What are Massively Open Online Courses?

When Stephen Downes and George Siemens coined the term in 2008, massively open online courses (MOOCs) were conceptualized as the next evolution of networked learning. The essence of the original MOOC concept was a web course that people could take from anywhere across the world, with potentially thousands of participants. The basis of this concept is an expansive and diverse set of content, contributed by a variety of experts, educators, and instructors in a specific field, and aggregated into a central repository, such as a web site. What made this content set especially unique is that it could be “remixed” — the materials were not necessarily designed to go together but became associated with each other through the MOOC. A key component of the original vision is that all course materials and the course itself were open source and free — with the door left open for a fee if a participant taking the course wanted university credit to be transcripted for the work. Since those early days, interest in MOOCs has evolved at an unprecedented pace, fueled by the attention given to high profile entrants like Coursera, Udacity, and edX in the popular press. In these new examples, "open" does not necessarily refer to open content or even open access, but only equates to "no charge." Ultimately, many challenges remain to be resolved in supporting learning at scale. The most compelling aspect of the proliferation of MOOCs is that it is helping frame important discussions about online learning that simply could not have taken place before the advent of actual experiments in learning at scale.

INSTRUCTIONS: Enter your responses to the questions below. This is most easily done by moving your cursor to the end of the last item and pressing RETURN to create a new bullet point. Please include URLs whenever you can (full URLs will automatically be turned into hyperlinks; please type them out rather than using the linking tools in the toolbar).

Please "sign" your contributions by marking with the code of 4 tildes (~) in a row so that we can follow up with you if we need additional information or leads to examples- this produces a signature when the page is updated, like this: - Sam Sam Oct 31, 2011

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

  • The provision of open source resources around a small course is attractive to a very motivated group of learners, perhaps particularly as professional development for tertiary professors/teachers/researchers. Unlikely to provide the system disruption that was first predicted. (- cpaterso cpaterso Feb 14, 2014)
  • MOOCs are a complement to HE, they provide a mechanism for sharing expertise and knowledge, for building and sustaining communities of practice, and for potentially re-engaging people with formal education. Informal education is a long-standing aspect of adult education, MOOCs provide a pedagogical context to a modernised set of materials, historically folk would use books, in a modern world many people expect to use video and to be able to collaborate with others interested in similar things. - stephen.marshall stephen.marshall Feb 20, 2014
  • Agree with above in terms of professional development and a complement to HE, from a life long learning perspective particularly. One of the most significant benefits though, surely, is the marketing aspect. Providing authentic, branded courses, together with building a database of global contacts who are keen to engage with your institution, contributes to future revenue sources? - jwilliams jwilliams Feb 24, 2014

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

  • There is a difference between a course and a community. Siemens and Downes vision has been corrupted by course providers. (- cpaterso cpaterso Feb 14, 2014)
  • I agree that the need to be more nuanced about different characteristics of different online courses labelled as MOOCs is key, also important is to recognise the role that MOOCs are playing in helping institutions engage with the ideas of Open licences and content, and the implications for how they use content and how they manage staff who create materials that could be open. - stephen.marshall stephen.marshall Feb 20, 2014

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

  • I think we are likely to see more of them from large course providers, with continuing high drop-out rates. It will be interesting to see what happens when the concept of massive open online communities are adopted. This will reflect a fundamentally different approach to knowledge creation and expertise. (- cpaterso cpaterso Feb 14, 2014)
  • I see a vast array of potential outcomes and risks, especially if MOOCs are misunderstood (willfully or otherwise) by political and economic interest groups looking for market opportunities in higher education. See http://jolt.merlot.org/vol9no2/marshall_0613.htm for a discussion of some issues.- stephen.marshall stephen.marshall Feb 20, 2014

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

  • They're everywhere - worth highlighting the OERU work as it is more explicitly and completely open than others, but we should note the MOOC initiatives of the OUA group, and there are others popping up elsewhere (Massey University in NZ, UTAS in Aus for example). - stephen.marshall stephen.marshall Feb 20, 2014
Please share information about related projects in our Horizon Project sharing form.