What are MOOCs?

What in the world is a MOOC? Though the unfortunate acronym sounds like some sort of slimy substance or science fiction character, it's definitely more substantial than that. MOOC stands for "massive open online course," and it is quickly changing the face of online education.

Online courses have long been offered through colleges and universities, as well as serving as the bread-and-butter for many for-profit schools. In fact, educational powerhouses MIT and Harvard have offered free courses online for many years. Massive open online courses are different in that they are available to anyone who has an Internet connection, they are free of charge, and they offer the educational experience to millions, with tens of thousands of people routinely signing up for a single course.

The majority of MOOCs are offered by three different for-profit companies. Coursera, launched in 2011, is the largest provider of MOOCs. Other providers include EdX and Udacity.

What are the benefits of MOOCs?

MOOCs are excellent tools for anyone who wants to learn about a particular subject but can't spend the time or money to take the course for credit. Most MOOCs offer video-streaming lectures, message boards for students to talk with one another, and access to the teacher for questions about course assignments. Some MOOCs require exams to prove you have passed the course, while others do not. In any case, most MOOCs do not award class credit, but leave you with the satisfaction of learning something new.

For some students, MOOCs can be a good way to learn more about a subject before they plunge into pursuit of a degree. For instance, taking a MOOC on English literature might convince you that this is absolutely the major for you, while someone else taking the course might realize they hate the idea of pursuing a career in the field. MOOCs are also a free "test run" in how online education works, which can help those who are trying to decide if they want to take the plunge into an online degree program.

How are MOOCs changing education

Up until 2013, MOOCs were offered as an incentive to learn, but didn't offer credentials or course credit. This is all changing with the introduction of credential-granting MOOCs. Four colleges -- the University of Illinois, University of California -- San Francisco, Georgia Tech and Duke University -- are part of a pilot program that offers certificates to those who successfully complete a MOOC. A proctored test and a small fee (between $30 and $100 for Coursera, $89 for Udacity and $95 for EdX) are required to obtain the certificate.

Those who opt for certificates might do so to boost their employment potential, as hiring managers could see the MOOC completion as evidence of a person's self-discipline required to successfully pass online courses, as well as an overall receptiveness to continuing education.

As MOOCs become more popular, some schools are looking to them as potential college-credit options. In early 2013, Georgia State University announced that it would begin reviewing MOOCs for possible credits. In California, Senator Darrell Steinberg sponsored a bill that might require state universities to accept online courses for credit.

A study by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that 45 percent of professors who teach them believe that MOOCs could eventually reduce tuition significantly for students, and 34 percent believe MOOCs should be available for credit. As more and more students demand recognition for their hard work in the massive open online courses, and as colleges look for ways to cut costs, it stands to reason that many institutions of higher learning will soon take a hard look at what MOOCs can do for them.


"Free the MOOCs," Huff Post College, The Huffington Post, John M. Eger, April 5, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-m-eger/free-the-moccs_b_2944703.html
"MOOCs -- Here come the credentials," Post Local, College, Inc., The Washington Post, Nick Anderson, January 9, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/college-inc/post/moocs%20 -- %20here-come-the-credentials/2013/01/09/a1db85a2-5a67-11e2-88d0-c4cf65c3ad15_blog.html
"MOOCs for Credit," Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik, January 23, 2013, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/01/23/public-universities-move-offer-moocs-credit
"The Professors Who Make the MOOCS," Technology, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Steve Kolowich, March 18, 2013, http://chronicle.com/article/The-Professors-Behind-the-MOOC/137905/#id=overview
"What in the world is a MOOC?" Post Local, Campus Overload, The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/campus-overload/post/what-in-the-world-is-a-mooc/2012/09/24/50751600-0662-11e2-858a-5311df86ab04_blog.html

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