Definition of mooc

Mooc is an acronym for “massive open online course”. It refers to a web-based class designed to support a large number of participants.

Typically, students enrolled in a Mooc watch video lectures – often sliced into digestible 10 or 15-minute segments – and interact with instructors and fellow participants in online forums. Some moocs require students to take online tests or quizzes with multiple choice answers that can be graded automatically, while others require students to complete peer-reviewed assignments. Some moocs use a combination of these assessments.

A key advantage of moocs over traditional classroom-based learning is their convenience. Moocs offer a self-determined pace of learning so that students may study according to their own schedules (although some do have start and completion dates). This also gives students the opportunity to re-watch parts of the lecture that is more challenging for them.

A number of web-based platforms backed by top universities and colleges offer moocs in a wide range of subjects; the content of a Mooc is often similar to that of a university or graduate-level course. A selection of current courses can be seen at the FT's Mooc tracker.

Coursera, an online learning system launched by Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, two Stanford computer scientists, delivers Moocs in maths, science and the humanities.

Udacity, another online education company, started by Sebastian Thrun, a former Stanford professor, primarily offers Moocs in computer programming and software design.

Harvard and MIT’s edX, a non-profit, joint online education partnership, delivers Moocs in computer science, health research and chemistry.

These platforms do not offer academic credit to students who complete a Mooc, however students may receive electronic certificates of accomplishment. Some platforms give students the option of taking a proctored final exam.

Moocs make high-quality education accessible to the masses, but some are sceptical about whether these online platforms can maintain rigorous standards online. There are also questions around whether these platforms’ business models are sustainable given that for now, moocs are free.

Kevin Werbach, a professor of legal studies at the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania, taught a Mooc on Coursera beginning in August of 2012. His Mooc, which lasted six weeks, was about gamification – the application of game elements and digital game design techniques to non-game problems, such as business and social impact challenges. It was one of the first business courses offered on the platform. A total of 81,631 signed up for the class and 9,244 took the final exam. [1]


Moocs in the news

In November 2013, a report looked at a movement in Europe to transform Moocs from academic novelty courses to meaningful qualifications. A Berlin-based platform, Iversity, argued that should credits be awarded they could be transferred to another course through the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System.

But also in November 2013, another report argued that the cult of the Moocs had taken a blow after Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity described Moocs as a "lousy product".