What is a MOOC?

moocMOOC is an acronym for “massive open online course.” This term refers to a course of study that is made available online for free and is open to anyone who wants to access it.

MOOCs typically include a combination of videos, readings, lectures, problem sets, and other course materials, as well as an open forum where those taking the class can discuss material with one another. Read on to learn more about the relatively new phenomenon of MOOCs.

History of MOOCs

While correspondence courses have existed since as early as the 1890s, the advent of Internet technology made it much easier for online learning commmunities to develop. The term “MOOC” was first used in 2008 by Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island and Senior Research Fellow Bryan Alexander of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, in reference to a course they were teaching on Connectivism and Connective Knowledge. Since that first class of this kind, the concept spread quickly; by 2012, a variety of independent providers of this type of online course had emerged. In addition to these content providers, large educational institutions such as MIT, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Stanford University and The University of Michigan began offering MOOCs of their own. These free-of-charge courses span a variety of topic areas and often feature the same subject matter covered in the University’s actual courses.

Course Structure

While there are various types of MOOCs with different structures, one key element is the idea of a peer-review environment. Because these courses are designed to support the learning needs of, in some cases, thousands of students, professor involvement is minimal. Instead of the traditional format in which assignments are graded and evaluated by one person, MOOCs rely on the open forum setting to allow participants in the course to weigh in on each other’s work. In some cases, certain assignments use computer-based grading. For this reason, MOOCs are best for those who are interested in and thrive in self-directed learning environment.

Additional Reading and Resources

Several notable publications have covered the massive open online course phenomenon over the last few years. These include articles in The New Yorker¬†and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Either is a good place to start if you’re interested in exploring the cultural and educational significance of this new learning model. If you are considering enrolling in a course, you may want to consider one of the following providers: edX, a nonprofit run by MIT, Harvard, and Berkeley; Coursera, founded by computer science professor from Stamford; or Udemy, an open source platform in which anyone can set up a course.

While no colleges currently offer credit for completion of MOOCs, experts say that this model may be the wave of the future as college costs continue to rise. (See: The Evolution of the College Degree) If there’s a subject you’re interested in learning more about, try enrolling in a MOOC; while drive and independence is essential, this has proven to be an ideal way to learn for an estimated hundreds of thousands of participants across the globe.