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.

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence