Photo by Steve Huntington / Unsplash

It is completely admirable to watch the way MOOCs are evolving. In the first wave the pressing challenge was to get content online (welcome to the recorded lecture) and to automate assessment (welcome to the world of quiz)! By 2014, the education reporter Justin Pope was noting that “for all the hype, MOOCs are really just content – the latest iteration of the textbook”. And dull textbooks at that. These online courses were designed in small content ‘chunks’, stripped to the bone so as not to overwhelm the working memory nor overload the mind’s capacity for processing information.

Sooner, rather than later, we saw the inevitable reaction to this relentless tedium. The calls for MOOCs to embrace the design principles of active learning meant “MOOC-ing” became dynamic; students were now blogging, fish-bowling, ice breaking, concept boarding, virtually collaborating, and even simulating and role playing. It was a good thing too–unsettling those all-too-familiar passive learning approaches where knowledge is poured like molten lead from the ‘big jug into the little mug’.

So, exciting… but not everything needs to be learned from scratch.

Since 2015, one suburb of MOOCville has been designing for active learning, all the while following a master plan set by the abiding principles of Arts Education. I am not talking about faddish ornaments of opinion here, but rather to a rich and unbroken line of thought from Immanuel Kant through to Arthur Schopenhauer, Ernst Cassirer, Suzanne Langer, John Dewey, Howard Gardner, Ken Robinson, Peter Abbs and Maxine Greene. This rich and multi-layered philosophical tradition has been given practical shape over the centuries through face-to-face action in the mess of the studio or sweat of the rehearsal room; in places a long way from the screens which mediate MOOC experiences.

But the question arises: do the precepts of arts education hold value for contemporary online pedagogy? Should we wait for virtual reality and the holodeck to become ubiquitous and real enough to replicate the studio before we engage the arts online?

Of course not.

Indeed there is plenty to suggest that many prevailing approaches to online learning design desperately need to be nourished by the arts-led tradition of education. This has been confirmed by experimentation at Kadenze, Inc. a company which, from the outset, has specialised in bringing the arts and artful creativity online. In developing what is known as ‘the Kadenze Approach’, our researchers, instructional designers, and teachers have distilled eight effects that an artful approach to creativity will include.

Recently I discussed the first two of these effects, the creation effect and the narrative effect, with musician Sarah Reid, Kadenze’s Director of Business Development.