What are Massively Open Online Courses?

Coined in 2008 by Stephen Downes and George Siemens, massively open online courses (MOOCs) are conceptualised as the evolution of networked learning. MOOCs have not yet achieved their envisioned potential, but early experiments are promising. The essence of a MOOC is that it is a web course that people can take from anywhere across the world, with potentially thousands of participants. The basis of each MOOC is an expansive and diverse set of content, contributed by a variety of experts, educators, and instructors in a specific field, and then aggregated into a central repository, such as a web site. What makes this content set especially unique is that it is “remixed” -- the materials are not necessarily designed to go together but become associated with each other through the MOOC. A key component of the original vision is that all course materials and the course itself are open source and free — with the door left open for a fee if a participant taking the course wishes university credit be transcripted for the work. Interest in MOOCs has evolved at an unprecedented pace, fueled by high profile entrants like Coursera, Udacity, and MITx. In these examples, the notion has shifted away from open content or even open access, to an interpretation in which “open” equates to “no charge.” The pace of development in the MOOC space is so high that it is likely that a number of alternative models will emerge over the coming year. Ultimately, the models that attract the highest numbers of participants are gaining the most attention, but many challenges remain to be resolved in supporting learning at scale.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • MOOCs are one more trend in the context of the open movement, which is the megatrend above many others (open content, open access, open educational resources OER, e-publishing and more). But in the past many teachers hesitated to share their content with others. Maybe with the added value of a very large repository out of which they can take and reuse elements and courses for their own teaching, they are ready to share their own material. - rudolf.mumenthaler rudolf.mumenthaler Nov 28, 2012
  • MOOCs are certainly THE big trend in higher education. We missed this last year, so this might become our last chance before MOOCs become mainstream.- jochen.robes jochen.robes Nov 30, 2012
  • MOOCs are seen as a driver of innovation on our campus and are tied in with a large effort to encourage innovative teaching practices for on-campus learning through "flipped classrooms" and other experiments. Stanford created its first new vice-provostial unit in 20 years around these efforts. See http://online.stanford.edu/ . - richard.holeton richard.holeton Nov 30, 2012
  • MOOC's provide unprecedented access to quality information for millions of traditionally excluded learners - they are criticised for being teacher centric but so too (still) is miost traditonal teaching. As a graduate of Thrun and Norvig's AI class - the experience was engaging and thrilling. Seb Scmoller quotes a fellow student of the MOOC in his letter to the Times Higher "The class felt like sitting in a bar with a really smart friend who is explaining something you haven't yet grasped but are about to."
    http://www.scoop.it/t/moocnews- DaveP DaveP Dec 2, 2012
  • Another response here
  • Interesting implications for higher ed. Innovative pilots include CC and small private colleges offering credit by examination with R1/Ivy League MOOC content, paving the way for content/technology being determined by top tier institutions/researchers/lecturers and local/regional schools offering local learning communities (f2f and online), assessment, tutoring (concierge student success services), and local credentialing leading to certification/degree. Could reduce cost of education when best of breed content offered free, with for-pay credentialing localized. Could gut local faculty, however, as they are replaced by learning center-type services prepping learners for local competency-based assessments created by "assessment boards" (committees of local/regional/or even national discipline experts) and evaluated by centralized and highly trained evaluators.- wayne.butler wayne.butler Dec 2, 2012

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Several themes (or perhaps editorial comments in some cases) occur to me including: (1) The theme of MOOCs' impact on the cost crisis in higher education. This theme includes possible differential impacts of MOOCs on elite universities (who have been driving much of the content) and state and community college institutions. (2) The theme of MOOCs' impact on higher education pedagogy and on residentially based learning. Certainly on our campus, some MOOCs -- or different versions of them -- are concurrently being offered as on-campus courses or supplements to on-campus courses. (3) The theme of MOOC platforms as drivers of innovation -- the role of the technology platforms in shaping the online educational experience. (4) The theme of educational research. First, the extent to which MOOCs have *not* been informed by decades of research about online learning. Second, the extent to which MOOCs can contribute to educational research going forward, including through analytics. But the analytics need to be co-designed by educational researchers, not just computer scientists.k - richard.holeton richard.holeton Nov 30, 2012
  • I think the different role of the student in a MOOC vs. a traditional course (either f2f or online) is being overlooked, especially if MOOCs are being seen as having credentialing potential. Teaching and learning is a partnership, and MOOCs imply a significant change in the expectations of the students. We cannot assume that students will automatically know how to be successful in an environment that is radically different from previous learning environments. - laura.winer laura.winer Dec 1, 2012Laura
  • MOOCs as disruptive and destructive innovation changing the face of higher education (perhaps all education). Content will become commodity created by a few nationally or internationally recognized experts and production teams (producers, instructional designers, graphical designers), thus undergraduate core courses need not be taught thousands of times a day by thousands of individual instructors across the world. Thus, that class of instructor/teacher will be eliminated for budgetary reasons, replaced by "tutors" and digital learning community conveners/moderators, working at a distance or staffing face to face learning centers. Assessments will be created, administered, and assessed by corporations (Pearson), guided by academic advisors. "School" will be social centers where learners can gather for social purposes, tutoring, test taking (although mobile computing and secure testing will eliminate need for testing centers), community bonding (clubs, music, sports, affinity-building events). At least at the undergraduate core level (freshman/sophomore) could become nationalized and corporate enabled, with schools providing only upper-level and graduate courses with expert faculty.- wayne.butler wayne.butler Dec 2, 2012

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, research, or creative inquiry?

  • This movement will force every institution to reconsider its approach to online learning, open content, and, finally, their role in society. Not to mention that many apologists see MOOCs as a way to democratize education ... - jochen.robes jochen.robes Nov 30, 2012
  • Access to materials though is not enough to guarantee equal educational opportunities. In that sense, MOOCs are the textbooks of the 21st century--some are good, some not so much; some have learning activities included, others no. There is still a huge component that is how the textbook is used by the instructor and how competent the student is at learning from this resource. - laura.winer laura.winer Dec 1, 2012Laura

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?