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6 Things you may not know about MOOCs

Despite sounding like a Dr Seuss character, MOOCs are actually seriously learning tech. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course, and is typically offered as a “taster” introductory course by major universities via online platforms. The idea is to give a broad overview of the subject and introduce the university’s academics, in the hopes it may inspire some learners to continue their studies further, and enrol for an actual credit-earning course. In the process the internet is now jam-packed with seriously mind-blowing learning opportunities, many of them free.

Drilling further down I have learned that the pedagogic thinking behind MOOCs is substantial, and why wouldn't it be? Since many MOOCs are designed by specialist academics, cMOOCs (I’m guessing the C stands for constructive) are considered by some to be a more advanced form of learning platform, and allow for aggregated content that evolves over the course, rather than being preselected.

cMOOCs are also encouraging students to connect with each other to discover and build answers and solutions together. cMOOCs typically use forums, social media, Second Life, Skype and other collaborative platforms to build communities of learning around the course objectives and content.

xMOOCs (X here may stand for expert) are more traditional and feature an expert “in front” of the online class, in a video-lecturing format, using preselected course material. Learners have a more singular and predefined learning path, and need not reach out to other students in order to complete the course.

6 Things you may not know about MOOCs

6 Things you may not know about MOOCs

OK, now let’s look at some interesting in-depth trivia, some of which I hope may enlighten and surprise even the MOOC experts among us:

  1. Coursera is the world’s largest course provider, and partners its platform with the content from over 161 universities world-wide. As of February 2017 had 28 million users.
  2. One of the largest online courses of all time is FutureLearn’s Understanding IELTS: Techniques for English Language Tests where in 2015 an exam preparation course offered in collaboration with the British Council, registered a reported 440,000 students.
  3. 2012 was named by the New York Times as the “Year of the MOOC”, as it saw the emergence of edX, Coursera and Udacity.
  4. In 2013 the University of Tasmania designed one of the few courses to be acknowledged by Nature, the preeminent science journal. The course Understanding Dementia had an exceptionally high completion rate of 39%.
  5. Subsequent to the massive hype in 2012, MOOCs have been slightly tarnished by the fact that on average only 10% of students end up completing a MOOC. An interesting article countering the negative aspects of this can be found here, were the author argues that completion is less important than the bite-sized, self-directed learning the MOOC content offers people looking to enhance or specialize specific skills (rather than achieving a university degree).
  6. A fascinating list of The best MOOCs of all time, reveals that the world is indeed a wide, and interesting place. Obviously, many of the most popular courses are in the field of programming and computer science, but it is delightful that courses such as Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology, The Moralities of Everyday Life and Medical Neroscience also feature in the Top 50.

MOOCs have been through an energetic hype-cycle, where once universities were scrambling to get onboard the MOOC train, terrified that the new technology would render their campuses obsolete; MOOCs then moved into a phase of declining interest and investment where many universities left their MOOCs to drift, all but unattended, on the Internet in the small hope they’ll attract a paying student, through to where we are today: MOOCs are finding a mature middle ground, and have begun — remarkably — to have the most significant effect in on-campus courses.

Some researchers discovered, as far back as 2012, that blending the power of online content already created for the MOOC as “homework” with carefully curated class-time and project-based work, has in some cases improved campus-based course completion by 91%!

Have you found a MOOC that works for you and your students, I’d love to hear all and any of your MOOC adventures in the comments below.