Introducing the MOOC

Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs as they are better known as, are becoming ever more popular.  Academic institutions offer course materials at no cost to the students over the Internet.  This has lowered the threshold for attendance, bringing education to the masses resulting in tens of thousands of students registering and attending these online courses.

Will this be the future of education for the masses or it is just a means for which institutions can provide tasters for potential paying students?

The Concept

  • Massively: To give an understanding of how massive these courses are, one course can have 40,000+ students worldwide; this is more than every student on every course that Plymouth University currently offers.  Due to the vast number of students that sign up for these courses a number of institutions have opted to host their materials via a dedicated MOOC provider to minimise the impact on their university’s infrastructure. The 3 main providers are Cousera, Udacity and EdX.
  • Open: it is free for the participants to take the course and the work created by the students is shared.  Some institutions will, however, charge for any accreditation associated with the course.
  • Online: Internet connection is vital, as the entire course exists online, there is no physical space that the students are expected to attend. All of the content has to be pre-prepared, including help guides and explicit learning outcomes, as to minimise student support needs. Thorough planning is essential.
  • Course: MOOCs are short, typically around 6 weeks duration. Rather than simply accessing content on the web, the content is divided up into weekly tasks. This guides the students as to what they will be expected to cover/produce as part of attending.  Apart from having set weeks the students are not expected to engage with the content at specific times.  Students are required to submit for the final assignment.  One means of dealing with a large number of assignments is to use peer review.

This is by no means a new concept, the term was coined in 2008 and many universities already offer a range of these open courses most notably Stanford University and MIT.

Want to know more?



Edward Bolton’s experience as an end user

I found the MOOC a most invaluable experience. The topic was “E-Learning and Digital Culture” and being an e-learning professional I thought that this would be a good place to start my first MOOC. I thought that the content would be familiar to me and I could find out how these MOOC things work. The content was nothing what I expected and this opened my eyes to a vast range of different sources and perspectives that I had not previously considered.

This is one I found particularly interesting:

Even though I knew about MOOCs the actual experience was a lot different to what I was expecting.  I thought it would be more directed with pre-recorded lectures and tasks for each week (although some MOOCs do work like this) the course I attended consisted of collaged videos and reading materials with suggested activities. Students were prompted to contribute via Twitter, blogging and discussion forums. These activities were not compulsory and gave the students opportunities to reflect, collaborate and discuss in a medium that best suited them.

I found this YouTube video (Amy Woodgate) describing what it felt like to be part of a MOOC.  I have taken two quotes from this video that resonated with my experiences of the MOOC:

“Like shouting out in a crowded railway station trying to make myself heard over 40,00 others.” Celia Popovic

“This course feels like an ocean so I’m making myself post this comment as a way of dipping one toe in the water.” Ellie Kennedy

One thing that the course should have facilitated or at least suggested that students should do; is to put themselves into groups. The reason being was that all of the discussion forums had pages and pages of entries with only the first few being responded to. As a result if you weren’t the first to contribute to a certain discussion you did not feel that you could be part of the conversation as your post was sent off into the ether never to be seen again (even by you!).

As a result I found that I was engaging with the material but I saw little or no point contributing to the site, which has probably had an effect on my learning experience.   This does not however mean that I will never engage in a MOOC again, it just means that I now know how to act when I next attend one.

3 comments for “Introducing the MOOC

  1. Lee Marshall
    March 4, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Interesting to hear your thoughts on MOOCs as I am just in the process of starting one on Social Network Analysis, and it will be interesting to find out if this course is more directed than your experience.

  2. Liz Thomson
    April 5, 2013 at 3:26 pm
  3. Galit Wiener
    May 6, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    This is an amazing initiative. I think that in the long run it is going to make a Dramatic change in the curve of education, you can see a good example of online courses making a change by looking at the data from Khan academy.

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