Are there any laws for open participation?

Now I am writing about a topic which I hardly understand myself. Let’s begin with a story. When the course CCK08 was ending and I told in Finland that 20 students were commenting at the end of the course, I got a quick comment from a network expert: it is the 1-9-90 principle. I did not believe any principles, I thought it was a coincidence (2000 registered, 200 active, 2o at the end commenting and 2 stars). After that I have found that principle many times. What should I understand about it?

I have tried to understand the different ways, which participants use in their web life. Digital natives are born to it, immigrants have to learn (Prensky/never liked this ). Digital residents live and have social connections in the web, visitors use the web for certain purposes (David White/liked very much). There are more definitions and I have a blog post about lurkers, networkers, active participants etc. here

All those concepts tell something about living and participation in the web. But is it really so, that the Pareto law (1-9-90) , Power law knows the distribution about free and open web life, for instance MOOCs? I have an image which demonstrates my ideas.


My experiences have proved that the number of active people is always very small and the participation curve goes down very fast.

It is said to be ‘not scalable’ and it is the opposite of random, which gives us the Gauss bell form. ‘Not scalable’ is more random than random?

Today I met this phenomenon in fslt13, when I tried to analyze the actions of students and facilitators in the Moodle.

When I discussed with a Finnish expert Erkka Peitso (the image is based on his presentation), he explained that it is the resources which are limited. People do not have time and other resources for all the interests, which they dream of. This seems to be true in MOOCs. It can be described as a tunnel which becomes narrower all the time. Doug Clow has a blog post about this funnel. It is a presentation from LAK13 – I have to take time to read them all.

Another image which can help to understand is taken in Change11, Howard Rheingold speaking in a collaborate session.

rheingoldHe knows what he is speaking about. The concepts of collaborative or collective intelligence are challenging, but the participation curve takes the form of the power law. High engagement with a community is rare. There is Core and Periphery, I can’t help ๐Ÿ™‚

When we have a course with participants who aim to the university credits and only a small number of free moocers, the core group consists of teachers and these ‘real’ย  students. Time will tell. We have some weeks left in fslt13. Actually Doug Clow claims that “it is not power law”. We should explore the process and don’t believe in simple laws. As I said, I don’t know what to think about this post.

We have an interesting experiment about using expert participants, exploring what we can do… are we helpful or more harmful?


10 thoughts on “Are there any laws for open participation?

  1. Hi Heli – thanks for this interesting post and for the references and links, particularly to Doug Clow’s work and paper.

    I am interested in your observation about FSLT13. How do you think what you have observed compares with FSLT12? A number of changes have been made in this year’s version, e.g. there is a fee for those wanting to be assessed for credit, expert participants have been invited to work alongside the team and provide participants with support, some of the content has been changed, e.g. this week’s virtual conference, and the microteaching sessions have been organised differently.

    Do you think the level of participation is higher, lower or about the same as last year? If there is a difference then it would be interesting to explore whether it is the changes to the course that have made the difference, or simply that it’s a different cohort of participants, or that now there are so many MOOCs to choose from that it’s difficult for people to focus – or a host of other reasons.

    What do you think?

  2. Hi Jenny,
    I agree that Doug’s post is interesting. I remember him from LAK11, which I followed at home. I looked his slides afterwards and noticed that he repeats “it is not a power law”. As I said, I am not sure about that part of my post. What is that law actually, I don’t like it ๐Ÿ™‚

    Fslt13 questions are not easy to answer. I wrote about it in the Moodle discussion forum for expert participants, I suppose you can read it there. I got one comment from Pat already.
    I have no numbers from fslt12 but a feeling of lower participation generally. Some expert participants talk to each other and the teachers, I don’t know how interesting it is to others.

    The microteaching sessions and virtual webinars seem to be closed – only one or two discussion forums are open.

    The roles of expert participants can be analyzed and it is going on, Scott says he is a helper and so he is. I have to define mine, thanks for helping in it.
    Opportunity to learn, it is fine! I came back to my computer to write this, I thought if you are busy tomorrow. I am not busy any more or I was one week when I got my grandchildren here. Now they have left back to Helsinki

  3. Hi Heli, this is an interesting problem. I wonder if there is a curve of understanding on how to measure something new and we don’t yet know what characteristics are the meaningful ones so our results don’t make sense to us? In quantum physics, as in many sciences and studies, there must have been a time when not knowing what you are seeing made it very difficult to measure what was nonetheless there, and the problem / answer would change day by day.

    We measure by what we suppose something is. If we assume MOOCs are related to education then we would worry about participation drop off, completion rates, silence in discussion areas and etc. What if MOOC populations were not like regular school populations? Under normal conditions the students who populate any particular class are selected by a large number of characteristics: right age for the level; speak the language sufficiently well; live in the neighborhood / country / continent of the school; are compelled to be there by law; expected to be there by parents, the school and the teachers so they have supports in place and are participating in a known and normal activity that is not questioned or restricted; and on the list goes.

    In a MOOC many of these expectations are washed away by still unknown characteristics of openness or relaxation of restrictions that have developed over the centuries within the institutionalized education system. Participants are only limited by access to a computer and an active interest as the moment they register and have no other “historical” characteristics than this interest that was genuine but temporary (the curiosity Erkka Peitso may be seeing in network visitors). (What if we classify MOOC participants as intellectual tourists that sail in, visit and mingle and then most leave for the next port? or Visitors to the library who come by, browse and leave–were these people not committed to books and reading or don’t have the characteristics of devoted readers or disliked the librarian?:-) To me, there is a great amount of the unexpected we would expect in something new but being humans we are compelled to at least name it even if we can’t understand it. Having a name for it then of course means we understand it? “Theories are good, but they don’t preclude things from being what they are” Charcot

    Have you read “Building Out into the Dark: Theory and Observation in Science and Psychoanalysis” by Robert Caper? This is my favorite book at the moment because it allows that we don’t have answers for everything.

  4. Hi Scott,
    I have been pondering many times the same question: who are the moocers and why they use moocs? I tried to say in my post that the moocers are a not scalable population and it is different from random, which produces the bell curve (schools, universities).
    The people who come to MOOC studies, must have some motive to do so. The motive may be curiosity or political “make the world better” or find something useful for one’s career. It may be whatever, really.

    We know that the greatest problem is lack of time. Every research since Antonio Fini’s questionnaire 2008 (CCK08) has got this same result. It gets me to ponder if the participation curve is potency law or power law or Pareto 1-9-90. Many network experts have made this hypothesis but is it true I do not know.

    Fslt courses are more like university studies and less like open moocs, even fslt content is open. The aim to help everyone in his/her studies does not belong to the mooc culture, where autonomy and self-regulation are expected.
    MOOC is a sandwich board or party or library as you said. Now I got it: fslt is more a library than a party?

  5. Hi Heli – thanks for your comments
    > I have no numbers from fslt12 but a feeling of lower participation generally.
    Yes – this is how it appears to me too, although there has been quite a lot of discussion about lecturing. I was away that week, so I missed most of that.

    >The microteaching sessions and virtual webinars seem to be closed โ€“ only one or two discussion forums are open.
    Yes – I agree with this and think it’s a real shame in relation to the microteaching sessions. Although the schedules have been posted – there is no information about them, so it’s difficult to know whether or not to turn up for them and there are no recordings posted.
    One of the best things about FSLT12 was the microteaching sessions, but they were run in the normal webinar format, i.e. they followed the pattern of the course and so were easier to access.

    And Yes I can access the ‘expert’ participant’s forum and I have just made a couple of posts there, but I find it uncomfortable to have a significant number of people engaged in the MOOC communicating in a closed forum in what is advertised as an open course. I have to say though that the discussions in the experts’ forum are equally as engaging as in the open forums.

    So all in all, I agree with you that the course feels more closed this year, there appears to be less participation overall, and the focus appears to be on the assessed participants, from my perspective. Is this the difference between an open course and a MOOC?

  6. Dear Heli, Jenny and Scott

    Hello! I am one of the “browsers” (Salmon 2011) – much preferable to “lurkers”! (Bax 2010).

    I lecture in law at the Law School, University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia. All our courses are delivered face to face with limited online posting of resources and the occasional e-tivity.

    I have just completed the UNSW Graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching (also F2F – is that the correct abbreviation?). I did an extra module, delivered in a more blended style, on supervising work placements as part of a degree. It wasn’t a great learning format for me, and the explosion in media coverage of MOOC’s led me to believe there were much better methods of e-learning out there.

    I saw info about your course in an email from the Times higher education subscription and was so excited! What better place to learn how to/what to/why/ of e-learning than from a group of e-educators teaching and learning about e-education!

    However, I have been very intermittent in my engagement, not for want of enthusiasm, but rather for want of time and because of inexperience in the e-learning environment. It is a maze for the novice. For example, I have no idea why when I logged on, this page came up, or where i am in the virtual landcape of this class, but serendipitously this blog seemed exactly to the point, thankyou Heli.

    I have been extremely fortunate in accidentally stumbling upon Gilly Salmon’s 3rd edition of “emoder@ting” in our uni bookshop sale last week. I have been devouring it, and I find her 5 stage model as a meta-explanation of where I am and what I am facing fits like a glove (Salmon 201, Ch 2 “A model for collaborative on-line learning”).

    I have followed the required task instructions, but not completed them, so please consider this a combined introduction / bibliographic recommendation / course feedback.

    I finish teaching F2F this week, so hope to have time to explore this course more fully before it closes. Can you add me to the reminder list for next year’s course, if you have one? I notice that others have taken more than one try to complete this course, and Salmon has reassured me that this is normal for elearning novices.

    My aim is to become proficient in e-delivery and to use my 20 years of expertise in legal education to provide legal education to the wider community.

    Thankyou so much for providing this course, it answers my prayers for an opportunity to learn more about what I love without the inconvenience of cost and travel and unbreakable commitment and deadlines.

    Please accept this post as my way of giving you back something useful in order to express my gratitude.

    Yours collegiately,

    Charlotte Steer

    • Dear Charlotte,
      thanks for writing your thoughts to us. Now I remember the first year as an online-teacher, it was real mess. It takes time to comprehend the places of learning environment, where you are and why. I think that my fingers have to learn the ways, so it goes automatic, without conscious consideration. It is a long way to learn. I had forgotten it, so thanks for reminding.

      In every MOOC many people are dropping out for these reasons. It is a usual part of MOOC living, we are used to it.

      This blog can be seen on the fslt course sites, because they have a list of blogs, which deal with course questions. I have given this blog to the list. I promise to tell the teachers and course designers this opinion of yours. It was worth writing, we’ll use it for learning to be facilitators.

      You wrote: “I have followed the required task instructions, but not completed them, so please consider this a combined introduction / bibliographic recommendation / course feedback.”
      You said that you have more time now, so why not to complete all parts. I have no rights to promise anything (I am extra help) but I can ask the teachers (See About the course> tutor team).

      Australia wakes up first, or New Zealand, I have learned while participating global courses. It is morning in Finland and my first doing was to accept your comment and answer. Because this was your first comment here, I had to accept it, I have decided so. Next time you will see your comment to be published at once.

      They are sleeping in England still or awaking up, at their homes around the Oxford-Brookes University. I’ll tell them what a great post I’ve got. Thanks again.

  7. Hi Jenny
    if someone reads this thread so I want to correct my former sayings of openness.
    This is a copy of WEEK 4 NEWS
    “The virtual conference is for everyone. Not only assessed participants. We want to encourage as many participants as can to upload an โ€œexhibitโ€ to the conference. See some examples and guidance here.

    Peer feedback sessions are optional but recommended, rewarding and fun.”

    This is not clear if you read only the week programs. And you must be a good detective to find the times, you have to click forward in many places which seem to be closed but they are not.

    It is not easy to design a clear online program, I know from my experiences. This has been a useful discussion I hope

  8. Hi Heli

    Thank you for highlighting this post from Charlotte, I will contact her. She certainly could still participate at whatever level she feels.

    I will also send you the comparative data from last year.


  9. Hi Heli, this is an interesting paradox where I feel unable to move–a rare thing for my online “self.” I completely sympathize with Charlotte’s hesitations and maybe feeling lost and the absolute need to this course (and all online courses) inclusive first and then functional as a result. Also agree with Marion that we need guidelines to help us make this into a learning environment of genuine value without becoming an overwhelming text monster.

    These are not qualities that are in opposition but do seem to be at odds here where we are not quite sure if we can mix attentiveness to personal ruminations, friendly chat and the student’s right to quality advice from experienced experts.

    We have something exciting and scary and happening around us. Normal strategies for managing things that seem headed down a wrong track is to stop and regroup, though I think there’s value in the raw happening of it as a place of genuine learning. I say because we seem habituated to after the fact reflections and surveys that return already digested conclusions and rationalizations–if they return anything at all.

    The paradox is (pointed out by Marion) we are discussing things in a closed room that are directly relevant to the process of teaching and learning happening in the open room in an open course. Yet… can we combine these two without appearing incompetent or uncertain and scarring people away? We have people in transition in their lives and careers, in their familiarity with technology and their future prospects and it may not be fair to throw in a peek behind the curtain revealing the Great Oz struggling with the controls?

    My last rambling point revolves around the identity of us “experts.” For myself, the implied notion that I am a teacher or former teacher might mislead. The fact is I’m a former construction worker with 6 years of work as an instructional design fixer and go-between project lead who’s main talent was ignoring the rules to resolve conflicts like project supervisors leaving on stress-leave causing their coordinators to freak out themselves in the middle of large projects with absurd deadlines all without my having any “qualifications”, training, a functioning computer or job description that I can quote now that the college has cut me from the staff.

    Living in the identity of “useful for unknown reasons” is a constant reinvention of self that I understand and commit to every day but is it a”teacher” in the eyes of students?