What are the different types of MOOCs?

MOOCs share a common goal of bringing together large numbers of learners in a common environment for a course delivered as a set of online lessons. However, not all MOOCs are presented in the same manner, and they often differ in terms of their primary instructional strategy or learning design.

Some MOOCs use a traditional lecture format but substitute video lectures for the face-to-face lecture components of a course, and provide automated exercises and quizzes, along with opportunities to interact with fellow students—and with the course instructors—using discussion boards or chat functions. This style of MOOC has been referred to as an xMOOC and is characterised by the offerings from MOOC providers such as Coursera and Udacity and their university partners. These MOOCs tend to use custom-designed technical platforms, scheduled learning events and proprietary learning resources. They are intended for large-scale course delivery.

Another model of design—termed cMOOC—uses constructivist or connectivist pedagogies (Siemens, 2008), wherein learners are encouraged to build their own knowledge through social learning processes within flexible timeframes and guided by course instructors, and often using OER. It has been argued that the pedagogy of xMOOCs is better suited to learning domain knowledge that can be mastered through repetitive practice, whereas cMOOCs may be more effective for allowing learners to acquire higher-order creative skills (Bates, 2012).

There are also hybrid design models, such as those used by MIT and Harvard, that use the edX open-source technical platform. edX combines many of the key features of an xMOOC course delivery format and uses OER.

Other types of hybrid MOOC designs have also being explored. The European Union (EU) has project-based MOOCs, or pMOOCs (Open Learning Design Studio, 2012), and Canada offers LOOCs (BCcampus, 2013), local open online courses that aim to attract large numbers of students to a course structured around locally relevant subjects.

MOOC clubs (like book clubs) are also emerging, organised by public libraries as a way to build communities of knowledge through collaborative learning and discussions, using a MOOC as the subject matter (North Vancouver District Public Library, 2015). This approach might prove particularly valuable in the developing world, where adopting a learning centre approach could remove some connectivity barriers for end users and might also support local customs around the centralised dissemination of knowledge.


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A Policy Brief on MOOCs by Commonwealth of Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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