Origins of MOOCs

Some welcome antidote to the avalanche of – mainly US-centred – information assuming that MOOCs started with the 2011 AI (Artificial Intelligence) course at Stanford and the subsequent Silicon Valley fuelled start-up frenzy spearheaded by Coursera, edX and Udacity.

The graph below comes from a JISC CETIS publication and helpfully links the xMOOCs to the OER movement and the cMOOC’ers.


The figure below, from an excellent paper in Open Praxis from Sandra Peter and Markus Deimann, links MOOCs to much earlier developments such as the Public Lectures and the 17th century coffee houses.  Taking a historical perspective arguably has the advantage of countering the techno-utopian language that surrounds xMOOCs.  It also subtly dinstinguishes between MOOCs and the AI-offspring, rightly implying that these courses are no MOOCs (at least not as MOOCs were originally intended (YouTube video).


A historical form can bring a sense of perspective and yield a cautionary tale or two for the future of online education.  Peter and Deimann write: ‘ Historical forms of openness caution us against assuming that particular configurations will prevail, or that social aspects should be assumed as desired by default‘.

Such a cautionary tale may well refer to the xMOOCs, which seem to deliberately obscure the meaning of terms such as ‘open’ and ‘MOOCs’.  Looking for a viable business model, they intend to capture the emerging OER and MOOC movements before they become threatening, rather than strenghten them.  Their arguments reflect those made by Tim Wu in his excellent book ‘The Master Switch’, about which I blogged here, as they warn:

“After a period of open movements many times there have been slight but important shifts from “pure” openness towards “pretended” openness, i.e. some aspects have been modified to offer more control for producers and other stakeholders. For instance, the historic culture of the coffeehouses had been transformed to private clubs and closed, exclusive societies.”



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