What is a MOOC? Here are four videos that explain this new way to learn online…

Monday - March 17, 2014

Let’s start by acknowledging that there is no consensus on what a MOOC is. The acronym stands for Massive Open Online Course, but that only tells part of the story. Broadly speaking, a MOOC is an online course that is open to anyone. Many universities offer them, although few universities offer credit for completing a MOOC. Several private companies exist that provide the online platform that universities use to offer the courses, such as edXCourseraiversity and FutureLearn


Here are a few videos that will give you an idea of what a MOOC is, how they work, and why they are important.

What is a MOOC?

“This video will introduce you to how a Massive Open Online Course is one way of learning in a networked world”

Dave Cormier‘s video gives a good overview of what a MOOC is and what differentiates it from a regular online course. He emphasizes the importance of networked communication and collaborative learning in a MOOC.

Why are MOOCs important? 

“In a global economy, where knowledge and creative thinking are going to be the keys to the jobs of the future, as we’ve been hearing, the question of the time in my judgement is how can we democratise access to higher education? MOOCs are one answer – not a panacea – but one answer to the problem.”

In this TEDx talk, Ro Khanna talks about the value and relevance of MOOCs as part of the current education landscape.

MOOCs in the real world

“MOOCs are in their infancy but their potential is huge. They’re affecting the way teachers teach and the way students learn.”

CBC’s The National gives us some insight on MOOCs in practice. The segment features an interview with Professor Rosie Redfield, a leading microbiologist at the University of British Columbia who is teaching the MOOC “Useful Genetics.” It also includes an interview with Andrew Ng, former Stanford professor and founder of Coursera, one of the major MOOC platforms.

Taking a MOOC

“There are many ways to succeed in a MOOC. You might just want to follow along and get a sense of the topic. You might be doing it for course credit. You might be doing it to develop a new learning network or to help finish that project you’re working on. This video is how I look at success in a massive open online course.”

We’re back to Dave Cormier, who put together an excellent guide to what learners new to MOOCing should know. He identifies five essential steps to success: Orient, Declare, Network, Cluster, and Focus. Watching this video should give you a better idea of what actually happens inside a MOOC and how students can benefit from what’s on offer.

Our criteria

At Open Education Europa, we keep a comprehensive database of all the MOOCs from European institutions. Here’s our checklist for what we consider a MOOC:

  • Massive, in the sense of no limit to attendance
  • ‘Open’ in the sense that it can be accessed by anyone anywhere as long as they have an internet connection
  • Free of charge (not including the certificate of completion)
  • Online
  • Structured around a set of learning goals in a defined area of study
  • Executed according to a specific time frame with a start and end date
  • Offers possibilities for interaction such as social media channels, forums, blogs or RSS feeds to build a learning community
  • Course materials such as videos, readings, and others, are provided free of charge by the course designers, teachers, facilitators or even students themselves (cMOOCs)
  • Includes assessment or evaluation, self assessment or peer assessment

Learn more

European MOOCs Scoreboard – an ongoing research project on the development of MOOCs in Europe, updated on a monthly basis. Includes statistics on MOOCs by country, by subject, and over time.

European MOOCs Stakeholders Summit – a recent conference all about MOOCs. The conference proceedings include detailed information from each of the sessions. The presentation slides are also available online, along with videos of the keynote speeches.

Class Central – a MOOC aggregator that lists courses offered from all of the major providers and institutions worldwide.

B-MOOC – a blog all about MOOCs, with articles in English and French on a wide range of topics related to MOOCs, including strategy, pedagogy, technology, distribution, and more.