Comparing communities – The MOOC and Mumsnet

I have not long finished the Kozinets chapter entitiled ‘Understanding Culture Online’, Netnography: doing ethnographic research online‘ and found it very easy to relate to some of the observations that he noted throughout his studies.

Over the past decade I have been a member of different online communities ranging from personal interests (such as football related forums) to work-related groups (such as user forums). Until completing the Kozinets chapter I hadn’t ever really stopped to think about the dynamic of each community and the types of relationships that members within them form.

“How deep, long-lasting, meaningful and intense are those relationships? Are these people considered to be merely somewhat-interesting strangers, or are they long term friends that are as close to the participant as anyone else in their life?” (Kozinets, 2010, p 32).

This quote has been ringing in my ears since I read it. For me, the answer to this question influences the formation of a community and the development of a natural synergy.

Anyway, whilst lying in bed the other evening I spent some time reading through my Twitter timeline and eventually went down the rabbit hole (randomly diving into random conversation threads without any clear idea of where I was going) and stumbled on a link to a conversation thread on a parenting community called Mumsnet. In this thread there were several parents debating their opinion of a particular topic started by a current member. As the debate went on people were challenging, agreeing, disagreeing, dismissing, and praising each other based on their contributions to the thread. There was a level of interaction that allowed other members to consider changing their own opinion or forming new ones based on the experience and opinions of others.

In contrasting the Mumsnet community with the ‘Internet of Things’ MOOC community the difference is immediately noticeable despite having striking similarities. Both communities make use of discussion forums and both forums take a Q and A approach. In Mumsnet, a member asks a question and peers reply. In the MOOC the tutor asks a question and the students reply. Yet there is a distinct lack of interaction in the MOOC.

Could this be because of the reason that people join these communities?

When considering virtual worlds, Kozinets (2010) suggests that they are “structured so that social intercourse is the primary pursuit and objective” and that communities will therefore naturally form through discussion and interaction. However, a MOOC’s primary pursuit and objective, it could be argued, is personal interest and gain where social interaction plays a lesser role. Maybe this is the reason I am noticing such differences despite their similarities.

This is something that I will definitely be considering when conducting my micro-ethnography.


Kozinets, R. V. (2010). Understanding Culture Online. In Netnography: doing ethnographic research online. (London, Sage): pp. 21-40.

I’ll leave you with these (rather humerous) observations of the Mumsnet community that I sourced from Twitter:

Twitter comments
Twitter comments


What makes a MOOC massive?

What exactly makes a MOOC massive?

By default I have always considered a MOOC to be massive based purely upon the large number of participants enrolling on a course. However I hadn’t really considered that it could be massive in terms of the large geographical distances that separate each student. Or perhaps the size of the course. Maybe it could be a mix of all three.

I read this short piece by Downes (2013) – a online learning researcher – who offered his thoughts:

“I’ve been asked this a few times recently, so I thought I should expend a few paragraphs describing the difference between online courses that are and are not ‘massive’. I argue, first, that it’s not the raw count of participants that’s important, but how the course is structured. It’s not simply a big course. Then given that caveat I go on to explain that a course needs 150 active participants to be thought of as ‘massive’ – this because 150 people – Dunbar’s Number – is more than any one person can attend to, and hence is a course that will resist groupish properties (such as an emphasis on sameness rather than diversity).”

I made this post in the hope that the #mscedc group could discuss their thoughts. I would, therefore, welcome any comments from my peers.

UPDATE (16th Feb 2017) – I posted this entry prior to starting the Stewart (2013) reading. I have just noticed Stewart defines “Massive” in the context of the MOOC.


Downes, S. (2013). What makes a MOOC massive? Retrieved: 15 February 2017.

Stewart, B. (2013). Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation? Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 9(2): pp. 228-238.


‘The Internet of Things MOOC’ – First Impressions

I tweeted earlier this week that I had registered and joined by first ever MOOC. Having spent a short while investigating my options I decided on ‘The Internet of Things‘ delivered by King’s College London via FutureLearn.

I have been aware of the idea of the MOOC for some time but for one reason or another never quite got round to trying it for myself. I also recall a reading from the IDEL course (I’m still trying to find it) highlighting that MOOCs have a very low completion rate as people dip in and out of the course to learn about specific topics rather than bother with the full course in its entirety.

Anyway, my first impressions were quite good. I immediately thought that the FutureLearn resource could easily be described as a Learning Management System (LMS)/Social Networking Site (SNS) hybrid. On one side of my screen was the course content and on the other was a comments log with striking similarities to Facebook (comments, likes etc).

Though I am not actively participating in the MOOC but instead observing from a distance, I noticed some course characteristics that I could relate to Lister et al (2009) when he considers the construction of self. In writing about the construction of identities in CMC and post-structuralism, Lister suggests that “identity is constructed through discourse”.  Throughout the first week of my MOOC there has certainly been a considerable amount of students leaving questions and comments on the topics described by the tutor. However, of the 607 students who have left comment I have yet to see any replies or further conversation or discussion. I would best describe it as digital cacophony.

I’ll stress again that it is only Week 1 of the course and perhaps things may change as we progress. However it is hard to imaging an effective learning community forming based on what I have witnessed so far. I have completed my profile and posted to the discussion thread. I am there, I am participating, yet I feel largely anonymous.

Perhaps my observations are a result of the influence of Web 2.0. There is evidence of newer web media and formats similar to popular online services within my MOOC and the participants seem to be displaying behaviours that are typical of social networking (use of emojis, word abbreviations etc). It could also explain the dip in/dip out approach that I mentioned earlier.

Finally, my MOOC certainly seems to be connecting large volumes of people from a large number of countries throughout the world. It will be interesting to observe their differing experience and knowledge of the “Internet of Things”. I will certainly be looking for further evidence of the “digital divide” partly caused by geographical and economical differences that Lister et al (2009) describes.


Lister, M., Dovey, J., Giddings, S., Kelly, K. (2009). Networks, users and economics. In New media: a critical introduction. M. Lister (Eds.) (London, Routledge): pp. 163-236.