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Massive Open Online Courses

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MOOC Courses (Massive Open Online Courses)

MOOCs are individual units of learning offered online and completed by large numbers of people.There are two major types of MOOC – the Connectivist MOOC (cMOOC), and the eXtended MOOC (xMOOC) (Mohamed & Hammond, 2017). MOOCs offer educational experiences at scale, and are usually free; however it is common for a fee to be charged for a certificate to formally recognise successful completion.

European Commission defines a MOOC as “an online course open to anyone without restrictions (free of charge and without a limit to attendance), usually structured around a set of learning goals in an area of study, which often runs over a specific period of time (with a beginning and end date) on an online platform which allows interactive possibilities (between peers or between students and instructors) that facilitate the creation of a learning community. As it is the case for any online course, it provides some course materials and (self) assessment tools for independent studying”

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a new addition to the open educational provision. They are offered mainly by prestigious universities on various commercial and non-commercial MOOC platforms allowing anyone who is interested to experience the world class teaching practiced in these universities. MOOCs have attracted wide interest from around the world. However, learner demographics in MOOCs suggest that some demographic groups are underrepresented. At present MOOCs seem to be better serving the continuous professional development sector.


MOOCs are new to the institutional field of higher education, but online education has existed for several decades. Still, as surveys have shown, many faculty members still harbor negative opinions about online education, indicating that online education as a whole has not diffused through the entire innovation curve described by Rogers (Allen & Seaman, 2014). Professors of computer and

information sciences are the most positive about online education (i.e., they arelikely the innovators), while humanities professors can be the most negative. Professors of computer-oriented sciences are most likely to have the technical proficiency required for online education as well as the perspective to see the potential of a massive open online course; in fact, a course on artificial intelligence taught at Stanford in 2011 is often cited as the first MOOCand the first MOOC produced by edX covered electrical engineering (Breslow et al., 2013).

In addition, institutions can be players in the diffusion of innovations approach to understanding MOOC acceptance. Elite US-based universities were the first to offer MOOCs: Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. The majority of universities listing humanities courses on Coursera and edX are also elite, research-focused, US-based universities . As leaders in the institutional field of higher education, these universities can influence others with their actions. While other start-up MOOC platforms do exist, Coursera and edX are the largest and best established.


Although the MOOC phenomenon is recent, entering the mainstream in 2012 with

the launches of Coursera and edX (Pappano, 2012), the courses can be considered

an expanded form of online higher education. Professors initially expressed trepidation

about online education, but attitudes have become more positive as more professors

teach online (Allen & Seaman, 2014).

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have exploded in popularity in recent years.

These courses are offered online to any student with a computer and an Internet connection.

Pioneered by elite US universities, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, and Stanford University, MOOCs have quickly spread to universities and students around the world. The dominant provider of MOOCs, Coursera, offered more than 1000 courses from 112 universities in 2015 ( Also in 2015, edX, the MOOC platform governed by

MIT and Harvard University, offered more than 500 courses from more than 40 universities ( A report found that 7.1 million students took online courses in America in 2013 (Allen & Seaman, 2014); the free and open MOOCs have the potential to greatly multiply that number. With no enrolment cap, each course has the potential to reach thousands of students, meaning that MOOCs may be the most accessible form of higher education ever conceived.

MOOCs, however, are said to  face pedagogical challenges. In teaching MOOCs, professors are tasked with instructing tens of thousands of students of varying and frequently unknown backgrounds and levels of preparation. To date, empirical research on MOOCs has largely focused on the makeup of and outcomes for the student population, such as the challenges of low completion rates (e.g., Breslow et al., 2013). However, research on e-learning indicates that faculty play perhaps the most critical role in facilitating positive online instruction outcomes, suggesting that we also should turn our lens to the faculty experience in order to get a fuller picture of how MOOCs function (Yengin, Karahoca, & Karahoca, 2011). Faculty are, after all, making the critical pedagogical choices that shape student experiences and outcomes; instructors perceive their students.Faculty satisfaction has been closely tied to student success (Wasilik & Bolliger, 2009).

Comfort and familiarity with technology are positively associated with greater satisfaction with teaching online(Britt, 2006), as are good interaction levels with students and sufficient technical support (Shea, Pickett, & Li, 2005). However, faculty surveys often find that professors believe that teaching online takes much more time and resources (Seaman, 2009).

Online courses might be said to  lack quality student–teacher interactions and result in less learning compared to face-to-face courses.  Bolliger and Wasilik (2009) found that instructor satisfaction with teaching online courses is dependent on institutional, student, and instructor factors. Specific factors that predict faculty satisfaction with teaching online courses includeflexibility, access, student diversity, and a higher degree of student-to-instructor interaction (Bolliger & Wasilik, 2009; Wasilik & Bolliger, 2009). Faculty satisfactionwith teaching online courses is also positively associated  with the use of reliable technology and a lack of problems with technology (Bolliger & Wasilik, 2009).

Honeychurch and Draper (2013) described the perspectives on MOOCs as both positive and negative: cynics believe that MOOCs are simply a poor version of online education that will lead to privatized higher education, while altruists think MOOCs democratize learning and provide pedagogical opportunities. The divide is, then, between philanthropic or business-oriented motives (Yuan & Powell, 2013). In a 2013 survey, academic leaders ranked “increase institutional visibility” and “drive

student recruitment” above “innovative pedagogy” and “flexible learning abilities” when asked about the primary objectives of MOOCs (Allen & Seaman, 2014). How faculty perceive the purpose of MOOCs, however, is an open question. There are many reasons why faculty members are slow to or decide not to adopt new technologies.  The technology acceptance model says that people evaluate the perceived usefulness and potential ease of use of a new technology when weighing whether to adopt it. Faculty members who have low confidence in their abilities to use a new technology and fail to see the purpose of adopting the new technology will be reluctant to use it.

The greatest benefit of MOOCs for students is access, or as professosr put it, “access to world class materials and global perspectives.” Access, then, has two components: first, to the faculty and materials presented in each course for free; second, to the community of other MOOC students

from around the world. The first component is related to the ability to take a course regardless of geographic location, economic constraints, or other time commitments, as MOOCs are taught asynchronously. The second component is related to the creation of a community of students who shared information via online forums. This allows them to “come into contact with a diverse student body” and gives them “the ability to exchange ideas across great distances and cultures.”

While MOOCs allows students to build communities and access quality higher

education, these benefits are tempered with challenges. Access is not always simple: professors note that disadvantaged students might not have high-speed Internet that allows video playback. In addition, positive student communities are  not automatic.. Cultural differences, especially language, constitutes an enormous challenge for students from developing nations. And while it is believed that  the building of an international student community  is  a major benefit of MOOCs, online learning can be “isolating.” Online learners need to be “self-starters” and able to succeed with “limited support.” The courses works best for well-prepared students: “MOOCs are a wonderful thing for students who are already able to learn independently” and “MOOCs require a great deal of discipline and a thorough understanding of how learning takes place.”

Many professors note that their courses are  aimed toward Professional development; graduate students and postgraduates were often identified as the target student. These types of students are seen as ideal because they are  self-motivated and are  able to thrive without direct feedback from instructors. International students, particularly those with Internet access challenges or language barriers, or those who are underprepared academically, are perceived as less well served by the courses: “[The platform] … may or may not be as democratic and class-blind as we might think.” The lack of support from instructors “can disadvantage all but the most able students, thus favoring

students who already have a degree.” Even so, the ability to reach students from developing nations or those who would otherwise be excluded from a top-tier university is often cited as one of the draws of teaching a MOOC.

The most frequently invoked benefit is the ability to reach enormous numbers of students from around the world. This is seen as a pedagogical challenge, as professors struggled to discover the right “level” to produce material since the student body is so diverse, but many relish the opportunity to speak to “a global audience.” Professors are able to “teach more

eager-to-learn students in a single course than you’ll get to do in a lifetime at the


STEM professors may be more likely to have positive opinions about online learning, suggesting that they are innovators or early adopters .  STEM professors again  may be more likely to use computer grading than professors  who teach in the humanities or social sciences. As computer grading is generally easier to manage than peer grading, this could lend continued support to the idea that

online courses are perhaps better suited, at least for evaluative purposes, for

STEM-related topics. The ease of evaluation may also improve the experience for instructors.


Despite the challenges of teaching a MOOC, more and more universities have

signed up to offer MOOCs in 2015 and beyond. Faculties recognize the pedagogical difficulties of MOOCs but overall do  support the courses and were positive about the teaching experience.


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