In various places (such as the New York Times) 2012 has been heralded as the year of the Massive Open & Online Course, also called MOOC. Although MOOCs have been around since 2008 or so, developed by researchers like Stephen Downes, David Courmier, George Siemens, Jim Groom and others.
“In the summer of 2008 I invited George Siemens and Stephen Downes to come to edtechtalk and tell us about the new course they were teaching. They had 25 people registered (paid), at the university of Manitoba, but they had opened the class for online registration to whomever wanted to come along. Hundreds (and then a couple thousand) people took them up on it. We started talking about what it meant to have lots and lots of people learning together… somewhere in there, i called them a massive open online course… for which i have been often chastised ” (from Dave Courmier’s blog)
They are based on a connectivist pedagogy, characterised by distributed content, network formation, creation of artefacts outside course-related structures and superfluous course boundaries. MOOCs based on these principles are often dubbed cMOOCs, to distinguish them from their less salubrious nephews.
The main in change in 2012 has been the entering of Ivy League institutions in the MOOC fray. As OU vice-chancellor Martin Bean notes, the arrival of great brands, lots of (venture capital) money has vastly increased the forces of disruption. The entrance of Silicon Valley in MOOCs has been spearheaded by Coursera, Udacity (both offshoots from an open Artificial Intelligence course at Stanford University) and edX (grown from MITx after investment and participation from Harvard University and UC Berkeley). Online courses from these providers routinely attract tens of thousands of people (although drop-out rates are stratospheric). Mass media have picked up the phenomenon (New York Times, The Economist, Financial Times). Coursera has been gradually expanding its offer to non-US universities and currently offers more than 200 courses from 62 universities and 14 countries, including France, The Netherlands, Hong Kong and Italy (no, not from Belgium yet, no surprises there). It’s interesting to note that these institutions have largely missed out the evolution to online learning so far and their Silicon-centredness and lack of regard for 40 years of research in distance and online learning has been derided by researchers. In the UK the Open University (OU) has recently announced its own MOOC platform, Futurelearn – here is a worthwhile reflection from OU researcher Doug Clow – and in March a ‘regular’ online course (h817) will be offered partly as a free open course.
Dubbing 2012 the ‘year of the MOOC’ may seem condescending to institutions and researchers who have been active on the topic for years. However, there’s no denying in the worldwide appeal of the Ivy League institutions and their disruptive power. Many challenges remain, in terms of business models, learner interaction, accreditation and quality. It will be interesting to watch if also this disruptive innovation, like radio and television before, will evolve from an open, bottom-up structure full of creativity towards a commercialised and closed system, as described so beautifully by Tim Wu in ‘The Master Swith’ (blog post on the book).