What's A MOOC? What You Need To Know About Massive Open Online Courses

What's A MOOC? What You Need To Know About Massive Open Online Courses

Massive Open Online Courses continue to intimidate the media, politicians, educational institutions, and professionals alike. Historically, MOOCs have two founding pillars, one technical and the other ideological.

eBook Release: MOOC & COOC – Creating Effective And Impactful Digital Training Programs
eBook Release
MOOC & COOC – Creating Effective And Impactful Digital Training Programs
Discover the key principles of Massive Open Online Courses, what COOCs are, and how to create effective and impactful digital training programs.

Technical Principal

The technical pillar of MOOCs is, of course, related to distance learning. The history of distance learning is itself intimately linked to technology. From the postal system to the radio, the television, and eventually the internet, each of these technological advancements paved the way for distance learning.

Ideological Principal

The idea of “Education for All” is the second founding pillar of MOOCs. Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig of Denmark was the first to theorize about what would later become known as the folk high school. These schools aim to provide theoretical and practical skills to anyone who wishes to attend, regardless of their age, financial means, or social background. This movement continued to be popular throughout the 20th Century in Europe. With the arrival of the internet, other movements supporting the democratization of education have also emerged.

Online Teaching: The Beginning

The first online courses were very basic. Courses that were previously sent by the postal system were simply sent by email with lists of documents to download or read. With improved bandwidth, videos were used more often. Initially, face to face classes were simply filmed in their entirety by a camera placed at the back of the classroom, and made available on the internet, without being reworked or edited.

In the early 2000s, the Open Education Resources (OER) movement was born in the United States. While others may have been involved earlier on in a less visible way, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is cited as the pioneer of making courses available on the internet. In September 2002, the beta version of MIT OpenCourseWare was made public with dozens of MIT courses available online.

MOOCs: The Early Years

The first MOOCs date back to 2008 with online courses by David Wiley, Utah State University, and Alex Couros, University of Regina. The term Massive Open Online Course was used for the first time by Georges Siemens and Dave Cormier in reference to Stephen Downes and Georges Siemens’ “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” (CCK08) course. The course was given in 2008 at the University of Manitoba, in Canada, and taken by 25 students who attended in-class courses as well as 2,300 Internet users. Course content was cobbled together using various online tools available at the time: a wiki, a blog, RSS feed, Moodle forum, Pageflakes, Twitter, and the UStream platform. Some students even discussed course material via the Second Life virtual world.

It was not until 2011 that MOOCs would make a name for themselves in the media. Sebastien Thrun and Peter Norvig, respectively Professor at Stanford University and Research Director at Google, announced that one of their courses would be given for free on the internet. In just a few weeks, “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” had over 160,000 enrollees ready to follow the first lessons. The size and media impact of the course makes it one of the most memorable in the short history of MOOCs. The project significantly contributed to the development of MOOCs and the first American online education platforms including Coursera, Udacity, and EdX.

The 4 Characteristics Of MOOCs

Massive Open Online Courses are available online, often free of charge, and provided by recognizable institutions. These online courses respect certain technical specifications and the following four characteristics: they leverage web formats, are collaborative, contain evaluation modules, and are limited in time.

1. Using Web Formats

MOOCs heavily rely on different web formats. Consequently, the large majority of courses consist of pre-recorded videos that are streamed by users. To create content tools like YouTube or Vimeo are commonly used. Streamed videos are meant to simulate the presence of the trainer. MOOCs can also use live-streams to create a virtual classroom environment. Occasionally, teachers also organize live sessions with their students using tools like Hangouts or Ustream. This is a unique opportunity for students to get in touch with the trainer directly and ask questions. MOOCs also offer meetups and in-person get togethers. Meetups are generally organized by MOOC participants who want to meet up with other course participants in their area. They are an opportunity to discuss course topics but also work on group projects.

2. Collaborative Learning

One key aspect of MOOCs is their collaborative component. During a MOOC, everything possible is done to recreate the in-class experience, including the use of collaborative tools. Rather than a vertical distribution of knowledge, MOOCs allow for the emergence of learning communities where the input of each participant enriches the course. Social Q&A Forums (advanced forums with voting functionalities), Facebook groups, meetups, or peer corrections are used to encourage and develop collaboration.

3. Assessing Knowledge

In addition to content designed to convey knowledge, MOOCs offer tools to assess the transfer and retention of this knowledge. These modules help make courses more dynamic and interactive and generally take the form of multiple-choice exams, programmed tests, or essay questions that are corrected automatically, by teachers or by classmates. Additionally, MOOCs can offer certificates to those who have completed the course. These certificates are how most American MOOC platforms monetize their content.

4. Time Limits

The final characteristic of MOOCs is the notion of time limitations. MOOCs have specified start and end dates. Course content (documents, videos, exercises, etc.) is delivered sequentially, each week. For the learner, coursework is spread over time. Temporally structuring course content helps make it seem like a series of mini events and allows for the creation of an efficient communication strategy including teasers, email updates, etc. It is also an effective means to ensure that the MOOC mimics a traditional attended course with weekly classes.

All of these criteria combined create MOOCs. Taken apart, they were already present in online learning, in some form or another. What made the MOOC format unique is that for the first time all of these elements were used simultaneously in a single course format.

If you want to learn more about MOOCs, download the eBook MOOC & COOC - Creating Effective And Impactful Digital Training Programs.