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4.3 What are MOOCs?

Figure 10

Although the ‘massive’ of the title implies that vast numbers of students are necessary, this isn’t always the case; some MOOCs can be relatively small in scale but many have attracted large numbers of students.

The term ‘MOOC’ was coined by Dave Cormier and arose after his analysis of one of the first MOOCs, the ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ’ course (known as CCK08) run by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Other early pioneers include David Wiley and Alec Couros, who both ran open versions of campus courses, whereby a course with fee-paying students with access to the course instructor was also made open to non-fee-paying participants who didn’t receive the direct support of a tutor or lecturer.

MOOCs need to be open to all, so tend to adopt a range of delivery mechanisms. The result is often a more distributed course structure than traditional courses, with learners using their own blogs or social media in combination with centrally provided resources.

One of the most innovative MOOCs in its use of technology has been DS106, the digital storytelling course run by Jim Groom. In this course learners keep their own blogs, which are aggregated together into the main course blog. There is also an assignment bank where learners suggest assignments, and a radio station that is open to anyone to use for broadcasts.

The early experimentation led to more mainstream adoption of MOOCs, and in 2011 two Stanford University professors offered an open course in artificial intelligence that attracted over 100,000 students. This was followed in 2012 by Harvard and MIT announcing the formation of edX, a joint initiative to offer open courses. In addition, the Stanford team founded Udacity, a commercial enterprise to offer open courses, and a number of universities started offering courses through Coursera.

Activity 12: Background to MOOCs

Timing: Timing: 4 hours
  • Watch this interview in which George Siemens and Dave Cormier are interviewed by Martin Weller, about a range of issues concerning MOOCs.
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  • Read McAuley et al. (2010), The MOOC Model for Digital Practice.

    This is a lengthy report so if you do not have time to read it all focus on the Executive Summary and the section entitled ‘Gaps in knowledge about MOOCs’.

  • Read Weller (2012b), MOOCs Inc.
  • Before we examine MOOCs in more detail, briefly consider if the MOOC approach could be adopted in your own area of education or training. Post your thoughts in your blog and, if you wish, you could Tweet about them using the hashtags #h817open and #Activity12 and take a look at what other learners have posted.