Are platforms all the same?


Several major countries have their own MOOC platforms. Are they all the same?

My approach is to select a few representative MOOC platforms and review their structure. For each platform I chose a random course to review how the course design and platform design worked together.


Framework used

I reviewed three major areas: social relationship, epistemological beliefs and temporal perceptions.

Social relationship: teacher student power

There is one indication of power of teacher. In Chinese culture, teachers are usually seen as sage on the stage. Writing down what the sage says in the notes becomes a common learning practice. Therefore XuetangX (a Chinese MOOC platform) has a specific feature for students to share their study notes.

In terms of power of students, I used two indicators: is there an option for students to provide feedback to teachers? Are there venues to students to show their identities? Spanish language MiriadaX designed a course rating and review bottom. Two European platforms (FutureLearn and iversity) and one US platform (NovoEd) offer students to present their personal

Social relationship – student-to-student interaction

How collaborative learning is perceived? There are a few things to check on this dimension: is it possible to have peer review each other academically? Provide informal feedback such as likes and comments? Contact and connect each other directly? And how group work is reflected in the platform design?

The strongest platform for peer interaction is NovoEd of USA. The China XuetangX and German iversity are weakest in peer-to-peer collaboration.


Epistemological beliefs

In terms of what constitutes learning, FutureLearn platform demonstrates a very unique approach. When most other platforms offer only discussion forum, FutureLearn courses have discussion questions designed and embedded in each course design. It reflects a very UK approach when it comes to learning – the importance of guided debate.

Temporal perceptions

Is time to be managed? Should students monitor their progress? Both FutureLearn (UK) and NovoEd(US) offer students progress visualization tool so students can ‘see’ as their own learning journey towards set goals.


MOOC has been a global phenomenon, but how each country’s platform responded to it is different. The differences of how each platform is conceived and designed reflect how each assumes a ‘normal’ way of teaching and learning. We can better understand better how one culture of learning is by reviewing how one school of teaching is revealed online.

Speece (2012) suggested that ‘student who have particular learning styles are unlikely to choose a mode which does not fit their styles well’. Does it mean a German MOOC platform would accommodate German students best? And does it imply there will not be a truly global platform for all? Do culture shape platforms and platforms have no influence on learning and teaching culture? There are outstanding questions in need of further investigation.


  1. 12 March 2015. Definition Massive Open Online Courses. OpenupED website. Retrieved on 6 October 2016 via

  1. Parrish, P. & Linder-VanBerschot, J. A. (2010). Cultural Dimensions of Learning: Addressing the Challenges of Multicultural Instruction. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, retrieved from
  2. Salili, F., & Hoosain, R. (2007), Culture, motivation, and learning: A multicultural perspective. Charlotte, NC. Information Age Publishing.
  3. Speece, M. (2012). Learning Style, Culture and Delivery Mode in Online Distance Education. US-China Education Review, retrieved from

It made my year of Monkey


For the last two years, I have been sending research papers about MOOCs and online education to a group of around 300 academics, on a weekly basis. This becomes such a routine that I just set Tuesday night for this MOOC research newsletter. I named my newsletter MOOC big bang, attributing to one of my favourite TV show – Big Bang Theory. (Yeah I am nerdy)

Last Tuesday I was doing business as usual. I went home, did my newsletter and pressed my send button. What I totally forgot was it was the beginning of Chinese New Year, the Year of Monkey.

One professor replied to me ‘Wow, you are still working on your Bang during Chinese New Year! I have benefited so much from reading your newsletter from the whole year last year. Happy Chinese New Year!’

Not a bad beginning for my year of Monkey.


Perspective Taking


Last year when I was lectured by M about social learning, he introduced me the concept of perspective taking. That is to learn from taking perspectives from others. Nice idea, I thought.

This summer, I sat in a lecture to use MOOC course to teach international journalism. Students are from two countries at war and they need to work together for writing news together. This way, the students are encouraged institutionally to reflect how each side interpret the same event.

cat looking mirrorFor what is happening now in Hong Kong, I felt the urgency to use such education concept to show people the power of perspective taking. I have been reading social media posts from both sides. To be honest, there is a huge inconsistency so huge that it is shocking. I have been emphasising both sides are people, human like me and you. I agree that this is a complex situation but there must be common ground to be found.

Would Youtube model work for education?


Coursera announced its transformation into an on-demand learning platform. The idea is that when people want to learn something, they can log onto the education version of Youtube, where plenty of learning videos and in-video quiz are available any time.

Would this Youtube model work for education? Personally I love the idea of having a digital archive of learning materials, because I am hopelessly nerdy and I work in MOOC space. But for the majority of us, between consuming a funny cat video and consuming a lecture after dinner, which one do you choose?

We pay Netflix to watch TV shows online. We pay Youtube to watch movies online. (at least I did, one of my lowest point in life). Would we be equally attempted to pay to be taught online?

In the future, I hope the answer is yes and I know this will come from a limited percentage of the population. Learning takes heavier brain load, needs certain dedication and discipline, requires thinking to internalise information which hopefully changes our thinking paradigm if we allow ourselves some thinking and reflection time. It is hard and does not come naturally. We are humans, we are born to be lazy, undisciplined (at lease my nature says so).cat chips

Therefore there is still a lot of work to be done to create an environment where people consumer learning content as happily as they do with junk food and gossip newspaper.

Doraemon’s Magic Pocket


My good friend is pregnant and asked me how to spend her leisure time. My ex-colleague wanted to learn more about consumer psychology and behaviour. My cousin wants to switch his career into smart system in house decoration.

DoraemonWhat do I suggest? Take a MOOC course and learn about it. MOOC has become my Doraemon’s magic pocket. You have a question, check my MOOC pocket and find what suits you best.

My wish list is to tell everybody about it so that they have the tool to tackle their daily problems and objectives. My second wish list is to truly have the courses needed for them so they can find really valuable knowledge to be equipped at a relatively affordable expenses.

Sooner or later, every one will be a Doraemon itself!

Can videos replace textbooks?


I used to read hardcopy books. Then I switched to ebooks. Since I discovered tablet application to download videos, I started to do most of my learning by watching videos downloaded. 

It is super convenient, I can do it any time anywhere. (Recently I spent quite some time in hospital. While my mother was receiving her drip dIffusion, I was sitting next to her listening to videos about online learning). It is also a great way to use my ears more than to use my eyes. My eyesights got worse facing computer screen for long so it is good for a change.

cat-using-ipad-jpgWould videos replace textbooks? Maybe not now as there are still some drawbacks using videos as a tool to absorb information. As a user, I also started to write a few things I wish were there to support my audio learning. 

I wish there is a tool for me to take notes and form a mind map when listening to these videos. Many times I felt really enlightened and wish I had a pen to sketch it down, to represent my learning in a larger knowledge map.

I could not focus on a video more than 20 minutes even though I am really interested in the subject. Some of the videos about MOOCs are recordings of conferences and span 80 minutes. I admired the conference audience sitting in the room for so long without a break. I myself, as someone watching it from my tablet, can never last longer than 20 minutes. I wish these videos were shorter, modularised and indexed. 

I also wish there was a search function for these videos. Just as there is a search function for ebooks so I can quickly jump to the chapter I am particularly keen to read. 

Hope some entrepreneurial minds spot the opportunities here and make a go!

When life gets harder, keep paddling


Sentence of the day – When life gets harder, keep paddling. 

cat swimmingI do remember my paddling days. Going to Stanley Beach every Sunday for two hours training on the sea. We had such a great team that giving up was never an idea even conceived. It was amazing how this training transformed my physical shape and my mental world. Looking back, that beautiful experience taught me great deal of persistence.

I was talking with a few friends last night about the topic persistence. K told me when he interviews people, he usually asks if the candidates do sports and since when in order to get a sense of their persistence. To a greater extent, I agree his approach. 

Just keep going.