Massive Open Online Classes (MOOC)

August 29, 2014  |  Online Education | E-Learning  |  Share


Massively open online classes, or MOOCs, are a brand-new and innovative learning system that is taking the world of education by storm. They take advantage of new advances in communications technology to create an entirely new and student-centric approach to learning.

What is a MOOC?

The best way to understand MOOCs is to go through the letters in the abbreviation. “Massive” refers to the class size- the potential capacity of a MOOC is almost unlimited. “Open” means that the requirements for joining are minimal. They are generally not affiliated with a school, and are often free. “Online” states that the class materials and all necessary information should be located on the Internet in an easy-to-access form. And “Course” is self-explanatory- it is a course of learning.
A MOOC’s goal is to provide training in a skill or topic to many people, maximizing access to the curriculum. Some providers of MOOCs are for-profit companies, while others are nonprofits. They vary in their requirements and the access they permit to their course materials and software. Most MOOCs are focused on the sciences or mathematics, although some exist for the humanities.

Origin of MOOCs

MOOCs appeared as recently as 2012. Their genesis was the combination of advances in Internet technology that allowed for easy sharing of videos, e-books, and other potential course documents with a new approach to pedagogy that emphasized access and student-led learning. MOOCs take a hands-off approach to guiding students relative to traditional teaching methods- students are accountable for their own progress, so the onus is on them to make the most of the course. Recorded lectures, demonstrations, problems, and readings are all easy to share, and students can discuss the material in chatrooms or forums. The students are free to engage with the course to the level they prefer, which depends on their interest and availability. That makes MOOCs easier for adult learners and students with busy schedules to access.

There are two major trends in the MOOC industry. One is for-profit companies like Coursera. They might require some kind of fee for access, and might also keep the course materials private. The other end of the spectrum is the nonprofit efforts. One of the biggest of these is EdX, which is a joint effort by schools like M.I.T. to offer their courses in MOOC form. Some of them offer certificates that function like a limited and specialized diploma.

The MOOC Industry

The suppliers and the students for MOOCs are both nontraditional. For example, the idea of for-profit education is fairly new even for brick-and-mortar schools. Adding in the concept of MOOC-style classes is unlike anything the education sector has seen before. Students are responding by flocking to MOOCs in great numbers. A typical MOOC can bring in hundreds of students from all over the world. All of these students might have different learning styles, but they need to use the same course materials. The best way to allow everyone to benefit from a MOOC is for the provider to have a lot of flexibility with regards to available tools. The MOOC provider needs to have the capacity to handle large numbers of students, and the students need to be prepared to dedicate time to the MOOC outside of their usual work. This creates a unique set of circumstances that is far from the traditional learning process.

The Student View

The fact that MOOCs are so easy to access makes them favorable with their target audience. For example, someone who works a day job needs a class with a flexible schedule and minimal travel requirements. A traditional student will also need a flexible class schedule, as well as low costs and the ability to collaborate with other students freely. The fact that MOOCs use recorded lectures with experienced teachers supports their claim to legitimacy; the classes should not provide any less educational benefit than an online class from a traditional school. While MOOCs have yet to begin offering credits that count towards traditional degrees, they do have completion certificates. Furthermore, the education alone should be worth the time and effort.


MOOCs are disrupting the traditional education system in several ways. First of all, by their very nature, MOOCs test out new theories of education on large populations of students. That allows the organizers to gather a lot of data about what works and what does not. On top of that, MOOCs simply provide an alternative for students who want to learn, but don’t want to go through the traditional education system. For a long time, schools had a virtual monopoly on education. Now, schools know that they need to offer something above and beyond what a student can get from a MOOC. Lastly, MOOCs are showing educators the power of online tools. Now more than ever, traditional schools are tapping into the power of the Internet for distribution, grading, discussion, and other uses. Without MOOCs to lead the way and show the educational establishment how useful online integration can be, they may never have made the jump.


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