What is a MOOC?

Making education and training more accessible is a huge growth area worldwide and the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) concept is at the forefront of this trend. So what is a MOOC exactly? In a field packed with academics, many have blogs, websites and speakers have delivered their own MOOC definition, and many of the explanations conflict.

MOOC

Let’s look at some of these and start by breaking it down letter by letter:

M: Massive

Surprisingly for many, MOOCs don’t always turn out to be massive. This word describes the potential of the course in terms of participation, and does not refer to the volume of content in the course or any specific number of users. Scalability is key and the learning platform for delivering the course must have the necessary resources in terms of hosting technology and administration to be able to cope with a very large number.

Whether or not an open, online course ever turns out to be massive depends on all of the following:

  • Demand for the subject matter
  • Ability of the MOOC providers in marketing to a large audience
  • Effort and resources of the MOOC providers to reach their audience

Even if the infrastructure and content is there, ‘massive’ is subjective and is relative to the end-user expectations of a MOOC provider and those judging it.

O: Open

The word ‘Open’ within MOOC has also been debated. The idea of openness is around removing / minimising barriers to entry, and that’s where much of the disagreement begins – how accessible is the technology needed to gain internet access and is the connectivity required to deliver a good learning experience available?

Some will debate the openness of courses restricted to certain languages or the participation of people in countries with certain restrictions in their use of the internet.

What is unanimous is that a course must be 100% free and without entrance requirements in order to be ‘open’ to all.

O: Online

Easy – it must be delivered primarily over the internet – even if supplementary face to face activity happens outside the MOOC. Any offline content delivery must not be to the disadvantage of those who can only participate online.

C: Course

This might sound like a no-brainer, but it is important that material takes the learner on a journey and through structured progression, and with some expectations in terms of knowledge / skills gained by the end. Traditionally, courses will have specified start and end dates. This is reflected in the running of many MOOCs, but as this brings its own barriers in terms of availability to all – eg to those with certain work commitments, maternity / paternity etc, a rigid timescale might present its own barrier.

With this in mind, the ‘Open’ element of a MOOC may extend to the timescale of delivery – something we may see more of as the delivery of MOOCs becomes more common.

Interested in learning more about MOOCs and whether it might offer the right kind of education / training experience for you or your organisation? Try an online search for ‘mooc’ plus your preferred type of subject matter to see what’s already available.

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