Another day, another acronym. MOOC is an abbreviation for Massive Open Online Course. Essentially it is a course without limits — open to as many participants as possible via the world wide web. Traditional online courses charge tuition, carry credit and limit enrollment to a few dozen to ensure interaction with instructors. The MOOC, on the other hand, is usually free, non-credit bearing and limitless in enrollment. Because anyone with an Internet connection can enroll, faculty can’t possibly respond to students individually. Consequently, students often rely upon each other in this online learning environment. They form study groups, online forums and may even evaluate each other’s work. A MOOC that debuted in 2011 was Sebastian Thrun’s “Artificial Intelligence” MOOC, a course that was offered at Stanford, but opened up to anyone with a broadband. 160,000 students, from 190 countries encouraged Thrun to leave Stanford to try this new mode of pedagogy. Thurn saw a TED talk given by Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, and in January, 2012, he founded the startup MOOC provider Udacity.
The list of MOOC providers including Coursera, Udacity, edX, Udema and Skillsoft claim to create quality online courses using best practices, instructions and course creation tools to connect with students in an open platform community. The New York Times declared 2012 “The Year of the MOOC.” However, the popularity of the MOOC has waned. Some argue that MOOC’s have not been successful in online instruction and are now facing backlash due to small completion rates Drop out rates are high — up to 90% of students do not complete the coursework. Faculty also pushed back by rejecting the notion that online courses could replace the work taking place in face-to-face classrooms. With thousands of students in the class, do we lose quality over quantity? Perhaps the idea that online courses can be mass produced like widgets to capture a consumer need is not a sound pedagogical approach after all. How do MOOC’s fit into the structure of higher education when students want to pursue credible certificates or degrees online? Did the idea of MOOC’s reinvent how we deliver education? For better or for worse, we are still trying to figure out how to use MOOC’s and if the phenomenon is worth pursuing.