Posted by: MandyS | April 27, 2014

Big MOOC, little mooc?

Opening up learning to everyone is nothing new. First there was distance learning and the thud of books through the door for the committed, lonely learner to pour over and teach themselves. Then came the internet and progression to online/elearning making both teaching and learning variable and interactive. Now there is the Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC to those in the know, which stems from the idea that, using open educational resources, anyone can put a course together and make it ‘freely’ available to as many people as possible by using the internet as the medium for delivery. Arguably, at each stage the openness has become greater but are MOOC’s a natural progression or are they more innovative, offering a different dimension to  teaching and learning?  

For Siemens and Cormier (2012), MOOC’s are a way of making ‘campus courses’ available to anyone who might be interested. The emphasis is not so much on the course content but on the ‘peer based learning’ it advocates through teachers and learners being able to connect with one another using a variety of synchronous and asynchronous technologies e.g. blogs, forums etc. Compared to traditional online learning, there is no ‘contract’; anyone can put a course together, there is no particular structure and users are anticipated to ‘drop in and out’. Ideal for anyone who wants to test-the-water to determine whether learning is for them or those who just value interaction with others without the formality of learning as such.

So that’s the ideology, but what about the reality? How have MOOC’s progressed and where are they headed?

There are cMOOC’s and xMOOC’s. The former are aligned to the ideology envisaged by Siemens based on a ‘connectivist’ approach to learning i.e. “the participants in the course act as both teachers and students, sharing information and engaging in a joint teaching and learning experience through intense interaction facilitated by technology” (Degree of Freedom, 2013); DS106 and Change MOOC being examples. The latter represent the so-called ‘progression’ of MOOC’s to the “professor-centric massive courses that have received most of the attention over the last couple of years” (Degree of Freedom, 2013), starting with AI Stanford way back in July 2011 culminating today in FutureLearn, Coursera and Udacity.

Arguably, it is the xMOOC which has raised their profile as a viable alternative to traditional online learning and there is now a drive to introduce MOOC’s into mainstream HE. The issue here is that they will become a far cry from the MOOC Siemens envisaged way back in 2008 and be subjected to cost-effective scrutiny, making the key motivators for their acceptance ‘sustainability, quality, financial viability and accreditation’ (Haggard, 2013). The danger is that MOOC’s will only be integrated and survive in the larger institutions with the ‘open’ and ‘free’ ethos being subsumed into business models dependent on completion rates and profits.

Just as commercialisation of OER has brought about big OER and little OER, are we going to see BIG MOOC’s and little mooc’s? In some respects, this may not be such a bad thing. As we saw with OER, the drawbacks of one are likely benefits of the other. I like Degree of Freedom’s (2013) observation here; ‘xMOOCs are not inherently superior to cMOOCs’ but each provide ‘different options’ for learners. Arguably, the cMOOC displays more innovative capabilities with its laissez-faire attitude to participation and informal learning. Haggard (2013) identifies MOOC’s as ‘challenging environments’ with some learners preferring to ‘lurk’. The connectivist, peer-based learning of cMOOC’s may be a step too far for the passive learners but equally, the learner who just wants to dabble may not favour the structure of the xMOOC. Cost-effectiveness aside, a major hurdle in incorporating MOOC’s into mainstream HE is likely to be ‘meeting the needs of people with widely varying strengths, weaknesses and preferences that make up their learning styles’ (Degree of Freedom, 2013). But this is no more of a challenge than the initial introduction of online learning, and MOOC’s, big or little, are comfortably positioned on the open spectrum to meet diverse learning needs.


Degree of Freedom (2013) ‘xMOOC vs. cMOOC’, Degree of Freedom, an adventure in online learning, 29 April [Blog]. Available at (Accessed 26 April 2014)

Haggard, S. (2013) The Maturing of the MOOC, BIS Research Paper 130, London, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Also available online at (Accessed 01 April 2014)

MOOC’s: An interview/discussion with Dave Cormier and George Siemens (2012), You Tub video added by Martin Weller [Online]. Available at (Accessed 01 April 2014)



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