What’s a MOOC?

MOOC stands for “massive open online course.” These online classrooms have been around in some form or another for almost a decade, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that “MOOC” became a buzzword of sorts.

Over 1.5 million people all over the world have signed up to take these online classes—and individual classes often have more than 10,000 students enrolled. Pretty massive, right? But the enrollment numbers don’t reflect the number of people actually participating in the online education movement. MOOCs are generally free and not offered for course credit. So here’s little motivation for students to watch the lectures, participate in the virtual discussions, or complete the assignments. Course completion rates hover around 10 percent.

Why all the fuss over MOOCs?

It’s kind of a big deal that you can use the internet to access free university-level education. Professors from prestigious universities are uploading lectures and coursework. And students all over the world are taking advantage of the opportunity to take these online courses. Big American names like Harvard, MIT, and Stanford are represented on MOOC sites. And international universities are involved as well.

Most MOOC participants have already received their undergraduate degrees; they’re taking the online courses to further their educations, not as a replacement for traditional higher education. But this may change as the online courses continue to grow and get global attention.

MOOCs and the future of education

We live our lives online. So it should come as no surprise that the newest frontier in our online lives involves education. (It’s what brought you to Wordsmith Essays, right?) Posting lecture materials and resources online has become standard practice. Canvas, Sakai, Blackboard—there’s no shortage of servers helping students engage with educational material in a way that integrates the learning experience with our online lives.

According to the New York Times, 2012 was “The Year of the MOOC.” And MOOCs’ popularity doesn’t seem to have faded in the past year. Google is teaming up with MIT and Harvard’s non-profit MOOC site to create “” This free, open-source hub for MOOCs is set to launch in early 2014.

There are also an increasing number of online courses that are being offered for actual course credit. Coursera, NovoEd, and Udacity are all offering for-credit online courses in addition to the free MOOCs that have made them popular. They’re like course-by-course versions of the online universities that offer full degrees for you to complete from home.

Beyond MOOCs

Apple has taken advantage of the MOOC trend, launching the highly-successful iTunes U. This “app for learning” offers courses and educational content for K-12 schools, universities, and colleges in over 20 countries. They have over 500,000 free lectures, videos, books, and other resources. And they boast some the biggest names in the MOOC world (and the educational world in general) among their content-providers. Stanford, MIT, Yale, and Oxford have all contributed to iTunes U.

MOOCs are far from the only resource for online learning. If you’re looking for a way to take individual lessons at your own pace—rather than joining an online classroom that meets and turns in assignments on a set schedule—you might be interested in checking out Khan Academy. Unlike MOOCs, Khan Academy is focused outside the university system. It’s more like online tutoring than an online classroom.

And if you’re looking for personalized online tutoring, I hope you don’t need reminding that Wordsmith Essays has several tutors on staff.

The internet is full of educational resources. When it comes to online learning, MOOCs are just the tip of the iceberg

If you’re interested in learning more, or in checking out some massive online courses, consider some of the following links:

MOOC Sites:

  • Coursera: One of the biggest MOOC resources, which recently started offering a few of its courses for college credit (for a fee).
  • Udacity: Another big MOOC site; like Coursera, they’re now offering some MOOCs-for-credit.
  • edX: The Harvard and MIT non-profit MOOC hub that’s teaming up with Google to launch
  • NovoEd: These MOOCs are very business-focused; it’s yet another site that includes both free and for-a-fee courses, with its notable instructors coming from Stanford University.
  • MOOC list: A list of notable and recent MOOC additions on the major sites—including edX and Coursera.
  • 6 MOOC Tips: An article about helping you pick the best MOOCs.

Links: Beyond MOOCs:

photo credit: mathplourde via photopin cc


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