What’s the craze about MOOCs?

Over the past year every Higher Education event, conference and seminar I have attended has had some sort of a discussion on MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Key-note speakers, talks during the coffee breaks, presentations… the sector is truly buzzing.

And even though there is an incredible amount of talk on the topic, I still find people who are not very aware of it. I have to admit that the first time I heard about MOOCs I wasn’t terribly excited. However, very quickly I realised how much potential MOOCs have to change and develop our education systems.

In this post I intend to shed some light on what MOOCs are and why are so many people talking about them… and why you should too.

What is a MOOC?

 MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. A MOOC is essentially a fully online course, allows for unlimited participation and is open for access by anyone on the internet.  They offer a large community of students and peers, web sources and a distributed knowledge base. Because of this, MOOCs essentially promote great student engagement, independent learning and networking with other people interested in the subject.

This videos offers slightly more detail on what a MOOC is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eW3gMGqcZQc

Essentially MOOCs are the most recent development in e-Learning. Utilising web resources, not physical contact time and fully online materials, contents, learning activities. The main difference between a MOOC and an online distance learning course is that a MOOC is not currently credited, while a distance learning course also includes assignments and can lead to a qualification. Both, however, offer learning through online materials and communities. While distance learning courses are limited to a number of participants, MOOCs are open to unlimited participation which can open up a very large forum of people, and a huge learning community.

Why is everyone talking about MOOCs?

The term MOOC was first mentioned in 2008 and the first MOOCs emerged from Open Educational Resources (1). 5 years later, MOOCs are regarded as “revolutionising”, “game-changer”, “worldwide phenomena”.

Why? It is already evident that they attract huge numbers of students. According to The Wall Street Journal, Coursera (the largest MOOC provider) has attracted 5 million students, edX – another provider – 1.3 million (2). The courses come from institutions such as Harvard, Stanford. MIT and so many more. They are also free. Imagine the possibilities – potential students trying out a subject before they enrol; Access to education; Life-long learning; no geographical obstacles.

Even mainstream media are now engaging with MOOCs. AMC‘s critically acclaimed TV show The Walking Dead, based on comic books of the same title, has started a MOOC entitled Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead (3). This is a great example of how open MOOCs really are.

What MOOCs offer is a huge choice of courses, communities and the possibility to study something that was previously unavailable to you. These are all great things. The big subject variety, the choice of providers and generally the availability of information are things that have the potential to change how we develop our current education system.

In this blog I will be posting about current issues and trends regarding MOOCs, what effects they are having on Higher Education, and providing regular press round ups. This post is the first of many to come, and provides an overview of what MOOCs are. I hope you will find the blog helpful and I am looking forward to your comments!

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1.  http://davecormier.com/edblog/2008/10/02/the-cck08-mooc-connectivism-course-14-way/

2. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303759604579093400834738972

3. http://www.wired.com/underwire/2013/09/walking-dead-mooc-online-course/