked Problems

» Posted by on Apr 9, 2013 in Spring 2013 | 0 comments

Utilizing MOOCs to Solve Grand Challenges or Wicked Problems

April 9, 2013

Over the past year and a half, various authors have expressed their concerns about MOOCs and how they may impact the American higher educational system. [1] [2] [3] [4] These concerns are important to consider, as MOOCs are disruptive, innovative, and are likely to improve and expand in the next few years. [5] [6] [7] Most of these concerns center around the potential impact of MOOCs on higher education (HE) in the United States without emphasizing that most MOOC users live outside of America. [8] Like other disruptive innovations, the MOOCs of tomorrow will be different and will address some of the current concerns. Soon most instructors will have the ability to customize a learning management system (LMS) that facilitates the creation of activities, student groups, peer-review assignments, videos, and the development of a learning community or community of practice with unprecedented ease. Platforms such as UDemy, EdX and others may quickly improve over time to make this possible. [9] [10] [11] [12] The internet is also increasingly mobile, faster, personalized, and collecting user analytics. [13] [14] [15] By working together to address concerns regarding MOOCs, MOOCs 2.0 will quickly develop into a very promising educational technology. Currently, MOOCs are only at a beta state.

This paper highlights what may be possible to achieve with MOOCs in the upcoming years, and how to realize MOOCs’ potential. [16] [17] Among other positive changes, MOOCS may help increase the sustainability and use of Open Educational Resources (OER), educate millions worldwide, increase the visibility of new ideas, and form collaborative learning spaces where students work together to address grand challenges. [18] MOOCs can be this and much more, limited only by our imagination. [19] [20] [21] [22]

Defining MOOCS

To think of what else is possible to create with a MOOC, it is important to ask broadly what types of courses fit within a “Massive”, “Online”, “Open”, “Course”. [23] [24] [25] Here are the Dictionary.com definitions:

Massive (adj)

1. consisting of or forming a large mass; bulky and heavy: massive columns.

2. large and heavy-looking: a massive forehead.

3. large in scale, amount, or degree: a massive breakdown in communications; massive reductions in spending.

4. solid or substantial; great or imposing: massive erudition.

5. Mineralogy . having no outward crystal form, although sometimes crystalline in internal structure.


Open (Adj)

1. not closed or barred at the time, as a doorway by a door, a window by a sash, or a gateway by a gate: to leave the windows open at night.

2. (of a door, gate, window sash, or the like) set so as to permit passage through the opening it can be used to close.

3. having no means of closing or barring: an open portico.

4. having the interior immediately accessible, as a box with the lid raised or a drawer that is pulled out.

5. relatively free of obstructions to sight, movement, or internal arrangement: an open floor plan.


Online (Adj)

1. operating under the direct control of, or connected to, a main computer.

2. connected by computer to one or more other computers or networks, as through a commercial electronic information service or the Internet.

3. of or denoting a business that transmits electronic information over telecommunications lines: an online bookstore.

4. available or operating on a computer or computer network: an online dictionary.

5. by means of or using a computer: on-line shopping.


Course (Noun)

1. a direction or route taken or to be taken.

2. the path, route, or channel along which anything moves: the course of a stream.

3. advance or progression in a particular direction; forward or onward movement.

4. the continuous passage or progress through time or a succession of stages: in the course of a year; in the course of the battle.

5. the track, ground, water, etc., on which a race is run, sailed, etc.: One runner fell halfway around the course.


According to Wikipedia (April 7, 2013)

“A massive open online course (MOOC) is an online course aiming at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that help build a community for the students, professors, and TAs. MOOCs are a recent development in distance education and often use open educational resources. Typically they do not offer academic credit or charge tuition fees. Only about 10% of the tens of thousands of students who may sign up complete the course.MOOCs originated about 2008 within the open educational resources (or OER) movement. Many of the original courses were based on connectivist theory, emphasizing that learning and knowledge emerge from a network of connections. 2012 became “the year of the MOOC” as several well-financed providers, associated with top universities, emerged, including Coursera, Udacity, and edX.”

Current MOOCs includes different interpretations of those four terms. Terms such as “open” can extend beyond “not being closed” or Open Access (OA), to include the use of Creative Commons (CC-licenses) and OER. [26] [27] By incorporating open materials, MOOCs and their components could potentially be remixed, revised, redistributed and reused. [28] [29] [30] [31] Some MOOCs also seem to be moving towards a freemium model. While these MOOCs will remain free and openly accessible, resembling Open Access Journals (OA), some course elements may only be available at a fee. [32] [33]

Open CourseWare (OCW) and Open Educational Resources (OER) borrowed much of their philosophy from the Open Source Software (OSS) movement. As an educational technology, MOOCs are likely to borrow elements from the freemium economic model, which has fueled the economic growth of many companies such as Skype, or an advertisement-based system such as Google and Facebook. [34] [35] An online service is considered a freemium product when there are feature limitations (Skype), capacity limitations (Dropbox), seat limitations, customer class limitations (limited to educators, etc), effort limitations, support limitations, and/or time limitations (Pandora). [36] Whether or not they adopt this model, MOOCs would benefit by generating revenue and becoming increasingly sustainable. [37] [38] [39]

As with many other technology startups, MOOC platforms have focused on building first, and monetizing later. As massive courses, MOOCs may eventually rely on microtransactions for their operation costs and profit earnings. [40] With Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun’s connection to Google is it not surprising that some MOOCs are considering the potential of big data. Also, while I am a firm proponent of OER and in the importance of sharing to the commons and public domain, it is also important for a system to become sustainable over time, to benefit both the producer and consumer, and to develop high quality products. Not all OER and OSS products are as successful as Wikipedia and Firefox. It is important to keep an open mind when defining the term “open” in relation to MOOCs and experiment with different ways to create MOOCs that are sustainable. [41]

In addition, how many students are enough to constitute a “massive” course is also a good question with multiple answers. The premise of massive course is that, after a certain number of students, there are simply too many people for a teacher to manage the course without effectively using digital technologies such as the web 2.0. Educators can manage students via wikis, blogs, chat, and discussion forums, peer-review assignments, automated quizzes, and / or by creating a learning community where other students aid each other as peer-instructors during the course. [42] [43] In addressing this question, Stephen Downes sets the lower limit for “massive” courses at over 150 students. According Dunbar, 150 participants is a cognitive limitation in people’s ability to maintain stable social relationships. [44] [45] While Downes mentions 100,000 students as a potential upper limit for some MOOCs, having too many students within a MOOC can be addressed by dividing students into groups for certain activities. Nevertheless authors’ conclusions vary, and the point at which an OOC becomes a MOOC will likely continue to be debated. Part of this discussion arises from the objectives of different types of MOOCs.

cMOOCS and xMOOCS and Everything in Between

Currently, the two most common types of MOOCs are xMOOCs and cMOOCs ,which have generally had different enrollment levels. [46] [47] [48] While many MOOCs include elements of both xMOOCs and cMOOCs, xMOOCs are a more centralized learning experienced that mostly takes place within a learning management system (LMS) whereas cMOOCs are more decentralized.

While, given their structure, earlier online courses could be qualified as MOOCs, the first courses to be known as MOOCs began in 2008 with the work of George Siemens and Stephen Downes. These first MOOCs had over a thousand students and utilized blog posts, a daily newsletter, a website, and an RSS feed as the main course elements. Many of the first MOOCs focused on being open and utilizing OERs. Smaller MOOCs with only 30 or 40 students were considered by some to be OOCs instead.

Another type of MOOC can be defined as a project-based or task-based MOOC, a good example of which was Jim Groom’s DS106. The first cMOOCs discussed changes in online learning and education. While they were successful they have since been eclipsed in the media by the xMOOC efforts of Stanford, MIT, Harvard and other well-known institutions. The fact that, as with Facebook before them, Coursera and EdX were first developed and / or available at a top-tier institution, has made other groups much more eager to jump into the project than they were in joining Athabasca, Utah, or Manitoba in a cMOOC movement.
The xMOOCs started by Sebastian Thrun, Daphne Koller, and Andrew Ng enrolled a much greater number of students during their first iteration. While some cMOOCs had attracted over a thousand students, no cMOOC has registered over 10,000 users or more. However, it is difficult to know how many people benefit from a cMOOC as most of the student contributions are shared with anyone over the internet via openly accessibly blog posts. By having a focus on reflection and a personalized learning experience, cMOOCs, more than an xMOOC, can promote a continued discussion over the internet long after the initial course has been completed. In contrast, xMOOCs have been more successful in recruiting students but have been criticized for being lower quality versions of face to face (F2F) courses or more personal / smaller online courses, with a greater emphasis in transferring closed courses to a worldwide population. xMOOCs generally emphasize peer-grading, video lectures, discussion boards, automated quizzes, task-completion, and final exams or projects. xMOOCs encourage the completion of assignments and other course materials, and for students to receive a certificate or a badge, or potentially obtain college credit for completing a course. Various experiments are currently testing xMOOCs’ for-credit potential.

By contrast, cMOOCs have focused on creating a networked learning community, where participants engage to different extents with the learning objects and shared materials. cMOOCs are “connectivist” MOOCs that emphasize the importance of the node and the network. A cMOOC can be created using mainly a blog site such as WordPress, a list of discussion elements, a few readings, and a twitter backchannel. In terms of teaching and learning, cMOOCs ask participants to blog and comment on other participants’ blogs. These blog posts are then shared through a daily newsletter for further discussion and communication.

Some connectivist, cMOOC, principles include: learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions; learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources; learning may reside in non-human appliances; learning is more critical than knowing. [49] While connectivism has its critics, it was due to the connectivist research and the testing of its implications through a connectivist course that some of the first MOOCs were developed. The term was first coined in 2008 during a course on “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” which included over 2,300 participants, including 25 tuition paying students from the University of Manitoba. These first cMOOCs did not include a test or evaluation component. cMOOCs also emphasized the use of Open Educational Resources (OER).

xMOOCs have focused more on being “open” in the sense of openly accessible and not on the use of remixable, reusable resources. They have grown so quickly, with some courses enrolling over 100,000 students, and shared so many interesting subjects with the world, that some professors and administrators could not overlook their potential impact. Sebastian Thrun, a then tenured faculty member at Stanford and head of the X Lab at Google, felt so strongly about the revolutionary potential of these courses that he abandoned his tenured post to focus more on creating Udacity, an online platform for open courses which has focused primarily on computer science and engineering courses. [50] Venture capital has bankrolled various MOOC projects, and since then, Coursera has become the most popular xMOOC platform, with over 300 courses and over 2.7 million students already enrolled. [51] [52] With a motivated team, momentum and funding, these platforms are likely to continue to grow rapidly. It is also increasingly possible for individuals to set up their own MOOCs. Coursera already offers course in various languages and from universities in various parts of the world, including 62 universities and 13 countries.

The impact of xMOOCs and the potential they have as a disruptive technology has increased their importance and the attracted interest in e-learning among university administrations. Many universities are now experimenting or considering experimenting with these courses, joining the MOOC madness in order not to be left behind this change.

Improving MOOCs and their Future

MOOCs in their current state are promising but they are also expensive and they are yet to generate revenue. There are also still concerns about quality and assessment. Yet much of the fear and hype around xMOOCs stems from concerns about lowering education quality, furthering the commercialization of education and a general fear of change. [53] [54] While academia has maintained many of its traditions over time, the disruptive capacity of the internet and ubiquitous and cheaper information communication technologies (ICT) could impact the university in the same way wiki technologies, through Wikipedia, impacted encyclopedia Britannica. [55] [56] MOOCs are also redefining the library of the 21st century, as more individuals increasingly access digital copies of academic articles and ebooks through their tablets and ereaders. [57] [58] [59]

With online education studies demonstrating that online education can be as, or more, effective than face to face education in helping students master content, it will be interesting to see what current graduate and undergraduate students think about completing MOOCs in comparison to the courses they are currently taking for credit at their institutions. With many initial MOOCs having taken place simultaneously to F2F versions of the course, early results are promising. Yet, even if MOOCs have or will have the same quality in terms of content retention and application, what about the intangibles of a college education, the football games, and the personal experiences that students remember after completing their college years? What of college as a traditional American experience? Well, in many ways, while today students are expected to go to college, the idea of college as a rite of passage for all youth is a recent development. It is only recently that many individuals wait until their early to late 20s and sometimes 30s to begin their professional careers. Even then, students may graduate without professional experience. For this reason MOOCs should not focus solely on content, but like DS106 and various other MOOCs, they could focus on creating a product, or completing a task that could help showcase a student’s work to a future employer. [60] [61] Various MOOCs include project-based learning, but few are centered around problems. Later on in this paper I will discuss why Problem-solving MOOCs may be a welcome variation to the MOOC typology.

When thinking of the holistic, liberal arts education, it is important to highlight that education is not all about mastering content but also about making professional connections and discovering one’s personal preferences. [62] [63] [64] “Liberal arts are those subjects or skills that, in classical antiquity, were considered essential for a free person (a citizen) to know in order to take an active part in civic life. In Ancient Greece this included participating in public debate, defending oneself in court, serving on juries, and most importantly, military service (slaves and resident aliens were by definition excluded from the duties and responsibilities of citizenship).” [65] Formal education was therefore much more than content, and focused on forming citizens that have learned how to learn, including the critical thinking skills needed to solve most problems, and the ability to make good judgments. Neil Postman’s book “Everything I learned I learned in kindergarten” highlights that there are various other elements to a person’s education in addition to content mastery. While these skills can be learned in other settings, as universities move away from an emphasis on content, there should be a move towards greater attention to student advising and mentoring. [66] [67] [68]

MOOCs also raise the question of what students are paying for. Many students feel that they should not be paying for access to content as high quality content is increasingly available to anyone with a computer and internet connection and, eventually, a mobile phone. Instead of concentrating on content, brick and mortar institutions can focus on making sure that students do not fall through the cracks, that students have the support needed to surmount the challenges they may face in completing high school and an undergraduate degree. The achievement gap locally and the global lack of access to higher education are concerns that can be partly addressed through MOOCs. A MOOC can also serve as supplementary material for students. Working to decreasing the level of attrition in MOOCs will help to further legitimize MOOCs as a viable alternative for learners. The more alternatives there are, the more likely that a student will find the system that works best for him. Increasingly learners may separate the need to access information or content from the benefits of good facilitation and guidance. Developing a personal connection with a student and advising them requires a personal involvement and time, and concern for students. If more high quality information is accessible, perhaps universities should focus more on supporting their students’ non-content related needs, becoming, in a sense, a “flipped” university. [69] [70]

A university may be able to increasingly provide, not content but improved explanations, enhanced scaffolding, extensive mentoring, better preparation for the job market, and projects that are applied and influence the world around them. With xMOOCs and cMOOCs, along with TED Talks, RSA Animate, Khan Academy, YouTube Edu, Wikipedia, Gutenberg Project, Flat World Knowledge, along many other educational sites, content is increasingly available online and production of digital educational content will continue to increase at a very rapid rate. Just on YouTube alone over 72 hours of video are uploaded every minute. [71] Even if many online resources are of low quality, over time there should be enough high quality content freely available in most subjects to not simply have one Salman Khan but hundreds or thousands of online tutors, all of which have the potential to most effectively reach a particular student. Sophia.org and other platforms have promoted this concept. As long as the materials are released under a license that permits redistribution, these resources will be available online indefinitely. Some OER memes will be replicated and used much more than others, increasing their visibility, and the visibility of the ideas of its authors, increasing how long they will be easy to locate on the internet.

In addition to MOOCs, Code Academy, P2PU, Saylor, and many other initiatives are similar to current MOOC platforms but they may lack tutors or teaching assistants and every student may be completing the course on their own schedule. With individuals having different learning modalities, it is encouraging to see a large number of educational technology start ups exploring online learning and its future. Future MOOCs will be available for users on different platforms. As with different operating systems, different transportation systems, and other choices, which online learning system and what types of learning objects are best will vary from student to student. Technology adoption and which technologies become invisible over time is relevant to the context and the preferences of the learner. For youth today, the internet, mobile technologies, and online learning will not be new technologies. Just as Socrates had reservations against writing down information, many of those who fear some of the changes that MOOCs may bring to society are ignoring the fact that individual minds are malleable and that the way in which the children of tomorrow will relate with the world will be different to how we relate to the world today. [72] [73]

Similar to MOOCs many online open platforms have low completion rates as they rely on self-motivated individuals. [74] [75] [76] Because of their emphasis on self-motivation, MOOC participants sometimes complete them for professional development, to refresh their knowledge, and may increasingly do so as CEUs or as a job requirement, but it is very easy to become distracted with other endeavors as there are no costs to dropping out or not participating. [77] [78] Not offering credits, or a proven way in which they can increase course participants’ value in the job market, MOOCs are currently being overlooked by individuals who will later be interested in participating. As was the case with Ning, it is expected that MOOCs will eventually experiment with charging small fees for different benefits, starting with the costs of evaluation. [79] [80] [81]

An Extended Typology of MOOCs

While many universities include, within their objectives, the importance of contributing to their state, the importance of service, advising, and of helping students become better professionals, the pressure to publish, to secure grants and to conduct groundbreaking research can stress and limit the time available to instructors to spend in advising, teaching or in ensuring that students are completing their educational requirements. [82] [83] By having more resources available online faculty can devote more time to other needs of students. While for students there is currently pressure to succeed to avoid losing thousands of dollars during their higher education studies, by contrast MOOCs have no cost to students or guarantee any benefit that may result in a better employment in the future. If access remains low in cost, and content is increasingly available everywhere, perhaps a greater focus should be given to advising, mentoring, and preparing students for the market. MOOCs and increased access to information can greatly benefit everyone but it may require a shifted focus from content delivery to flipped classrooms and other forms of support for students. [84] [85] [86] [87] Moreover, MOOCs will increasingly improve and geographical location may play a role in some MOOCs as well as extension projects as some universities look for ways in which to comply with their land grant mission through the use of MOOCs. [88] [89] All of the ways MOOCs may change are difficult to account for, but through experimentation new types of MOOCs are likely to follow. While cMOOCs and xMOOCs are very different from each other, there may be oMOOCs, gMOOCs, pMOOCs, and many other types of MOOCs in the future. [90] [91] [92] [93]


A broader list including different types of MOOCs has been shared by Curtis Bonk. These twenty or so types of MOOCs include “types, targets and intents of MOOCs”, and many of them can be included within the same MOOC. These types of MOOCs illustrate the potential of having large-scale courses that anyone can access widely available. Unlike a regular course within an academic program, these courses can generate richer discussions, can allow individuals anywhere in the world and with different skill levels to contribute, and can reduce the barriers to participating in formal higher education. The pressure they are likely to create could help increase competition, increase options for some students, and over time address some of the concerns constituted within Baumol’s Cost Disease [94] [95] [96] For over a decade experiments such as Open Learning Initiative by Carnegie Mellon have looked for ways in which to make different types of courses available to the world. We may be increasingly close to that tipping point where businesses, theories, experiments, and religious groups, among many other objectives will be pursued through the use of MOOCs. A few well designed new tools, LMS, or increased access to more powerful computing devices and apps that facilitate the formation of personalized learning environment (PLE) may aid in helping anyone create a MOOC and reach potential participants. Facebook’s Graph Search, among other tools, could be used to effectively find potential learners. Bonk’s list of MOOCs share a good number of possibilities but ,with some imagination, we can brainstorm many more.

1 – Alternative Admissions Systems of Hiring System MOOCs

2 – Just-in-Time Skills and Competencies MOOCs

3 – Theory or Trend-Driven MOOCs

4 – Professional Development (PD) (Practical) MOOCs

5. Loss Leader (Dip Toe In Water) MOOCs

6. Bait and Switch MOOCs

7. Experimental MOOCs

8. Degree or Program Qualifier or System Bottleneck MOOCs

9. Personality MOOCs

10. Name Branding MOOCs

11. Goodwill MOOCs

12. Interdisciplinary MOOCs

13. Recruiting MOOCs

14. Marketing MOOCs

15. Conference MOOCs

16. Learning Room MOOCs

17. Religious Revival MOOCs

18. Rotating MOOCs

19. Repeatable MOOCs

20. Reusable MOOCs


In addition to this list, which I recommend further exploring through Bonk’s blog, I would like to go a step further by recommending a particular type of MOOC that would be beneficial for students as a MOOC laboratory with an emphasis in collaborative problem-solving. [97] [98] While some MOOCs have promoted project-based learning and even provided funding for some of the ideas developed within them, including Paul Kim’s MOOC, this has not been the focus of many MOOCs and a greater emphasis in the potential for MOOCs to create should be emphasized. [99] MOOCs can be ideal spaces for idea generation, collaboration, and for solving community or grand challenges. [100] pMOOCs or Problem-solving MOOCs as these MOOCs could be called, have the possibility of incorporating some of the strengths of idea generation and crowdsourcing such as http://ideacompetition.org/, http://changemakers.com/, http://openideo.com/, http://kickstarter.com/, http://indiegogo.com/, http://ideastorm.com/, https://ideasproject.com/, https://wbchallenge.imaginatik.com/, http://www.innocentive.com/, among others.

In addition to different forms of assessment, MOOCs, like regular courses, can and do include varying lengths and difficulty levels. Some MOOCs could take place only over a weekend as do some F2F courses and still provide academic credit, a certificate, badges, or some form of credential. MOOCs may include different goals, different delivery mechanisms and pedagogy. Some MOOCs could potentially leverage the geographical location of an institution. As there are within F2F higher education institution project-based, service-learning, experiential learning, research oriented, frequent assessment oriented, and courses that are primarily discussions, why can there not be an equally diverse landscape of MOOCs? Haven taken all of these types of courses for credit, with different assessment preferences, why are MOOCs standardized utilized primarily automated grading, peer-review or individual reflections. Why are some of them not functioning as innovation labs and why are they not utilizing crowdsourcing to solve problems? [101] [102] [103] Coursolve.org is one an example of a platform that is being developed to accomplish parts of this goal and create MOOCs that solve problems. However, greater capital and support should be invested for these courses to have a higher rate of success.

A Template for a Collaborative Problem-Solving MOOC

There could be many types of problem-solving MOOCs of different lengths and with different objectives. Problems can be large or small, and depending on the funding available through the course, a greater or smaller number of participants may be interested in being a part of it. These courses may also benefit from lasting only a short amount of time and being an intense challenge with clear stages for completing the shared readings or viewing different videos, a stage for group formation and for initial idea proposal to be shared, and then for the idea to be further developed into a proposal. Potentially the MOOC could then share updates with all of the community as the project continue. The frame for these pMOOCs may also depend on the request of the funding agencies.

In the same way that this paper discusses additional types of MOOCs should be considered, so should different arrangements for a pMOOCs. The template proposed in here is based on the work of the Center for Integrative Leadership (leadership.umn.edu) and their integrative leadership-based forums. By integrative leadership pMOOCs promote the importance of addressing Grand Challenges and the tenets of integrative leadership (http://www.leadership.umn.edu/what_is_cil/what_is_cil.html)

“Grand Challenges have significant consequences for the well-being of societies. They are novel, emergent, highly complex, and beyond the resources or knowledge of a single discipline, organization, or sector to address. Grand challenges do not lend themselves to simple or technical solutions. Single-sector actions to address these challenges often precipitate unanticipated and unintended consequences. Grand challenges are sometimes described in the literature as wicked problems or social messes”. [104]

From 2012 to 2015 – CIL will focus in addressing the following Grand Challenges:

• Regional economic and social vitality.

• Healthy development and educational achievement.

• Global food safety and food security.

• Post-secondary education’s role in society.

By adopting the elements of the Finding Common Ground (FCG) forums to pMOOCs, the University of Minnesota could help highlight some important elements that could be considered in problem-solving MOOCs. FCG forums emphasize the importance of collaboration through the use of art of hosting, world cafe, polarization mapping, idea generation, among other techniques which can help to discuss a topic with diverse stakeholders, even if there are large disagreements in their approaches, and identify shared concerns that can be collaboratively addressed. [105] [106] [107]

The Center for Integrative Leadership at the University of Minnesota emphasizes the importance of solving challenges through dialog, levering opportunities and collaborating across differences. at the University of Minnesota, CIL works across departments and with different student groups to address community problems and provide leadership training to student groups. Increasing cross-boundary opportunities, and working across boundaries can help in the generation of better ideas, one of the strengths of crowdsourcing and crowd-accelerated innovation. [108] [109]

Over the past years the results of the FCG forums have been very positive. These forums have been held to discuss topics such as “Improving Animal and Worker Health and Welfare”, “Ensuring Food Safety, Whose Responsibility”, “The Use of Antibiotics in Agriculture”, among others [110] [111] [112] [113] . These events bring together individuals and groups with opposing viewpoints, such as gun control and gun right activists, into the same space to brainstorm solutions. By bringing individuals with contrasting viewpoints together there is a greater likelihood that different concerns are addressed and for propositions to be more holistic.

CIL techniques rely on finding different ways by which to discuss and better understanding complex challenges by framing these wicked problems not as problems that can be easily solved but situations that should be effectively managed. A way to illustrate the difference between managing a complex situation in contrast to solving a problem is by thinking of the difference between catching a baseball out in the outfield to juggling 3 or more balls in the air. When a baseball is caught the problem is solved, yet, when one juggles, one manages a situation or polarity, but the moment one stop juggling, the system stops working. Many of the wicked problems or grand challenges faced by society, such as global warming, pollution, costs of education, gun policy, welfare payments, and many others challenges include many stakeholders. Through collaboration with these stakeholders it might be easier to come up with the best possible solutions. CIL currently invite a few key stakeholders to FCG forums. Unfortunately, due to capacity limitations, many are unable to join in the discussion. By bringing these discussions online, individuals that were previously unable to join, many be able to participate and contribute through their expertise.

After various activities and rounds of conversation, FCG participants are eventually asked to brainstorm solutions to problems and participate in a grant competition. InCommons.org was a platform that was created with the purpose of organizing competitions around problems for funding that recently closed due to limited success, but the solving of problems through crowdsourcing has been successful in various other platforms and situations. [114] [115] [116] There are many remaining platforms with a similar objective. However, most of them are not courses but rather idea competitions. pMOOCs add to the posibilities for open innovation and crowdsourced innovation but include within them a course component. The course component would be helpful in framing the discussion. pMOOCs would provide an initial discussion space to help participants understand different points of view on an issue and the complexity of the problem at hand before trying to address it and compete for prizes. In this sense, participants would go from learning about a subject, sharing their ideas on the subject and discussing it, before looking for ways to address these challenges collaborative. Individual proposals could also be submitted but one of the benefits of the pMOOCs would be to allow for creative and capable teams to assemble.

Any participant would be able to join the MOOC as they would all first learn more about the problem, and then share how they believe the problem could be addressed. As a course, it would provide individuals with an experiential learning experience while they would also meet other individuals from different departments who may share an interest in the same topic. Other elements that form parts of the different types of MOOCs shared by Bonk could also be included. Concerns that impact land grant institutions or communities could potentially be addressed by these MOOCs. At the University of Minnesota, pMOOCs could address community problems and, through concentric circles of influence, discuss a topic that affects a broader group encouraging the broader community to participate. Because they can be framed to address a community or societal problem, these courses will benefit from being open, and massive. pMOOCs would potentially be shorter MOOCs in terms of content with perhaps a greater portion of time given to the idea competition portion of the course. While many other formats of problem-solving MOOCs can be developed, yet this is a way in which the University of Minnesota could provide a space for this type of course.

While a few years ago these courses were not possible, it is important to be creative and understand that the limitations for the future of MOOCs are primarily in our imagination. If a particular technology is not available in a particular platform, it can and may eventually be included. What’s more, most of the elements to make pMOOCs take place are already available. Crowdsourcing platforms such as Kickstarter, Indigogo, InCommons, among many others, try to share ideas with a broader community and provide funding for the best ideas. Yet, they are not courses in that ideas are developed independently by groups of people and there is no common understanding of the problem beforehand. The elements that make FCG forums successful and the techniques applied by the CIL to solve grand challenges would help in making this platform a better learning experience and perhaps aid in the generation of even better ideas.

In addition, higher education institutions should harness the potential of having a very talented student body and encourage them to work in cross-departmental projects by promoting greater collaboration, idea generation, design thinking and problem-solving approaches. Listening to TED talks can help us become more familiar with brilliant ideas, but through pMOOCs we might be able to develop many more brilliant ideas and projects. These MOOC laboratories can more effectively harness the potential of crowdsourcing and being open. MOOCs can help solve problems and provide their participants various incentives, not only in the form of a certificate or a credit that pads their resume, but more importantly the potential to obtain access to capital and the potential for societal or community problem.

Paul Kim’s Designing a New Learning Environment MOOC from Stanford Venture Lab included the formation of groups, and over $20,000 was available for students to compete for and further develop their projects. This MOOC is a great example of a pMOOC, yet additional design thinking exercises could also be included. Concepts such as integrative leadership, polarity mapping, and collaborative problem-solving techniques can enhance these environments. MOOCs are a growing taxonomy and there will be many more types of MOOCs as we move forward. Not all MOOCs should include problem-solving elements or project-based learning but some should. MOOCs where individuals may compete for a grant at the end of the course could help encourage students to participate and stay in the course until it is completed. Other incentives, such as offering employment has also been tested. These are but a few examples of what will be possible with MOOCs in the future. If you believe that MOOCs as they are have problems, then we can work together to address them.

Current critiques of MOOCs downplay that MOOCs are an emerging technology that relies on multiple other emerging technologies, and that while some previous attempts at expanding online learning failed before as did AllLearn and Fhantom, even if this iteration of platforms and initiatives fail, another one will probably be just around the corner. [117] [118] [119] Various technologies that are currently in their infancy or second iterations will eventually reach a plateau of productivity. [120] New technologies also experience adoption challenges but they have improved consistently over time. [121] [122] [123] It is due to the unpredictability of the immediate future but the certainty in its direction that preparing for these changes and when possible investing in these changes can help improve the positioning of an organization while also aiding a particular technology to be more extensively adopted. Individuals and organizations have the potential to influence different versions of the future. In addition to Coursera, EdX, Udacity, various other platforms are already being developed for Europe, Australia, and for other languages.