Home Online Education What is a Massive Open Online Course? (aka MOOC)

What is a Massive Open Online Course? (aka MOOC)


Recently, I had the opportunity to present two papers at the Association for the Advancement of Technology in Education (AACE) EdMedia 2011 conference in Lisbon, Portugal.  One of the keynote speakers was Alec Couros who is Professor of Educational Technology and Media at the University of Regina.  Couros’ talk was fascinating for the insights into learning as it is evolving through the utilization of today’s rapidly changing technologies.  However, what particularly interested me was his description of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, I read about the eduMOOC 2011 being hosted by the University of Illinois at Springfield, but at the time of Professor Couros’ keynote address, the course had not started.  However, Couros stimulated my interest in MOOCs by inviting all 900 conference participants to register for a MOOC at his university entitled EC&I 831: Social Media and Education.  According to Couros, the MOOC is free unless you want to take it for academic credit AND the course is dependent upon having the non-credit-seeking students attend.  I attempted to register immediately for Couros’ course, but registrations are closed until August.

Meanwhile, I conducted a little research on MOOCs.  Probably some of the best information can be obtained from YouTube videos assembled by Dave Cormier and his associates at the University of Prince Edward Island.  In “What is a MOOC?,” Cormier argues that a MOOC is a response to a world with information overload.  It is a course with facilitators, materials, and participants.  It is “an event in which people who care about a topic get together to talk about it.”  Participants make connections between ideas, materials, and the facilitators and participants.  The course is part of a way of building learning by creating networks that enable the participants to increase their lifelong learning.  Cormier’s “Success in a MOOC” video provides five key points for participants in a MOOC to keep in mind.  My favorite is the last one, focus.  Given that the idea of the MOOC, according to Cormier, is to facilitate a learning network in a world with information overload, it seems that participating in a MOOC with as many as 3,000 participants might contribute to that overload without a specific focus by the participant.

While I have not yet participated in a MOOC, the concept and the possibilities stimulate many ideas.  Formal online learning has enabled universities like APUS to bring together faculty with theoretical and practical experience and students who either have an interest in a field of study or practical experience in that field or profession.  Distance is not an issue.  MOOCs seize on the advantages of technology, the internet, and social media.  For a MOOC to be successful, the facilitators want as many knowledgeable people as possible to facilitate and participate.   My guess is that Alec Couros invites every participant at every conference he attends to sign up for EC&I 831.  While the conversion rate isn’t as important as it might be if you paid for advertising, the level of enthusiasm for the participants will undoubtedly be high given the topic and the currency of the material.

I can see the possibilities for MOOCs to expand beyond higher education to include associations, clubs, corporations, municipalities, etc.  If the concept is to provide an “event” to discuss a topic in which people get together and talk in an instructional way, the opportunities abound for learning, networking, and collaboration with people with the same interests.  As I mentioned earlier, I intend to enroll in EC&I 831 but I might take a peek at the eduMOOC 2011 course as well.  It appears that enrollment is still open even though the course has begun.  Let me know if you have experience with a MOOC as a facilitator or as a participant.

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity by the U.S. Secretary of Education in 2019. He also serves as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), as a Trustee of The American College of Financial Services, as a member of the board of Our Community Salutes - USA, and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


  1. Hallo, I’m from Italy.
    I attended, some years ago, two MOOC: OER and Connectivism. The experience was very interesting, I studied with people all over the world.
    The most important teaching consists that I learnt how to connect with colleauges and students to learn and exchange informations, experiences, methods and tools.

    Mooch are courses that stimulate connectivism because they don’t focus on learning contents but on discussion between the various participants: students, teachers, tutors that do different jobs. The learning is more internalized, the effectiveness is increased.

    In the other hand in the beginning it’s not so easy to follow a MOOC because the password is CAOS, but strangely, it’s this condition that leaves the best learning.

    Now I’m trying to share this methodology into my school.


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