Monday, May 7, 2012

Comparing MOOCs, MIT’s OpenCourseWare, and Stanford’s Massive AI Course

What is a MOOC?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are large-scale online courses (in the thousands of participants) where an expert or group of experts from a particular field both 1. create the large draw to the course, and 2. facilitate a multi-week series of interactive lectures and discussion forms on critical issues from that field. Participants are expected to self-organize, to share and discuss the course material, and to create and publish new artifacts that represent their learning. Additionally, MOOC participation is recorded and published openly so that those who come upon it later may follow peripherally.

Where did MOOCs Come From?

This is best answered in the words of David Cormier and George Siemens,

“The term was coined in response to Siemens and Downes’s 2008 “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” course. An initial group of twenty-five participants registered and paid to take the course for credit. The course was then opened up for other learners to participate: course lectures, discussion forums, and weekly online sessions were made available to nonregistered learners. This second group of learners–those in The Open Course who wanted to participate but weren’t interested in course credit–numbered over 2,300. [snip].

Since 2008, several other MOOCs have developed. These include:

  • Learning Analytics and Knowledge 2011 MOOC
  • [snip]
  • Digital Story Telling MOOC
  • Online Learning Today and Tomorrow
  • Change: Education, Learning, and Technology! MOOC
  • Constructivism and Connected Knowledge 2011 MOOC
  • ExperienceU
  • mobiMOOC
  • Personal Learning Networks and Knowledge
  •  Social Media and Open Education

 What is a MOOC Experience?

The scale of interaction among MOOC participants is like that of massively multiplayer online games, such as World of Warcraft, but where as in the gaming environment large numbers of people come together online to play, self-organize, develop skill, strategize as a group, and execute strategies, MOOCs, on the other hand, facilitate learning about or the development of a particular knowledge domain at a participation scale ripe for diversity.

As Mackness, Mak, and Williams described, “The experience was, in part, positive and stimulating, and in part frustrating and negative…For participants not only was the course design unique, but so too was the learning experience. Easy access to advancing technologies means that learners can now take control of where, when, how, what and with whom they learn. There has been a massive growth in online social networking in recent years. [snip],


Is MIT’s OpenCourseWare a MOOC?

The short answer is no. I again point to Cormier and Siemens:

“In an open course, participants engage at different levels of the educator’s practice, whether that be helping to develop a course or participating in the live action of the course itself. This is distinctly different from the idea of open in the open content movement, where open is used in the sense of being free from the intellectual property stipulations that restrict the use and reuse of content” ... .

Though MIT’s OpenCourseWare is revolutionary, making content publicly available is not enough because it only focuses on the content. The proposed benefit of MOOCs, on the other hand, is “the interaction, the access to the debate, to the negotiation of knowledge–not to the stale cataloging of content” ... . [snip].

Are Stanford’s Massive Online Courses MOOCs?

Stanford has opened three courses to the public for the fall of 2011: AI, Databases, and Machine Learning. The number of participants in these courses will be unprecedented: 135,455, 38,499, and 38,779 respectively as of the middle of the day on Aug 27, 2011. [snip].

MOOCs seem to differ from Stanford’s classes in these principle ways:

  1. Direct access to course facilitators: MOOC (yes), Stanford (no)
  2. Inclusion of all participation: MOOC (yes), Stanford (no)
  3. Ranking of performance: MOOC (no), Stanford (yes)
  4. Degree of separation between accredited and online participants: MOOC (lesser), Stanford (greater)
  5. Flexible, personalized curriculum: MOOC (yes), Stanford (no)
  6. Define or develop the field: MOOC (yes), Stanford (no)
  7. Other differences may emerge as the Stanford courses proceed.

Stanford’s large-scale courses do not appear to be MOOCs, but they are massive, are online, have celebrity draw (Peter Norvig), appear to invite both real-time and asynchronous participation and self organization, and make the sessions and forms publicly available like MOOCs do. [snip].


MOOCs and the similar variations I have discussed appear to be carving out a substantial niche in the array of online learning experiences. They are a significant and unique addition to how people may engage virtually at scale for both learning and exploration.

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