What is a MOOC and Where Do I Get One?

Designing Digitally


Online education is abuzz with a hot new trend. More than a million users worldwide have been flocking to enroll in massive open online courses, or MOOCs. Time magazine has described the trend as the beginning of the "Ivy League for the Masses," while others view MOOCs as the latest victim of media hype. Either way, one thing's for certain -- MOOCs have made an impression.

Here at Designing Digitally, Inc., we've been fielding quite a few inquiries about this trend. While we don't design MOOCs, we thought it would be helpful to offer a brief primer on what they are, who uses them, and where to find more information about them.

The ABCs of MOOCs

Online study certainly is not a new phenomena in education. Up until now, colleges and universities have offered online courses only to enrolled, tuition-paying students. A MOOC, on the other hand, is a college-level course offered online by top universities free of charge to anyone who is interested. It combines traditional instructional methods of lectures, assignments, exams, and assessments with interactive elements such as discussion forums, blogs, and social media.

In 2011, Stanford University was one of the first institutions to open up online study to a wider audience with its first MOOC, "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence." When enrollment quickly hit 160,000 , the university introduced two more MOOCs, each of which attracted more than 100,000 participants.

The Stanford professors who created these initial MOOCs have since formed ventures in partnership with some of the country's most prestigious universities to offer courses across a wide range of subjects -- everything from science and mathematics to computers and technology to music, art, and film. And interest continues to mount here and abroad. The New York Times recently reported that two of the leading ventures -- Coursera and edX -- have added international universities.

Even as MOOCs continue to proliferate, there have been growing pains. Critics point to the low-completion rate among enrollees, the chaotic nature of the social networking elements, limited or no access to the instructor, and the challenges of assessing large numbers of enrollees.

MOOCs in Business

For the most part, MOOCs are still considered online college-level classes with instructors controlling the flow of the course. The format has not yet caught on in the corporate self-paced learning arena. But MOOC News and Reviews, an online publication dedicated to the emerging MOOC, recently reported some potential applications of the MOOC format in training, recruitment, and product promotion. Google recently launched Mapping with Google, a self-paced online course taught by Google Maps product managers to promote the use of Google mapping tools and Google Earth. And German business software developer SAP is offering a MOOC in its proprietary programming software.

Where can I find MOOCs?

Are MOOCs the "next big thing" or a passing fad, only time will tell. If nothing else, the concept has sparked a great deal of interest in the industry. If you'd like more information about MOOCs and available courses of study, check out the following resources: