What is a MOOC?

Post by Brad Reamsbottom – Educational Consultant (Development) – Teaching Centre

One of the biggest trends that is occurring in post-secondary education, is the rise of the MOOC. A MOOC is a Massively Open Online Course. This is a course aimed at attracting large scale participation but often has no credit and tuition associated with it.

MOOCs have formed and are based on a theory of Connectivism.  Connectivism theory states that students are exposed to massive amounts of resources and learning takes place in a chaotic environment. Learning occurs as the student has to identify the resources and make decisions regarding the validity of resources in the course; not only the resources placed by the instructor, but the resources that are posted and created by all the students in the course.

Key features of a MOOC.

1. MOOCs are open and accessible to all

MOOCs are not restricted to who can join. They are open to everyone on the globe. Although registration occurs and usernames and passwords can be generated, this process should not restrict anyone from joining and learning.

2. Participation is required for learning

Although resources can be accessed by anyone in the course, a large portion of the learning takes place from the interactions that take place between users. Users are expected to post reflections, tweet links, and post photos among other interactions.  The interactions are often guided by a question or task.

3.  Distributed using various online technologies

A major part of MOOC success comes from the fact that connections are made among people, ideas and resources.  A MOOC may begin within a single website with forums, but may expand to include social media elements such as twitter feeds, blog posts, and videos.

4. Learners add resources to the network of learning

As stated in the last point, connections are made when the learners post material, ideas and feedback related to content they find and content already available in the course. This helps the learning ecosystem that is a MOOC grow.

5. Focuses heavily on authentic peer evaluation, and peer reflection processes

Because the course takes on an unlimited amount of users, it is hard to build in assessments that are implemented and evaluated solely by the instructor. MOOCs tend to use peer evaluation and peer reflection processes to help students explore and develop ideas and topics covered in the course.

This is very much an authentic process if you compare it to a working environment. For example, lets look at what you could do if you were tasked with exploring and implementing a new office software in your office. Most likely you will do the research to see what is available (identify initial resources, exploration, research).  Then you would ask people what their needs are (conversation and interaction, feedback). You would then explore how these different systems stack up against each other (compare, contrast, explore), while comparing them to your office’s comments and needs.  Finally after incorporating multiple perspectives and resources into the decision making process, you will identify a software suite that would work for your office’s needs (analysis and evaluation).

6. The learner is responsible for their own learning

Learners get what they put in when they sign up for a MOOC. If they are not involved in the interactions of the course; if they only lurk and complete the readings, then likely learning will not be optimal.  They will not be synthesizing, analyzing and creating; this will have great affect on their ability to comprehend the topics of the course.

Because MOOCs are open, there is often no credit associated with them. Evaluation is done through peer interactions and self evaluations. There is no one person or institution responsible for the students evaluation. The student must judge for themselves what learning occurred. Comments on reflections and posts by peers in the course will help students in the self evaluation process. As they incorporate feedback and new resources from their peers into their learning process it helps them form decisions as to what comments are relevant, and what is important to the learning of the key concepts in the course.

7. MOOCs are like ecosystems of learning

The ecosystem begins with initial resources posted on a website within a CMS or LMS possibly, but that ecosystem grows with the participation of students. The course itself becomes an interactive text book in a way. A text in which there are valuable resources that also interject comments and resources from peers. A text that interjects questions that build upon initial concepts. Networks are created among the participants. Pods or subgroups can form naturally dependent upon interest in course topics. The networks that get made in the course can lead to further exploration and learning. This idea of spawning new learning opportunities really feeds into the idea of life-long learning.

There is a lot of information out there regarding MOOCs. This article just looks at the MOOC in general and identifies some key pieces of a MOOC.

If you wish to look further at MOOCs, take a look at the resources posted below. They will help you get a better understanding of how MOOCs came to be, how they could be used, as well as how learning occurs within a MOOC.

MOOCS – Wikipedia

What is a MOOC?

Success in a MOOC?

Knowledge in a MOOC?

If you wish to explore building a MOOC, would like some clarification of how MOOCs work, or are interested in certain aspects of MOOCs, please contact the one of our consultants in the Teaching Centre.