What is a MOOC?
MOOCs are a concept that is currently at the cutting edge of learning technology. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course, put simply this is a course that anyone can sign up for (there may still be a fee) that is aimed at a large group of people (sign ups in the thousands are common), that is hosted on the web.
Set Your Own Pace
There is a big difference between this and traditional push learning. In a MOOC the onus is on the end users to learn at their own pace. This can often be structured (follow activities 1-5 in order) or directed (here are this week’s activities) but often allows users to self manage. A key advantage here is it can take less teacher time to manage, a few course facilitators could deal with requests from hundreds if not thousands of users, rather than having a ratio more like 1 to 30. Having an open flow through the course can also let learners work at a pace comfortable to them. More advanced students can push on through the activities quickly, students who are struggling can take longer to go through.
There is also often a social & collaborative approach to learning on a MOOC. Students are encouraged to keep in touch and assist each other, often through forums or social media. Facilitators can monitor these channels for any learner suffering difficulty and step in to assist.
Great for Teachers
Moodle HQ has been hosting it’s first MOOC recently, though other organizations have already been using Moodle for this purpose. The MOOC which has been running in September 2013, is focused on Learning Moodle, mostly from a teacher or tutor’s perspective. This course is being facilitated by Mary Cooch and Helen Bound from Moodle HQ, and has had over 8000 learners sign up. This free course is structured on a weekly basis, and there has been a big focus on collaboration. Users are communicating through the forums & chat room on the course, and through social media. The most popular seems to be twitter, with a #learnmoodle hashtag being used to tag tweets connected to the MOOC.
We’ve been speaking to one of our Moodle Specialists, Ben Wagner, who has been attending the MOOC. We’ve asked him for his thoughts on how the MOOC has been going.
“We’ve been seeing some great test courses being set up, and a lot of users have been asking questions and collaborating on the forums or on twitter over the last month. I’m sure that a lot of learners who haven’t used Moodle before have learnt a lot about how the system works, and even some of us who are more experienced are picking up on new features and best practice. I’d judge this MOOC as a great success.”
Widening the Scope
The main benefit of a MOOC is how you can engage a multitude of users that might not be engaged in traditional learning. Because learners can access the MOOC on mobile devices you will find that they often work on the course at home, or even during a commute. Being open on public hosting can encourage collaboration across multiple countries, and across institutions. This can expose your learners to different points of view, and is an excellent way of sharing best practice.
Some smaller institutions may look at the concepts of a MOOC and decide that they are too large for them to manage. However there are some lessons from the implementation of MOOCs that even the smallest institution can benefit from. The idea of having “open” courses can be applied within an institution. You could have a course that is a bit more advanced, or covers a topic that isn’t strictly on the curriculum but may be of relevance. Interested students can sign up for these courses in their own time, broadening their learning. You can also look at the social aspect of a MOOC. If you have a forum for your course on your LMS, students can talk to each other and work together on problems. Some LMS software like Moodle have collaborative tools to encourage this sort of behaviour.
MOOCs are an exciting development in educational IT, which should bring great benefits to learners who find this a useful way of learning.