Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

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Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are courses offered online across the world with no charge for learners. The courses offer content at the college and university level, but do not offer credit. They make extensive use of short video lectures, often by leading professors, supplemented by online assignments and assessment and peer-to-peer discussion.

MOOCs have thousands of registrants, but the majority do not complete the assignments; those who do may be eligible for certificates of accomplishment or completion. For a few MOOCs, it is now possible to obtain credit through proctored challenge examinations, with several institutions and associations looking at ways of awarding formal credit for MOOCs.

Some Facts

Total MOOC enrolment in 2013 is estimated at between 3.6 million and 5 million learners. The average completion rate is usually quoted at being below 10%.

Retention rates are often cited as a concern for MOOCS. An Educause article by the founders of Coursera offers a detailed look at learner intent as a critical factor in retention. In 2012, the typical Coursera MOOC enrolled between 40,000 and 60,000 students, of whom 50% to 60% returned for the first lecture.

In classes with required programming or peer-graded assignments, around 15% to 20% of lecture-watchers submitted an assignment for grading. Of this group, approximately 45% successfully completed the course and earned a Statement of Accomplishment.

In total, roughly 5% of students who signed up for a Coursera MOOC earned a credential signifying official completion of the course. This equals between 2,000 and 3,000 completions.

Due to different motivations and levels of interest, many students start a MOOC with no intention of completing the assignments – they are most often university graduates who are following their own interest levels.

The Opportunity

MOOCs are most often offered through consortia, such as:

  • Coursera, which according to its website as of September 30, 2013, had almost 5 million registrants, with 452 courses offered by 88 partners including University of Alberta, University of British Columbia and University of Toronto.
  • EdX, founded by MIT and Harvard, has 30 university partners (including University of Toronto) in 12 different countries.
  • Udacity has just launched the Open Education Alliance, with partners such as AT&T, Google, and the Khan Academy, to provide students around the world with courses in the skills they will need for careers in technology.
  • FutureLearn is a company based in the United Kingdom owned by the UK Open University that brings together 20 British and international universities and institutions, such as the British Museum to develop and offer MOOCs. Launched in September 2013, FutureLearn is offering 8 courses this year, with 20,000 students from 158 countries registering in the first 24 hours.

The Gates Foundation has invested millions of dollars in research and development for MOOCs, under the banner of Student Success. Projects include investigations of linking informal MOOC learning to college credit, analyzing learning outcomes and cost savings from using MOOCs in blended learning courses for credit, and developing MOOCs for low-income and other specific groups.

Some Examples

  1. The Georgia Institute of Technology is offering a Masters in Computer Science through MOOCs with proctored examinations. The total tuition will be US$6,600. The program is being offered in partnership with Udacity and AT&T.
  2. The Commonwealth of Learning is offering a MOOC on the uses of technology for mobile learning. It is anticipated that large numbers of students engaged in learning for development will take this course.
  3. The University of Toronto offers 6 MOOCs through Coursera.
  4. Fanshawe College in London, Ontario is offering a MOOC in Applied Sustainability starting in September 2013 – one of the first colleges in Ontario to do so.
  5. One way to track developments in the quickly evolving world of MOOCs is by subscribing to Stephen Downes’ OLDaily .