10 tips about MOOCs

MOOCs are changing the way the world thinks about education, making it more accessible and flexible than ever before. Educators from the leading institutions including Stanford, Harvard, MIT and UC Berkeley are making their courses available to everyone and anyone for free.


1. Do not confuse MOOC with homophone mook, that is just offensive.

MOOC is an acronym for Massive Open Online Course. These courses can be enrolled in by any number of students for free (under MOST circumstances, if students use MOOCs from select platforms to obtain academic credit they can opt to pay a relatively low price, usually around $30-$40 per course).

2. George Siemens is the godfather of MOOCs.

In 2008 the Athabasca University professor led the course ”Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” (CCK08) in an open online format, the term MOOC was created shortly thereafter.

3. Not all MOOCs are created equal.

The original MOOC (CCK08) claims the distinct label cMOOC. The “c” indicates a MOOC which promotes discourse, creativity and interaction amongst students in a collaborative model, these can be organized by pretty much anyone with the resources and interest. Conversely xMOOC refers to more traditional lecture/test based models, which can work for disciplines centered around knowledge duplication, requiring less interaction.

4. Who’s got MOOCs?

You can find MOOCs on every subject from gender studies to physics. The most popular platforms include edX, CourseraUdacity, and Open2study. There is also a host of niche platforms like Food MOOCs,  CreativeLIVE and Codeacdemy.

5. MOOCs are big and only getting bigger.

In 2013, just 5 years after the term MOOC was even coined, Coursera reported enrollment exceeding 5 million students, edX came in second with 1.3 million students. In 2012 Codeacademy reported 450,000 + students partook in their free course Code Year.

6. OpenedX is changing the game.

Non-profit EdX released an open source license of their platform in June 2013. Thanks to the ongoing collaborative efforts from Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, University of Queensland and Stanford University, among technology partners, edX is allowing developers to build on top of their platform for free.

7. Some MOOCs need to make money.

Some platforms are for-profit, with boards of VC investors to answer to and so they must figure out how to monetize. Udacity hopes to bank on the knowledge it bestows upon learners by selling their information to recruiting agencies (with student permission). The idea being to provide students with job opportunities and income for Udacity; two birds one stone. Gamified language learning app Duolingo (its MOOC status is debatable but that will have to be my next blog post) intends to profit from student skills as well by having its highest achievers translate content for other companies like Buzzfeed. Coursera’s revenue strategies include tuition fees for students earning college credits through their classes.

8. MOOC platforms are going global.

Although most of the major players are in North America, one of the big platforms Open2Study is based in Australia. Last Fall China launched its first MOOC platform XuetangX, in collaboration with edX. Among others, there are also OpenupED in Europe, Schoo in Japan and Veduca created by Sao Paulo University, Brazil.

9. They have their challenges.

The largest concern for MOOCs are the extremely high drop rates, which can be up to 90% in many cases and reportedly as low as 60% in the rosiest scenarios. Since MOOCs are free and easy to enroll in dropping poses no direct consequences. Studies show that most MOOCs are consumed during the hours of 9pm and 2am after regular work/school hours so these courses face the challenge of being stimulating enough to keep people interested (and awake).

10. MOOCs are working on on the “sticky factor”.

The most compelling solutions addressing the high drop rates are around making these courses more engaging. Even the perfect disciplinary candidates for an xMOOC ought to use some of the dynamic principles found in the cMOOC model. Of the ideas I’ve encountered the most interesting were more sophisticated “Crowdsourced Annotations” and “Integrated Real-time Discussion”, there are so many possibilities especially now with WebRTC and there’s always chat.

Sure they have their challenges but it is undeniable that MOOCs are disrupting traditional ideas and practices in the realm of education. I for one am looking forward to what is to come in terms of more gamificatied strategies, substance for rich/productive meetups and MOOCs potential to impact local and international job markets.

10 tips about MOOCs

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