What Is A MOOC?


A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. The term was coined by Dave Cormier in 2008 in response to a course called Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (also known as CCK08) with 25 tuition-paying students from the University of Manitoba, as well as over 2200 online students from the general public who paid nothing.

The first MOOCs emerged from the open educational resources (OER) movement. Later, in the fall of 2011, Stanford University launched three MOOCs with truly massive enrollment numbers. Sebastian Thrun, an instructor of one of these courses launched the MOOC provider Udacity, and Andrew Ng, also an instructor of one of the three Stanford courses launched Coursera with Daphne Koller, as a response to the courses’ success. In response to this euphoric development, and concerned about the commercialization of online education, the MIT created the not-for-profit MITx in early 2012. Harvard joined the group, which was now called EdX. Prominent US universities became partners of one of the three platforms. So 2012 could be described as the year of the MOOCs, with the”big three” US providers emerging and developing.


But what does Massive Open Online Course stand for?

Well, MOOCs are all about learning. What makes them so exciting and innovative at the first glance is that academic, university-level content is shared openly with the public online.

Theoretically, this proposes that knowledge presented in the course is made accessible to basically everyone with an internet connection. This is what MASSIVE stands for: the number of participants in a MOOC has no limits (nearly 200.000 were enrolled in the course Learning How To Learn in which I participated in August).

But in order to be accessible for everyone, an online course must be free of charge. This is what OPEN can be interpreted as. Although the ideal strives after free content, some MOOC platforms like the big three Coursera, EdX, and Udacity from the US consider charging or already do charge “premium” services, such as certificates. Most of the big MOOC platforms around follow the freemium buisness model: the basic product is for free, premium features are charged. Basically open/free registration and open/ free access to content currently go hand in hand.

ONLINE should be self-explanatory. It points out the internet-based content.

The term COURSE, again contains several possible interpretations. We can ask: “What is the course designed to be?” Is there a definite start and end date, as with University courses offline? Is course content accessible beyond the end of the course? Do I have to follow a certain time schedule or can I study self-paced? Are the instructors/ assistants able to be contacted? Is discussion with peers encouraged? How does evaluation work (computational evaluation as with quizzes/ peer grading as with homework, essays, projects)? What role does the instructor play – is s/he central or just supervising or something in between? What role do I and my peers have – are we mere recipients or active designers of the course’s direction?

In order to characterize courses, MOOCs are distinguished between xMOOCs  and cMOOCs, depending on their initial approach. xMOOCs tend to use regular university course material in the form of videos, readings, quizzes and written homework, which is evaluated by your classmates/ MOOCmates on an online platform, the MOOC provider. The x stands for extension (as in TEDx), indicating that the online course is an addition to something, e.g. a university course. cMOOCs on the other hand follow a connectivist approach, relying much on peer-review and group collaboration.


In order for you to get a better idea, how a MOOC may look like, coming next is a review of a MOOC that I took: Learning How To Learn on Coursera.


content compressed from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_open_online_course

Image MOOC-poster: by Mathieu Plourde: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mathplourde/8620174342/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Image Development of MOOC providers: Yuan, Li, and Stephen Powell. MOOCs and Open Education: Implications for Higher Education White Paper. University of Bolton: CETIS, 2013. p.6

Image x/cMOOC table: Yuan, Li; Powell, Stephen; Olivier, Bill (2014). “Beyond MOOCs: Sustainable Online Learning in Institutions”. Cetis publications. Retrieved 31 January 2014.

Expedition to the unknown/ Coming up next


During August I took the brilliant Coursera course Learning How to Learn by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski from the University of California San Diego, which refreshed my fascination on the subject of learning, a subject I have a somewhat troublesome and ambiguous relationship to. While one the one hand I have always been interested in all kinds of aspects of the world and its dynamics, I never seemed to understand anything about it. I even felt I was lacking the ability to understand, that I only knew how to reproduce memorized words (passages, lists, mind maps etc.), instead of grasping the ideas behind them. Only now I begin to realize, that my understanding of how learning works, what the brain’s capacities and limits acutally are, has been pretty much wrong. On the search to gain a better insight into the mystery of learning I stumbled across the Coursera online platform and the 4-week course Learning How to Learn. It encouraged me so much that I changed my perspective and decided to launch this website on the matter.

You’re invited to be my guest on the expedition to the continent of learning. It really feels like an expedition to me, as if I was stepping on new, unknown territory… exciting!

As my experiences on the MOOC Learning How To Learn provide the base for this website, my first posts will explore what Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are, summarize the MOOC Learning How To Learn, discuss its key ideas in more depth and have a look on how my MOOCmates process the input.

Hope to see you there!