The rise of the massive open online course led by MIT’s Open Courseware Project


A fairly recent development in education and information activism, a MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course.

The first MOOCs were born from the Open Educational Resources movement, which was formed by a community of people who sought to offer alternatives to the traditional educational paradigm. The MOOC originated from a culture that supports free sharing, open source, non-revenue incentivised peer collaboration, open knowledge and open content.

MIT’s Open Courseware project is typically credited as the catalyst that inspired the sensational, international rise of the MOOC. Following MIT’s example, many open courseware projects were launched offering similar services in diverse ways for diverse purposes. Daphne Koller, for example, describes in her TED talk how she built Coursera with the intention of not only bringing the best of education to the public, but also to study how people learn.


Some MOOCs even reward completion with a certificate or university credit. The innovation and motivation behind the MOOC is what influenced the New York Times to coin 2012 ‘The Year of the MOOC’ – confirming its presence in our generation’s educational debate.

Some of the ‘big players’ in the MOOC world are Udacity, Coursera, edX, Udemy and Yale Open Courses. To get an idea of enrollment stats: across the board, the average MOOC has about 50,000 students enrolled. In Coursera’s first thirteen months of operation they registered 2.8 million users. Of those enrolled, the distribution statistics on Coursera’s learners include:

  • 27.7% from the US
  • 8.8% from India
  • 5.1% from Brazil
  • 4.4% from the UK
  • 4.0% from Spain
  • 3.6% from Canada
  • 2.3% from Australia
  • 2.2% from Russia
  • 41.9% from the rest of the world

Although a lot of data is being collected about MOOCs, there still is much ambiguity as to whether a MOOC will make you better prepared for, say, the workforce. Though many begin online courses, the completion rate generally hovers around only 10%.

The ability of MOOCs to assemble significant and revolutionary educational access to anyone with an internet connection is a question that students, researchers, and universities all hope to have answered.

Some equate the MOOC revolution to the MP3 revolution in that it takes control away from constricting institutions and putting it in the hands of individual users. Others are further optimistic, considering the MOOC to be one of the most valuable technological resources available in education today.

So whether you’re an information activist, thirsty for knowledge or simply curious to see the source of the hype for yourself, your next question may be: what MOOC is right for me?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


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