MOOC – Is open technology opening education?

If you follow education or technology news, you might have heard the acronym MOOC bandied about recently. There are already a huge amount of blogs and discussions on MOOCs, but this article aims to summarise Massive Open Online Courses for eWorks’ clients and followers by looking at each term in the acronym and the meanings behind them.


This term emerged in other internet-related acronyms, particularly in the gaming community where MMO or MMOG represents Massively Multiplayer Online Games. These games are played via the Internet and can involve 4000+ players simultaneously, often with vast virtual game worlds.

Unlike the space limitations in a physical classroom or auditorium, MOOCs are typically designed in such a way that there are no limits to how many people can participate. An example is Udacity’s CS101 course having 314,159 students enrolled in May 2013.


This term might look fairly innocuous when viewed as publicly open to registrations, however when we look at what open means in a broader sense, the impacts are huge. With the ability to create learning environments that can scale to hundreds of thousands of people, should/could/would there be a charge for entry? This boils down to the age-old question of free education, a global discussion which has been re-fuelled by the emergence of MOOCs.

An example of the power and scale of open learning is Kahn Academy, which started in late 2003 when Salman Khan began tutoring his cousin in mathematics using Yahoo’s Doodle Notepad. He opened an account on YouTube in 2006 and since has delivered 300 million video lessons in a range of topics spanning from history to computer science. There is no charge for access to Khan Academy, however 1.4 million dollars of funding has been provided by the Gates Foundation.


The audience for Khan Academy and other MOOCs such as the ones launched by Harvard and Stanford? Everyone that has access to the Internet. This is a rapidly growing number according to the Wikipedia estimation that shows internet access penetration still only covers 39% of the global population in 2014. MOOCs are a great source of education for developed countries, but those learners in developing countries miss out on the opportunity, and you could perhaps argue that free education is needed the most in developing nations.

For those of us that have access to the Internet, online self-paced learning offers the opportunity to work and study at the same time; a choice that in the past may have meant one or the other.

Growth in the use of online digital technology is changing the way we communicate with others. This is shown in the large amounts of people using social media services like the 1.3 billion users on Facebook, sharing photos and conversations often immediately via their smartphone.


With the growth in online learning, it stands to reason that the traditional associations of the term course will change with it. Often, the term is associated with going to a physical place with a number of other learners and a teacher. When attending a MOOC, this activity transforms into an online interaction in a virtual space. My recent experience attending the Coaching Digital Learning course from has involved reading articles, watching videos, writing assignments and having Twitter conversations with other participants following the conference hashtag. This seems to me to be a good balance between the two emerging MOOC models:

  • connectivist MOOCs that focus on enabling a large-scale dialog via social media, and
  • constructivist MOOCs that provide a collection of learning resources for an individual to progress through at their own pace.

Even though MOOCs have received some bad press primarily due to low completion rates, they appear to be here to stay as a large-scale method of delivering education.

Find out how to start or improve your e-learning by contacting Darcy Nicolson, our E-learning Consultant and representative of the National VET E-learning Strategy.

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