What is a MOOC, anyway?

Apr 13, 2015

Hey gang,

Our community team has been having a great conversation today about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)... more specifically, what is a MOOC?

Based on the Wikipedia definition, some folks on our team consider any e-learning courses that are basically free and openly accessible by all to be considered MOOCs.

Others on our team consider a MOOC to have a time-based element (start and finish time) and/or an instructor component. 

We thought this was a pretty juicy topic... so we'd like to know... what does MOOC mean to the community?

6 Replies
Rachel Barnum

Hmm, I don't think they need a time-based element, but I do think that they need an instructor component - an active instructor. So, it could be a course like Coursera's Learning How to Learn which is open all the time, but the instructor remains active and is available for people.

I consider MOOCs to have a community aspect to them as well, but I don't know if I'd include that in the definition.

That said, I also don't consider courses that I receive in a weekly email format or take through some other sites a MOOC and I'm not positive why. I think it's because they do lack that community aspect and the "openness" that sites like Coursera and Open2Study provide?

Interesting question :) 

Jackson Hamner

I don't think a time-based elements or direct teacher interactions are necessary to define a MOOC, its not a Time Based Massive Open Online Instructor Led Courses.

Some of the major benefits of eLearning is that the learner can take a course at their own pace, so by adding beginning / ending timers to the learner's courses that sort of eliminates that idea. Another benefit is that the learner can take a course independent of an instructor / peers and still gain a proficient education in the subject. I do absolutely think that adding elements with peer collaboration and instructor interactions can make for a stronger course, but I don't think its necessary to include it as a definition of a MOOC. By narrowing the definition of MOOCs to include those things we eliminate huge swaths of great online training that could absolutely be considered a massive site of open, online courses.

I wouldn't really consider it a MOOC unless it has courses that cover multiple subjects. For some reason it just doesn't seem MOOC-y unless I have the choice to take several different subjects from it. So something like Kahn Academy would seems pretty MOOCish to me. Something like Code.org/learn though isn't very MOOC-tastic because it really only covers a single subject.

I guess I think of it in a very broad, literal sense. A MOOC is a massive collection of Open Online Courses. Just my 2 cents.

Rachel Barnum

Hmm, Jackson I think you and I have a different definition of what a MOOC in a general sense is. MOOC stands for a "massive online open course" - not a collection. Coursera contains a lot of individual MOOCs, a MOOC is just one instance of a course.

From Coursera's wiki: Coursera...for-profit educational technology company...that offers massive open online courses.

I have trouble considering Code.org's offerings a MOOC though either because they're not really connected to instructors - but that's a different reasoning than yours.

Cary Glenn

Originally, MOOCs as led by George Siemens and Stephen Downes were wide ranging affairs. If was a way to help people learn about almost anything they wanted. Since then MOOCs have evolved into more of an online college/university course that is open to anyone with an internet connection. To me they have always been somewhat time-based. The original MOOC did have a start and and end and the modern MOOCs do have beginning, middle and end. Both have instructors, though in the original Siemens and Downes were more moderators than instructors. The modern MOOC usually has a talking head lecturer.

My experience with MOOCs has been, like many other people, a dismal failure. The course design was unimaginative, the interaction between learner and instructor non-existent  and the almost no helpful interaction between learners. The drop-out rate is incredibly high on most MOOCs. My time would have been better spent on reading a book on the subject.

Michael O.

When I see the term MOOC, I do think that there is a single instructor who has created the course and functions as a sage-on-the-stage (where the stage is the computer screen).  Because of the massive number of students, the course does not allow for much, if any interaction between instructor and students.  Sometimes the sage, is performing in front of a live student audience and they have a chance to ask questions.  The performance is recorded and that is when the "Massive student audience" sees the course. 

I recall when the MOOC was first introduced, these courses were being offered for free by accredited reputable universities with tenured professors.  The lessons had already been recorded by the universities and were sitting on servers but initially intended for registered students, but they decided to open up anyone in the world to watch. 

Shailesh Gurav

Well, I think MOOCs are not limited to time or instructor or community as such. Here, Open Courses means they are available to all, to any community, free of charge (not really, it may include membership charges) controlled by one or more instructors w.r.t. the subject of the course.

Yes, few are time-bound, since the objective of any course is to achieve something. Here, the openness lies in its content, interactivity, responsibility and moderation and through community it creates a huge chain of knowledge by sharing, accepting, rejecting and correcting each others' thoughts in terms of knowledge. The MOOCs are created using simple heutagogical approach.

Few major MOOC players in the market.

  • edx.org
  • Coursera
  • Udacity
  • Udemy
  • Open2Study
  • Canvas Network
  • NovoEd

 Happy Learning!!

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